We have made it through the Wild Card round and now it’s time for the big boys to take center stage. The Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs is the place where a team can place their stamp on the postseason and put the league on notice that they are ready to contend for the Super Bowl.
The Divisional Round is also the place where a contender can be rendered as nothing more than a pretender (just as last year’s Dallas Cowboys). Let’s take a look at this weekend’s matchups
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. San Diego Chargers: The San Diego Chargers finished the regular season at 8-8 but they managed to win the NFL West and sneak into the backdoor of the playoffs.
Since sneaking in, the San Diego Chargers are making the most of their opportunity. They had a gutsy win over the Indianapolis Colts last Saturday in the Wild Card round, and as a thank you, the Chargers now get to travel across the country to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
We already know that LaDainian Tomlinson is out for the game, and the Chargers will rely on the services of Darren Sproles. More importantly, the Chargers have Philip Rivers running the show for them. Rivers has developed into a very good quarterback.
Every team needs a good quarterback if they want to do well, but the Chargers definitely need an on the field leader when Norv Turner is the one responsible for calling the plays.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have played a lot of good football this season against a lot of good teams. However, coming down the stretch, they were also one of the luckiest teams in football, benefiting from a few fortunate calls. For the Steelers, the real question is how healthy is Ben Roethlisberger.
Ben suffered a bad concussion in the final game of the season and Bryon Leftwitch had to come in to finish the game. Reports say that Big Ben is now healthy and he has passed all of the required test to play on Sunday. However, for anyone who has suffered from a concussion they know the effects can last long after you are given a clean bill of health.
There is a very good chance that Roethlisberger will able to play, though he could suffer from a relapse, especially if he takes a hard knock from a blitzing linebacker. The Steelers will need to protect Big Ben when he is in the pocket. This will not be easy considering his tendency to hold onto the ball while in the pocket.
The spread on this game currently stands with the Steelers as a six-point favorite. It’s a home game and the Steelers always play well at home, but I don’t like that spread. The Pittsburgh Steelers have not blown anyone out since the midway point of the season.
San Diego is a legitimate team; I like them to stay close and cover the six point spread while Pittsburgh racks up the victory and advances to the AFC Championship.
Tennessee Titians vs. Baltimore Ravens: This game has all the makings of being a 7-6 sloberknocker. The Ravens Ed Reed single-handedly defeated the Miami Dolphins, and you can bet he will be the key on Saturday. Ed Reed will need to play strong against the Titans rushing attack to begin the game.
If the Ravens can force the Titians into passing downs, then the Ravens can bring the heat on Kerry Collins.
The spread on this game favors the Titans by three points, but I’m having none of that. Take the underdog Baltimore Ravens to cover the spread and win the game out right.
New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Two division rivals meet once again. This will mark the third time the Eagles and Giants meet this season, and in all honesty, this is the only meeting that really matters.
The Giants have been a little sketchy coming down the stretch. Last year the Giants were the underdogs and worked to overcome all the odds. Now they are the defending Super Bowl champions, and the target is squarely on their back. The New York Giants are not handling that pressure well.
Injuries have slowed the Giants offense, and the once dominating defense line that led them to a Super Bowl last season has been reduced to Justin Tuck.
On the other side of the ball, the Philadelphia Eagles have been one of the most entertaining soap operas to watch all season. The Eagles are also one of the most unpredictable teams to watch in the NFL.
However, they looked amazing against the Cowboys in the final week of the season. Last week in the Wild Card round, they looked okay, but they survived. For me the key to this game is defense. Mainly Jim Johnson's blitzing attack.
The Eagles' defense have not gotten enough credit over the past few weeks, and I think Sunday they will showcase just how good they really are.
The spread favors the New York Giants by four points. But I am going the other way. The Philadelphia Eagles are led by their defense, and they pull the upset.
Carolina Panthers vs. Arizona Cardinals: The Arizona Cardinals are traveling to the East Coast one again. That really should be all we have to say about this game, the Cardinals have not won a game on the East Coast all season.
The Cardinals have a distraction in their backfield with Edgerrin James, and receiver Anquan Boldin is doubtful with a bad hamstring.
While the Arizona has gotten used to ignoring James, they do need Boldin to be at 100 percent if they plan to maintain their high powered passing attack.
The Carolina Panthers have been quiet all season, but they are incredibly dangerous. They have the best backfield in the league.
Williams and Stewart are picking up 200 or more yards a game on the ground. This gives the Panthers the ability to pound and punish teams, while chewing up large amounts of clock.
However, unlike most power running teams, Carolina can go to the air and downfield when the throw the ball to Pro-Bowl receiver Steve Smith. This game has the largest spread on the weekend. The Panthers are favored by 10 points. I like the Carolina Panthers to cover the spread and win the game.