Thanks to all who read my first round of NFL playoff predictions; they seem to have gone over pretty well.
So well, in fact, it would make perfect sense to install a second edition, this time for the upcoming divisional round.
How many concussions will be doled out at Heinz Field? Is another bloodbath in store for Rex and Jets? Are the Seahawks and Packers capable of winning on the road to emerge as the most unlikely candidates in the NFC title game?
Let's get to it.
And the defense will be lead by defensive end Terrell Suggs, who has 12 sacks this season and will take advantage of a Pittsburgh offensive line that has battled injuries and inconsistency in pass protection, having given up 43 sacks, eighth-most in the NFL.
Flozell Adams will get the start at left tackle in place of the injured Chris Scott, but the 35-year-old veteran will need help with Suggs, thus opening things up for the rest of the Baltimore front seven.
The last time Tomlinson gained 100 yards or more was Oct. 4, when he rolled up 133 on the Bills in Week 4.
Since then, the future Hall of Famer has split carries with Shonn Greene, resulting in 10 games in which Tomlinson has run for fewer than 60 yards.
Fresh off a 16-carry, 82-yard performance against the Colts, Tomlinson will make good on his workload in New England, easily breaking the century mark as his exploits on the ground keep the Jets in the game well into the fourth quarter.
I don’t know who that was running the ball against the Saints on Saturday, but it wasn’t the Marshawn Lynch I remember in Buffalo, where the back’s legal woes only magnified his largely disappointing performance on the field.
Sadly, we will probably see Lynch brought back down to Earth on Saturday night in Chicago. The Bears, who are No. 2 against the run, will make stopping Lynch a priority, so as to force Matt Hasselbeck to throw the ball downfield.
With the Bears putting as many as nine guys in the box, Lynch will be bottled up, which means we won’t be seeing any more 70-yard runs littered with stiff-arms and an array of broken tackles.
For as much noise as Matthews has caused in two short seasons in the league, it’s hard to believe he has registered no more than seven tackles in a game. Since 23.5 of his 111 career tackles have been sacks, I suppose he gets a free pass.
At 6’3”, 255 pounds, Matthews is a terror off the edge, but he is equally good at chasing players down in pursuit—on either side of the line of scrimmage. And his athleticism and versatility, as well as that of the Green Bay defense as a whole, will cause some problems for the Falcons offense.
Depending upon which way defensive coordinator Dom Capers wants to primarily utilize him in the team’s 3-4 scheme—as a stand-up defensive end or a linebacker in coverage—Matthews could be in for a career day against Atlanta.
The All-Pro safety has gotten the best of Flacco before. It was Polamalu on the receiving end of the last of Flacco’s three picks in the AFC Championship Game two seasons ago to end Baltimore’s Super Bowl hopes.
Roles will be reversed next Saturday at Heinz Field.
Flacco, in his third year, is every bit as calm as he was as a rookie, but the two seasons of experience between then and now will serve him well. In a slobber-knocker reminiscent of games gone by between these two franchises, Flacco throws for three touchdown passes as the Ravens move on to their second conference title game in three seasons.
The last time Brady faced the Jets defense, he threw only four more incompletions (eight) than touchdowns (four). He was nearly perfect, and the Patriots won by 42.
So, what does the presumptive MVP have to do for an encore? Well, since Brady shares a pedestal with only one other player, Peyton Manning, the standard is high, so anything less than a repeat performance will be considered uncharacteristic.
Next Sunday in Foxborough, Brady looks less robotic, but his three touchdown passes and 260 yards through the air are enough to earn the Pats another berth in the AFC Championship.
It’s a given—but what’s not certain, however, is whether he’ll amass all four before halftime.
The Seahawks did a respectable job against Drew Brees, who averaged only 6.7 yards per pass despite throwing the ball 60 times. That said, Seattle wasn’t able to sustain consistent pressure against New Orleans and recorded only one sack.
That won’t get it done on the road at Chicago, despite the fact the Bears have been beatable at Soldier Field this season. Cutler will carve up Seattle pass defense, which allowed 31 touchdown passes during the regular season, and the Seahawks will receive the playoff beating many of us thought they would take at home this past weekend.
After getting shut down by the Steelers in the season opener, Ryan has thrown at least one touchdown pass in each of his last 15 games. In all, the third-year quarterback has passed for 3,705 yards and 28 touchdowns, but Atlanta’s passing game finished the regular season ranked a mediocre 15th in the NFL.
That could be a problem against a Green Bay defense that was ranked fifth against the pass and second with 24 interceptions. Ryan will throw for two touchdowns next Saturday night at the Georgia Dome, but each will be canceled out by an interception, including one to end Atlanta’s comeback hopes in the final moments of the fourth quarter.
Now in his third season, Mendenhall has really come into his own as the featured back in Pittsburgh. He is the team’s leading rusher and provides Ben Roethlisberger with a safety valve when things break down in the passing game.
In a roundabout way, Mendenhall is the Steelers' most valuable player. And he’ll play like it Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field, putting up more than 150 yards rushing and receiving to do his part in bailing out an otherwise stagnant Steeler offense.
The Ravens and Steelers split the season series, with the road team taking each game. The trend will continue on Saturday, as will the physical style of play that has come to embody this divisional rivalry. In the end, Baltimore forces more mistakes than it commits, and Flacco pitches a nearly flawless game to propel the Ravens. Pick: Baltimore, 21-10
Aaron Rodgers' fourth-quarter heroics were upstaged by Falcons kicker Matt Bryant, who booted the game-winning field goal to give the Falcons the 20-17 win the last time these two met in Week 12. With a spot in the NFC Championship on the line, the sides return to the same scene, but the outcome will be drastically different. Rodgers throws for a pair of touchdowns, James Starks and Brandon Jackson combine for 100 yards on the ground and the Packers’ 3-4 roughs up Matt Ryan, who threw for only 197 yards in the first meeting. Pick: Green Bay, 27-14
The Seahawks provided the Wild Card round with a nice little spark that not one of us really saw coming, but the ride ends next Sunday in Chicago. The Bears don’t give up much on defense and definitely not to a unit that lacks a consistent vertical threat in the passing game. Which is exactly what the Bears will pose to the Seattle defense, which has recorded only 12 interceptions this season. Pick: Chicago, 35-10
I wouldn’t count on Rex Ryan using game tape from the previous meeting as a motivational tool. Something tells me the evidence of that waxing last month has since long been destroyed. The Jets would be well-served concentrating on the present, which has them playing as well as they could have hoped after backing into the playoffs. But will anything less than a near-perfect game be enough against the top-seeded Pats on the road? More than likely, no. Pick: New England, 24-17