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NFL Playoff Predictions: Picking Winners for Every Game This Divisional Weekend

Mihir BhagatSenior Analyst IIIJanuary 13, 2011

NFL Playoff Predictions: Picking Winners for Every Game This Divisional Weekend

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    The 2010 regular season has officially come to an end, and the 2011 NFL playoffs are fully underway. Now that an intriguing Wild Card Weekend has just been completed, its time to prepare for what is likely to be an exciting Divisional Round. It's scheduled to kick off this upcoming week, and we've got four matchups awaiting us.

    Therefore, here are my preview and predictions for those games. 

    Last Week: 3-1 (.750)

    Regular Season: 152-104 (.594)

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No. 5 Baltimore Ravens Vs No. 2 Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The first game will be on Saturday when the No. 5 Baltimore Ravens (12-4) will be traveling to Pittsburgh to take on the No. 2 Steelers (12-4). This game will feature big-time names such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu.

    First off, note that both of these teams have a storied history with each other since they are AFC North rivals.

    Earlier this season, they split both of their games each team winning on the road by 3 points.

    When the Ravens won in Week 4, it was particularly because they had a strong aerial attack. But of course, it should be put into consideration that Charlie Batch was starting at quarterback since Been Roethlisberger was still serving his suspension.

    When the Steelers won in Week 13, the time of possession was the difference as they controlled the clock for 34:08 - 25:52.

    Other than that, both of these teams were evenly contested.

    That is why I'm going to look back a bit to the 2009 NFL Playoffs and when these two teams faced off in the AFC Championship Game, where as we all know the Steelers went on to win 23-14.  In that one, it was all about harassing rookie quarterback Joe Flacco. Not only did he only throw 141 yards but they also forced him into throwing three interceptions. In fact, his final ultimately sealed the deal for them.

    So with that all said, I believe that the team who plays better in the passing game should have a distinct advantage here.

    The Ravens currently have the edge, in my opinion, since they are coming off an impressive outing in which Flacco posted a 115.4 passer rating and they beat up Matt Cassel all day long as he finished with a 20.4 passer rating.

    While the extra rest is helpful, having momentum heading into a playoff game is even more crucial and after a 30-7 dominating victory the Ravens seem poised to make a serious run here.

    At the same time, the Steelers may have just the answer as they have a +18 advantage in the sack department. As I've said on numerous occasions before, generating an effective pass rush is an integral key to success.

    Meanwhile, the Steelers are also +10 over the Ravens in regards to turnovers which as we observed in the AFC Championship Game can play a huge role in the ultimate outcome.

    That said, the Steelers defense is one of the best in the league and they won't allow Flacco to have much success through the air nor will their top—ranked run defense allow Ray Rice & Co. to shred through for 142 yards like they did this past weekend.

    On the flip side, even though the Ravens defense is rather stout as well I think the Steelers have just enough offensive firepower to move the chains and make some noise in this one.

    In the end, I think the game will come down to the wire and the Steelers will stand victorious.

    Final Score Steelers 20 - Ravens 17

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No. 6 Green Bay Packers Vs No. 1 Atlanta Falcons

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    The first NFC game will be on Saturday when the No. 6 Green Bay Packers (10-6) will be traveling to Atlanta to take on the No. 1 Falcons (13-3). This game will feature big-time players such as Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez.

    First off, note that the two teams faced off earlier this year in Week 12 in a game in which the Falcons barely edged out a last-second 20-17 victory thanks to a 47—yard Matt Bryant field goal.

    At the time, both teams knew the implications the outcome would have later in the playoffs in regards to who would host the game. Interestingly enough, here we are.

    In contrary to the final box score, the Packers dominated that game for the most part as they outgained the Falcons 418-294 in total yards primarily because Aaron Rodgers threw for 344 yards while Matt Ryan threw for 197.

    The big difference, however, was the rushing attack which is a category where the  Falcons had 117 yards in comparison to the Packers 77, 51 of which came from Rodgers.

    As we all know, an efficient ground game is crucial in the playoffs so rookie running back James Starks better make sure they perform at their best level.

    Moreover, the Packers inability to capitalize on their opportunities in the redzone ended up hurting them.

    That said, they know what they must do in order to record an upset here. Of course, the question is whether or not they will execute.

