NFL Playoff Predictions: Will Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers Step Up This Week?
The NFL Playoffs are entering their second round, and after the craziness that was the Wild Card Weekend, everything we thought we knew about a lot of these teams must be re-assessed.
The Seattle Seahawks put together one heck of a gameplan and orchestrated what I believe could be the biggest upset in NFL Playoff history. Even if some people disagree, that game versus the Saints now belongs in the conversation.
A lot of prognosticators, including myself, got taken to school with that game, and I'm not even the least bit upset about it because the Seahawks earned that victory by outplaying the Saints. It wasn't a cheap win given to them by the refs. So congratulations Seattle.
Looking at things in a different light this week, we'll try and do better, so here are the picks for this week's games.
Ravens vs. Steelers: The Matchup
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The Ravens return to Heinz Field to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers for a third matchup. The first two meetings were defensive struggles with brutal hits and little margin for error.
Both defense are tough, very good at shutting down the run and feature Pro Bowl safeties who probably are headed to the Hall of Fame once their careers are over.
The Ravens have a slight edge when it comes to offense simply because Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is terrible. This guy was fired from the Cleveland Browns for not being able to put a competent offense on the field and almost got fired after last season, but for some reason Ben Roethlisberger fought for him to keep his job.
Roethlisberger didn't do himself any favors because even though his numbers are good, most of that is on his ability to just make plays.
Rashard Mendenhall should be pushing 2,000 yards rushing this season, but misuse killed any chance of that.
For the Ravens, Joe Flacco has to keep the field spread and not rely too much on Ray Rice, which has been a problem in some games this year.
Ravens vs. Steelers: The Prediction
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The Steelers can win if they can take Ed Reed out of the play, roll out Roethlisberger to minimize his exposure from a weak offensive line and get a running game going.
The Steelers defense has to live up to their billing, and Troy Polamalu has to keep being Troy Polamalu.
The Ravens can win by neutralizing Polamalu, keeping James Harrison in check and keeping Roethlisberger contained. It's Roethlisberger's ability to scramble, extend plays and then make something out of nothing that has allowed Pittsburgh to succeed.
The Ravens can't go into an offensive shell, which they've been known to do from time to time. Both previous games were won with less than 20 points on the board by the victor, so scoring touchdowns and not settling for field goals is the plan to go with.
These teams are very evenly matched up, and it will come down to who makes the least mistakes and who comes up with the bigger play late in the game. I'm feeling that it's going to be the Ravens.
Ravens 21, Steelers 17
Packers vs. Falcons: The Matchup
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The Packers had a bit of a rough season, but they picked the right time to get hot and now are playing their best football of the year.
The Packers have been running a pass-heavy offense, but the emergence of James Starks the last few weeks, plus the work of Brandon Jackson in the latter half of the season, all of a sudden have given them a running game as well.
The Falcons played well all year and consistently looked like one of the most complete teams in the NFL. However, a Week 16 loss to the New Orleans Saints exposed some flaws the team should be concerned about.
Drew Brees passed all over their secondary, and Roddy White was completely shut down.
The Packers pass defense is ranked fifth in the league, one spot behind the Saints, and the Packers have one of the best pass rushers/run stuffers in the league in Clay Matthews.
The Falcons still have Michael Turner running, and the defense has to keep pressure on Rodgers. The Lions proved that if you take Rodgers out of the game, the offense completely changes.
Packers vs. Falcons: The Prediction
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As good as the Falcons are, the Packers not only are playing better right now, but I do think they have the better team.
You couldn't say that six weeks ago, but with the emergence of a running game, the Packers now have a more balanced offense to go along with what always was a great defense.
The Packers have overcome early season injuries, they aren't committing as many penalties and they have that "it" factor about them right now.
The Falcons have a lot of things going for them, and this is a very winnable game for them just due to the strength of their defense and pass rush, plus the multiple weapons they have on offense.
That being said, I'm going with the Packers, and the second road team of the week. Three out of four road teams won last week, so that proves homefield advantage means nothing this year.
Green Bay 31, Falcons 30
Seahawks vs. Bears: The Matchup
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You can take any stat you find on the Seattle Seahawks and flush it down the toilet. After last week, whatever they did in the regular season is practically meaningless.
The Chicago Bears have one of the best defenses in the league, but the Saints defense wasn't too shoddy either going into the Wild Card game. However, the Saints couldn't stop the run, and that proved to be the difference maker in the game.
The Seahawks beat the Bears in Week 6, but that was a lifetime ago for both teams.
Marshawn Lynch had the best game of his career last week, and the Seahawks left everything on the field. So now the question is if the Seahawks can do this two weeks in a row.
For the Bears, Jay Cutler has to be patient. If he gets greedy like Michael Vick did at the end of the Green Bay game last week, the results will be the same.
Despite what did happen last week, the Seahawks offensive line didn't suddenly become an elite unit, so the Bears defense has an opportunity to shut Matt Hasselbeck down.
Seahawks vs. Bears: The Prediction
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As miraculous as last week's game was, you could tell how emotionally spent the Seahawks were after that game. The difficulty of playing with that big of an emotional high two weeks in a row can't be calculated.
The Bears are vulnerable as their offensive line has been known to just disappear and start giving up sacks left and right.
However, their defense and special teams are solid, and that will be the difference in this week's game.
Bears 28, Seattle 21
Jets vs. Patriots: The Matchup
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This game could be another slugfest to round out the weekend, or it could be the first blowout of the playoffs. We won't know until the game is over.
The Jets have a young, developing quarterback in Mark Sanchez, but his accuracy isn't where it needs to be, and the Jets have had a lot of balls bounce their way in a lot of their victories this season.
The Patriots finished the season 14-2 by just being tougher and better than the teams they were playing. Tom Brady is making stars out of rookies, and the Patriots produced one of the best draft classes in 2010 with Devin McCourty, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski all making immediate and significant impacts to the team.
The Jets have Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie as two of the best corners in the league, but Tom Brady specializes in elevating the play of everyone around them.
The Patriots blew out the Jets in Week 13, and Rex Ryan has taken full responsibility for that, so we'll see how he coaches this game.
Jets vs. Patriots: The Prediction
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Bill Belichick, by admission, did not lose any sleep over this week's matchup.
The Patriots got beat in Week 2 by the Jets, and their only other loss was an upset by the Cleveland Browns.
The Patriots destroyed the Jets in Week 13 for two reasons: the Pats are just that much better than they were in Week 2, and the Jets aren't as good as their record. Sanchez has accuracy problems, Braylon Edwards can start a streak of dropping the ball at any moment and you can't count on luck week after week.
The Patriots make their own luck, and Belichick has Rex Ryan's number. This is going to be another bad loss for the Jets, but not as bad as Week 13.
Patriots 35, Jets 20