NFL: Divisional Round 2015

By: S. Davis

Are we one week away from the conference title games? Already? The final eight will become four on Sunday night in a season of compelling football.

Saturday:

Baltimore @ New England

I guess I was an idiot for overlooking the Ravens’ chances last week but I had no idea that their secondary would actually, you know, earn their check for a good day’s work. Additionally the Steelers were a team of peaks and valleys all year, but I just trust Ben Roethlisberger in a way I don’t with other quarterbacks who the media list as better players.

The Ravens are 2-1 in their last three playoff games versus the Tom Brady- Bill Belichick Patriots so the awareness in Massachusetts is on a high level. As well as having a rejuvenated secondary, the Ravens bring great pass rushers who will NOT be intimidated by a raucous crowd – and they field Super Bowl winning players who will not be awed by the sight of Brady leading an early touchdown drive or two. Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Joe Flacco will be ready for another impromptu run no matter how many people count them out (ask the Denver Broncos).

Time is not on the side of Brady – and man I hate how he keeps giving the team so much cap relief while they look for ways to undervalue him – so if he wants that fourth title then he better do it this year. With a week to watch the Ravens and scout them, I think he’ll be sharp and I think this game might be the best of the four this weekend.

My pick: I picked the Patriots to go to the Super Bowl this year so I’m not moving off them; Patriots over Ravens, 27-26.

Carolina @ Seattle

This game is the toughest to predict in regards to how the final score will look. I could see it end with a baseball (or hockey like) tally of 6-3 or it could be a shoot-out. When the Panthers come into games and score loads of points, I’m always amazed by the box scores because they only have one scary threat, offensively, but it is at the game’s most important position. Cam Newton does, however, have to carry too much of a load and that’s not a good recipe when walking into Washington. Why didn’t they give Steve Smith a one year contract again? I guess their football people are friends with the Saints executives that jettisoned Darren Sproles.

Remember a few months ago when the Seahawks were 6-4, the sky was falling, and they were having a lost year?

My pick: The Panthers have a formula to beat Seattle because they run, defend well, have a formidable front-seven and feature the tight-end as a real receiving threat…but, well…Seahawks over Panthers, 30-13.

Sunday:

Dallas @ Green Bay

So we have an undefeated (8-0) road team facing and undefeated (8-0) home team with the right to play in the NFC Championship game next week. This is what the playoffs are about, right? Unless something strange happens with the NFL rule book one of those records is guaranteed to have a “one” at the end of it.

How effective will Aaron Rodgers be with the calf tear he’s nursing?

I think he’ll be just fine because, it seems, that too many voices out there have forgotten that he actually can, you know, stand in the pocket in deliver the ball. His mobility being hindered will change the ways in which he can attack the Cowboys – in terms of moving his launching point and having to negotiate a collapsing pocket – but Rodgers is one of the smartest athletes at the position and he’ll acclimate accordingly.

The biggest issue I see in this game is the Packers defense as this is the area the Cowboys can – and will – exploit. While the offense runs pretty smoothly, the defenders in green and yellow have a dangerous tendency of giving up yards (and points) in second halves of games they thought were well over. It’s a 60 minute game and I think they tend to think the points Rodgers’ gifts them in the first 30 minutes will carry over once they run out after halftime. If they fall asleep and get lazy on defense, against a formidable offense, then they should start making plans for their vacations.

Another thing? The Packers struggle against the run, they are horrid. Oh hey, how are you doing DeMarco Murray?

Will Tony Romo’s back injury come into focus?

For someone still playing with a broken back I find it funny how little it’s even mentioned. Romo has been playing well but he’s still moving stiffly once the pocket shrinks and I’m wondering if the Cowboys’ season will end if he takes a clean shot from his blind-side.

My pick: I couldn’t post this piece yesterday because I had to sleep on it – and I’m still no closer to making a reasonable choice. Packers over Cowboys, 31-30.

Indianapolis @ Denver

Is it possible that Andrew Luck could have the game of his life and snatch this one as the road team? Yes…but it’s not likely. The burden he carries is probably greater than the one his predecessor dealt with while he still wore the horseshoe on his helmet.

The Colts’ offensive line is poor, they don’t even attempt to run the ball after a few token attempts early in games which leads them to put all their hopes on Luck. For all the praise he receives in the sports media he puts the ball in places he shouldn’t – and that is not a trait I want in my quarterback. Throwing interceptions is never a positive and yet that one facet of his game (at least this year) is being overlooked. It shouldn’t. He’ll be facing a pass rush that will force him to deliver the ball a few seconds quicker than he would like. Where will those passes land?

Peyton Manning has some gas left in the tank so I don’t worry about him coming into this playoff contest. Honestly though I do not know how much is left but he’ll perform well in a more balanced Broncos offense.

My pick: Broncos over Colts, 27-23. Manning gets one of his last chances to exercise a demon (or nine) in Massachusetts next week.

Playoffs: 3-1
Regular Season: 174-82

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