The second round of the NFL playoffs begins this weekend with some fascinating matchups.
In the AFC, the New York Jets return to New England for a grudge match after the 45-3 thrashing in their last game against the Patriots.
The Baltimore Ravens will visit the Pittsburgh Steelers. The two teams have forged one of the best rivalries in football today, and this one will surely be a tightly contested game.
In the NFC, the surprising Seattle Seahawks will have an opportunity to continue a magical run against the Chicago Bears. The Seahawks were able to light up the Saints defense, but they will have a tougher time against a better Chicago squad.
The Green Bay Packers will head down south to face the Atlanta Falcons. Both teams have been impressive this season, especially the Falcons, who people seem to be writing off as a potential Super Bowl winner.
Here are 10 bold predictions for the games this weekend...
Seattle shocked the world last week by beating the New Orleans Saints, a team that had won four more regular season games than the Seahawks. This week, the Seahawks will have to go on the road to face the Chicago Bears.
There are several reasons why Seattle can steal this game.
1. The Seahawks are riding a wave of momentum.
2. The Bears have been off for an extra week and may be rusty.
3. The Seahawks beat the Bears in Chicago earlier this season.
It's no secret that Jay Cutler has had problems with throwing interceptions throughout his career. Over the last four seasons, Cutler has thrown 74 interceptions, an average of nearly 19 a season.
Cutler has thrown six interceptions in his last four games. Seattle will try to get ahead early again and turn the game into a high-scoring affair.
If the Seahawks then try to blitz a Bears offensive line that has been inconsistent at times this season, Cutler will be forced to throw more than his normal share of errant passes.
The New England defense, especially the secondary and pass rush, has been singled out as the weakness of an otherwise perfect team. The Patriots allow 258.5 passing yards per game, which ranks them just 30th in the NFL.
On the other hand, New England's defense has been terrific over the last five games. In four of the last five games, the Patriots have held opposing teams to just one score a game. One of those games was against the Jets, in which New York managed just a field goal in 60 minutes of play.
The Jets scored just 17 points against a poor Indianapolis Colts defense last week. It is not difficult to imagine Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense scoring one touchdown or less this week.
LaDainian Tomlinson came to the New York Jets seeking the Super Bowl victory that has eluded him throughout his illustrious career. Tomlinson is one of the best running backs of all time, compiling eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career.
However, over the last two seasons, Tomlinson has failed to reach the 1,000-yard rushing mark. He will turn 32 this year, and while he still may have the ability to contribute as an NFL player, he may not want to risk injury at his age.
Against the Philadelphia Eagles last week, Aaron Rodgers had just 180 passing yards; however, his quarterback rating was 122.5. The Packers chose to run the ball more because of the effectiveness of James Starks on the ground.
In over half of his games this season, Rodgers has passed for 290 yards or more, including a game in which he passed for 404 yards against the Giants.
The Falcons are in the bottom third of passing defenses in the league, allowing over 225 passing yards per game on average. Since Atlanta is sure to provide a better game plan against Starks, the Packers will turn more to Rodgers' arm to move the ball downfield.
Chicago may have had a better record than Green Bay, but the Packers are a better, more balanced team. Moreover, Atlanta has proven that it was the best football team in the NFC in the regular season this year.
Atlanta and Green Bay have the best offenses of all the contenders in the NFC. Even defensively, one can argue that Atlanta and Green Bay are at least as good on defense, perhaps stronger in some areas, than the Bears.
Seattle and Chicago just do not strike the average spectator as particularly impressive football teams. That's why the Green Bay versus Atlanta game could be a de facto NFC Championship Game.
In a game back in November between the Falcons and the Packers, it was Tony Gonzalez, not Roddy White, who led Atlanta in receiving yards.
The Green Bay pass defense is one of the best in the NFL, allowing less than 200 passing yards on average per game. The secondary is led by Charles Woodson, who remains one of the best cover cornerbacks in football today.
Roddy White will likely be covered by Woodson, limiting the number of passes that are thrown in his direction. Tony Gonzalez has the playoff experience to find holes in the defense and will play the largest role in the Falcons' offensive strategy.
In the two meetings between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens this season, points have been at a premium. The two teams have combined to score an average total number of 27 points per game.
In a playoff atmosphere, both defenses will come prepared to completely shut down the opposing offenses. Against the Chiefs last week, the Ravens allowed just seven points. Neither the Steelers nor the Ravens have allowed more than 10 points over their last five combined games.
These are two of the top defenses in the NFL and have been for nearly a decade. It may be boring, but it will surely be a low-scoring affair.
In two games versus the Baltimore Ravens, Mike Wallace has totaled just 100 yards receiving. While 50 receiving yards in a game is not a bad average, it is less impressive for a player who had seven 100-plus yard receiving games this season.
While Josh Wilson and Chris Carr are not the scariest of cornerbacks, Wallace will have a difficult time finding openings deep downfield with safeties Ed Reed and Dawan Landry in coverage. Since Wallace is best at deep passes, he does not necessarily match up well against this Ravens team.
The Ravens and Steelers have already played two games this year that were decided by three points. Clearly, these teams have comparable talent and abilities as football players.
Joe Flacco passed for more than 250 yards in both games against the Pittsburgh Steelers this year. Pittsburgh has the best run defense in the country, allowing just 62.8 rushing yards per game to opposing offenses.
Consequently, the Ravens will have to trust Flacco with the ball in his hands. Flacco has proven he can make the plays to beat the Steelers. He has the weapons he needs to do it. Baltimore will allow him all the leeway he needs to win this game.