Green Bay @ Atlanta
He who possesses the ball last shall bathe in the jubilant euphoria of victory!
There are a number of ways to analyze the routes this game can take – and that’s obvious. It’s a football game, a playoff one at that, and so I’ll throw out the recycled football talk. Last week I predicted the Packers would lose; I even picked the Giants to knock them off two weekends back. For as great as Aaron Rodgers happens to be I do believe there is too much of his team’s fate that he controls. To put it simply, of the four quarterbacks starting this weekend Rodgers is the ONE that can’t afford to play anything less than an A-minus game for his team to book their tickets to Houston in two weeks.
As I’ve felt all year, the defensive side of the ball doesn’t make enough plays. The move to have Clay Matthews play inside for the past three years, in my personal opinion, was ill-fated, never made much sense and I think it has stunted his progression (and secretly I think he’s regressing now that he’s back, primarily, as their primary pass rusher). In open space once again he seems much slower and he doesn’t look to be as dynamic as he used to be. From there, the secondary – which at one point was a factory of stellar players – is struggling in coverage, tackling and taking the right angles against opposing pass catchers. Julius Peppers, Matthews and the front four have a large task ahead of them this weekend which brings us to….
Has there been an offense so prolific that’s been so overlooked at the very same time? Matt Ryan has been spreading the ball across every target in the same jersey colors. Of course most the of the attention centers around Julio Jones but Mohamed Sanu and Tyler Gabriel are just as involved within the scheme – and rate second and third respectively in terms of catches. As a unit they spark the scoreboard to the tune of 33.8 ppg, they’re third in passing yards at 295.5 and they rush the ball to the tune of 120.5. Are you wowed by any of the flashy statistics? You should be and it should send fire alarms to Dom Capers as he tries to limit Ryan inside the Georgia Dome. I don’t like it.
The Packers’ receivers are also limping into the game and I doubt Jordy Nelson dresses with broken ribs. Rodgers is spectacular but Ryan can match his play – while having more support if he isn’t his best.
Pick: Falcons over Packers, 38-34.
Pittsburgh @ New England
Let me get this out of the clear early: I picked the Steelers to win it all!
So am I blinded by that? No. Thinking about last week, the Texans would’ve beaten the Patriots if Brock Osweiler played slightly better. I don’t mean “game of his life” either. Had he produced a B-level performance he’s playing this weekend – and the Patriots would be packing for their vacations. Tom Brady looked human in the second half of that game and I point that out because there are times I watch his team and they aren’t this majestic world-beater; they can be defeated. All that aside, I came away impressed with how Dion Lewis scored his touchdowns and how versatile a weapon he is.
With the flu taking on clusters of Steelers at once earlier in the week, will they be sapped of energy in the second half of what looks to be a tight contest? Expect LaGarrette Blount to test their limits as the game winds down. Lewis will line up in a myriad of positions, according to the formation and I fully expect him to exploit the Steelers’ secondary in open space. Where will James Harrison make an impact? Defensive pressure through the middle is the best way to rattle a quarterback that isn’t fleet of foot and if the Steelers can attack Brady without sending a fifth (or sixth) defender…there’s a path that can get them to Houston.
New England’s defense isn’t great but they are better than they look on television; the main reason for that is the special teams unit. Bill Belichick ensures the opposition has to drive 80+ yards on every position just to sniff the end zone. The kicking game pins teams deep in their territory and puts the pressure on the offense to be perfect every single time they possess the ball.
What do we make of Ben Roethlisberger? If he had a different name, this season, he’d get very little credit for his play. It’s been odd how he’s been good at home and bad on the road; average play at best. That hasn’t been his brand of football since his first two seasons in the league. It’s like a game of Jekyll and Hyde with Big Ben; which version makes a difference on Sunday?
Can the defensive scheme of Belichick keep Le’Veon Bell from making an impact? Will Antonio Brown find himself smothered in the secondary? Can Roethlisberger play up to his usual standard? Does Brady lead the Patriots to another Super Bowl?
Pick: Steelers over Patriots, 30-24.
Last Week: 3-1
Regular Season: 169-87