Regular Season Rematches and Power Defenses; A Division Round Playoff Preview

Darren SanchezContributor IJanuary 9, 2009

It's Divisional Playoff Weekend, people. Time to get excited. Even if your team isn't still playing, most fans love this weekend of games more than any other in the NFL season.

This is the weekend that football fans across the country get in trouble with their wives for watching four games and twelve hours of football, spending the entire weekend glued to their couches.

If the actual games prove to be as enticing as the matchups, it will be well worth doing the dishes for the rest of the week.

Two common themes run throughout these games; regular season rematches and powerful defenses. So without further ado, on to the analysis and predictions.

The first, and likely most savage of the four games pits arch enemies, the Titans and Ravens, in a well publicized rematch of a 13-10 Titans road-win earlier this season.

To make things even sweeter, it is a rematch of a mentally scarring, nasty 2000 playoff loss for the Titans. In that game the 13-3, No. 1 seeded Titans (sound familiar?) lost a home game to the eventual Superbowl Champion Ravens.

In all honesty, the Titans were the best team the Ravens faced in that playoff run, including their easy Super Bowl win over the Collins-led Giants. The loss was marked by a particularly violent Siragusa sack on Steve McNair that changed the flow and eventually the outcome of the game. An interception return for TD, by Ray Lewis on a dump pass to Eddie George sealed the upset win for the Ravens...

Fast forward to 2009.

The Ravens have the second best defense in yards allowed. And the Titans have the second best defense in points against. You want more stats? The Titans are fifth in sacks, while the Ravens are eleventh. The Ravens are third best against the run, the Titans sixth. The Ravens get the most picks, the Titans get the sixth most. The Titans force the most fumbles, etc. I think you get the point.

People say the Ravens are on a roll after crushing Miami. Titan’s fans respond by saying, Tennessee had a better record so they didn't have to PLAY Miami. This game will be a fight, no two ways about it. But after all is said and done, I can't see Flacco and the suspect Ravens' offense scoring more than ten points against Haynesworth, Bullock, Finnegan and company. Ten points might actually be enough to win this slug-fest... The Titans, behind a surprisingly effective passing attack, should manage more than that.

My pick, Titans 17- Ravens 10


The first NFC game of the weekend will showcase the Carolina Panthers defending their home turf against the Arizona Cardinals. The defense on these teams are not as strong as the previous game, or even the Giants-Eagles game (which I'll get to), but the Cards looked strong last weekend, rising up in Phoenix to snuff out the apparently over-hyped Falcons.

The question this week is can the Cards stop the Carolina running game. DeAngelo  Williams, Jonathan Stewart and the Panthers have the third best rushing attack in the NFL, but I'll tell you why that doesn't impress Arizona.

It's because the Falcons (whom they spanked last week) have the second best rushing attack; and it didn't help them much.

The real key to this game will be whether Arizona can establish their running game, or if Carolina can establish the pass. The team to do that first and best, will open up their real strengths on offense and ride a balanced attack to a win.

I haven't seen anyone who is giving the Cards a chance in this game, and I reluctantly have to agree with that school of thought. I give Arizona and Kurt Warner a punchers chance, as they can score with almost anyone.

The Panthers are simply too well rounded, behind Delhomme, Smith, Williams and Peppers, and would have to pull a big choke job to blow this game. This is without a doubt the least anticipated game of the weekend.

My pick, Panthers 31- Cardinals 20


When the New York Giants face the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, they will put their hard earned No. 1 seed and home field advantage to the test. Sports radio stations in New York are filled with confident Giants fans puffing their chests and expressing their certainty that the Giants will roll past Philly all the way to the Super Bowl.

Some fans are even stating that they think they'll play the Titans, or look forward to getting revenge on the Ravens when they get to Tampa. (Sorry Charger and Steeler fans... that's what they're saying here) A couple of guys in Philly, namely McNabb and Westbrook, beg to differ.

The Eagles have no problem admitting that they were fortunate to make the playoffs and should send a gift basket to the Texans and Raiders for beating the Bears and Bucs respectively to allow them their No. 6 seed.

But they are by no means undeserving. In fact, they parallel the aforementioned Ravens in that they will be a tough test for the No. 1 seeded juggernauts in their conference. Last time they came to New York to play the Giants (Dec. 7), the Eagles flew home victorious after a 20-14 win.

The New York media blamed Burress and thought they'd never have to hear from Philly again till next year. That started a losing trend for Manning and crew as they dropped three of their last four games. Brandon Jacobs will be back on the field for New York this weekend, but Burress is still gone.

Westbrook may not be 100 percent, but the Eagles could very easily win this game. I happen to think Philly is feast or famine, as they look great (vs. Dallas) or disappoint in a big way (tie to Cincinnati). The Eagles are hot though and have won four of their last five.

Quality wins over the Giants, Cowboys and Vikings give them no shortage of confidence this weekend. I believe their outcome will be the same as the Ravens though. The Giants are very strong, and Eli Manning is cool under pressure. This should be a great game.

My pick, Giants 24- Eagles 20


The last game of the weekend has the Steelers facing off against the Chargers in a rematch of one of the most unusual games of the year. Pittsburgh won that game 11-10 behind a phenomenal pick by Polamalu, late in the game. But, as San Diego fans will point out since then, the Chargers have not lost.

Pittsburgh has what is statistically the best defense in football, at or near the top of almost every defensive category. With six of their games against Cleveland, Cinci and the low scoring Ravens, I personally believe that stat to be skewed, and see their defense as about the same as Tennessee, Baltimore and New York (still great, but not unquestionably better).

They were seemingly exposed in a 31-14 loss to the Titans just three weeks ago. But they bounced right back, following that loss by shutting out a terrible Browns team.

In that Browns game though, Big Ben (who should have been on the bench) suffered another concussion. Similarly, in San Diego's last game (a win over the Colts), we learned that LT is injured fairly seriously and in all likelihood cannot play again anytime soon.

Both of these players have solid back-ups in Leftwich and Sproles, so I will call that a push. The only way this could turn against the Steelers is if Ben actually plays and groggily throws a few picks.

I see another low scoring game coming, but this time the quickness of Sproles could hurt the Pittsburgh defense more than LT might have. I'm going to hedge this pick by saying, if Roethlisberger is sharp the Steelers win. But I don't think he will be. And since I feel obliged to pick at least ONE upset...

My pick- Chargers 17 - Steelers 14