Just like last year, I went two for four in the first round of the NFL playoffs.
Saturday November 15
(6) Green Bay Packers vs. (1) Atlanta Falcons
This was the weekend that I was going to pick a few upsets after only picking one last week (Green Bay). I just don’t see the Falcons as a legit #1 and they are going to have to prove it to me. I am not a believer.
Maybe it's the lack of national exposure or the fact that they’ve only had recent playoff success, or maybe it's the fact we’ve just seen them lose at home to the Saints, but we know every round has upsets and I feel this is the best opportunity for one.
Nothing against Atlanta, as I’d actually prefer that they win, but they are going to need the usual combination of Ryan and Turner mixed with a home crowd that shows up to support their team when it counts. Atlanta would be wise to a) get the first score, and b) get the first turnover and convert off of it to grab momentum and keep it.
Prediction: Green Bay 27 Atlanta 17
8 PM EST
(5) Baltimore Ravens vs. (2) Pittsburgh Steelers
Behind Green Bay, New Orleans, and Dallas (in that order) lie the Pittsburgh Steelers when it comes to teams that give me a sense of satisfaction when they lose. For the Steelers, it's easy.
Even before their dirtbag QB allegations, I couldn’t stand their massive Dallas-like nationwide following, no doubt made up with a good chunk of bandwagoners; but I also hated the fact that they win disproportionally to other teams.
And don’t you just love how Pittsburghers love their Stanley Cup winning Penguins now, who were on the brink of leaving when no one used to show up, and the Steelers, whom, to their credit, they have always supported, but then simply ignore the Pirates, who sit at the other end of the spectrum? Sounds like bandwagon fans to me.
But the biggest reason, perhaps, is their elitist sense of entitlement and attitude that reeks of “We belong here, yeah we’ve been here before, and don’t you forget it.” I’d love nothing more than to see Ray Lewis and the defense win it for the Ravens, who can’t rely on Joe “manage the game” Flacco to win the big one (they win in spite of him; maybe they should call him “Average Joe” Flacco).
I could win if I had a defense and running game like they do. When you have a defense (see Pittsburgh) or this, heck, you’re half the way there if you are simply competent with the ball. I refuse to give him credit for simply doing his job. Expect a typical back and forth, field-position, low scoring game.
Prediction: Baltimore 13 Pittsburgh 10
Sunday January 16
(4) Seattle Seahawks vs. (2) Chicago Bears
Chicago is my pick to win it all, so naturally I can’t abandon them, but on top of that, as I said in my pre-season picks when I had them making the playoffs and winning a round, I like their depth at WR: Earl Bennett, Johnny Knox (who spreads the field), and Devin Aromashodu, in addition to Devin Hester. Perhaps more than any other squad in the playoffs, this team’s WRs excel in different roles and can beat you in different ways.
Hester’s the burner, Knox is the deep threat, Aromashodu can step up big even with only a few catches, and Bennett, if healthy, is one of Cutler’s favorite targets, and that says nothing for their two TEs. Greg Olsen is the man, a solid veteran who's actually getting better.
As for Seattle, I don’t think anyone is going to make the same dismissive mistake the Saints did last week, and this isn’t Qwest field.
Still, we all know they went into Chicago just this year and beat them, so of course it can be done. The Bears aren’t world beaters, so an upset here is entirely possible, and to give them credit, I think the game will be the second best of the weekend behind Pittsburgh-Baltimore, and a lot closer than people think. Perhaps the 'Hawks even have a late lead, only to lose it. Cutler will throw his picks, but will Seattle be able to capitalize on the mistakes?
Prediction: Chicago Bears 24 Seattle 17
4:30 PM EST
(6) NY Jets vs. (1) New England Patriots
I’m torn here. Rex Ryan talks too much, but at least last week he backed it up. In addition, it would be nice to see him go out and beat both Peyton Manning, whom I can’t stand, and the machine that is New England, because then at least we may have an underdog in the Super Bowl, but what if they actually won? We’d never hear the end of it.
I think Merrill Hodge and Trent Dilfer from NFL Live are on to something when they say you can only use Darrelle Revis to cover one guy, and New England is going to create mismatches all game long, causing him to be all over the field covering different guys.
You know at some point he’s going to gamble on the wrong guy and that’s the only opening Tom Brady will need for a big gainer. I think it's going to be a game within a game; Brady will play “Where is Revis? Okay, we’ll just go to option #2. First down” like clock work.
This game will probably be a lot closer than some people expect, but you have to wonder how much the Jets have left after focusing so much on Manning and you just know at some point, Sanchez is going to mess up for them, especially if they take away the run and force him to beat them. I just don’t see the Patriots losing at home when it matters.
Prediction: New England 45 NY Jets 23