    Statistically speaking, the Falcons offense should be contained by the Packers defense. Even though they score the 2nd most points in the NFL, it won't matter much against the fifth—best scoring defense. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan could struggle against the Packers secondary especially considering their pass rush registered 47 sacks during the regular season and harassed Michael Vick last week. Therefore, I believe that it'll be up to Michael Turner to get the job done much like he did in their last matchup (110 yards, 1 touchdown).

    Offensively, the Packers have an edge especially with Aaron Rodgers going up against the NFL's 22nd pass defense. Do realize, however, that they may have a tough time putting up points on the board since the Falcons surrender the 5th fewest in the NFL.

    In the end, an element that may play a huge role in this one is the home field advantage since the Falcons are 7-1 in the Georgia Dome while the Packers are 3-5 on the road.

    Considering that, I have to give it the Falcons

    Final Score: Falcons 21 - Packers 20


No. 6 New York Jets Vs No. 1 New England Patriots

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    The second AFC game will be on Sunday when the No. 6 New York Jets (10-6) will be traveling to Foxborough to take on the No. 1 New England Patriots (14-2). This game will feature big-time players such as Mark Sanchez, Darrelle Revis and Tom Brady. 

    First off, note that both of these teams have a storied history with each other since they are AFC East rivals.

    Earlier this season, they split both of their games with the Jets winning the first 28-14 and the Patriots posting a commanding 45-3 victory in the last.

    The difference in the first game was the Jets outgaining the Pats 136-52 on the ground.

    In the next, Tom Brady more than doubled the amount of passing yards despite allowing 51 more rushing yards.

    What I observed was common in both games, however, was that the team who executed better in the redzone ended up winning.

    Looking at the season, as a whole, the Patriots score on 62.29% of their opportunities which is 4th in the NFL while the Jets are 3rd—worst while they only score on 40.74%.

    Moreover, as it is in most cases, the team that committed more turnovers ultimately lost the game as the Pats had three in the first game and the Jets had three in the second.

    However, over the course of the season, the Pats were +28 and +19 over the Jets.

    To give the Patriots an even better edge, they are 8-0 at home while the Jets are 6-2 on the road.

    Another element in which I like the Patriots is in the maturity and experience factor. They've won three Super Bowls with quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Bellichick arguably being the best in the business.

    Even though the Jets defense is stout and are coming off a Wild Card playoff game in which they contained Peyton Manning & Co.

    Nevertheless, the Patriots are just too good and I don't see how they can pull away with this one.

    Final Score: Patriots 27 - Jets 21

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No. 4 Seattle Seahawks @ No. 2 Chicago Bears

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    The second NFC game will be on Sunday when the No. 4 Seattle Seahawks (7-9) will be traveling to Chicago to take on the No. 2 Bears (11-5). This game will feature big-time players such as Matt Hasselbeck, Jay Cutler and Brian Urlacher. 

    Since the Seahawks hold a losing regular season record, it's heavily debatable as to whether or not they even deserve to be in the playoffs. That said, this should be an easy win, right?

    Well, interestingly enough, they topped the Bears 23-20 in their Week 6 matchup.

    The difference in that one was not allowing the Bears to convert a single third down attempt which prevented them from developing a rhythm.

    Also note that just like they did in their upset win over the Saints this past weekend, they had the edge in regards to the rushing attack. So, if Marshawn Lynch can perform at a similar level then they may actually have a shot in this.

    Of course, I don't see that happening as the Bears should easily get revenge.

    Looking at other areas, the Bears are +13 over the Seahawks in the turnover category while the Seahawks are +24 in terms of sacks. Both of these are an integral key to success and it'll be interesting to see which has the stronger hold come Sunday.

    Statistically speaking, the Bears are superior due to their stout defense which makes up for their lackluster offense. Meanwhile, the Seahawks struggle on both sides of the ball. 

    The x-factor, in my opinion, will be the play of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and whether or not he can throw four touchdowns and post a 113.0 passer rating like he did on Wild Card Weekend.

    Since I don't see that happening, I have to give the nod to the Bears especially considering the Seahawks are 2-6 on the road.

    Nevertheless, as we witnessed, any given team in the postseason can beat another even if they're facing the defending Super Bowl champions. 

    All in all, it should be an exciting game so be sure to check it out. 

    Final Score: Bears 24 - Seahawks 17

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