My season of bad predictions continued last week as I went 1-3.
The wild card round was good for the road teams, as they went 3-1. And the one home team that won was the one that nobody expected to.
I think just about everyone in America got the Saints vs. Seahawks game wrong. And my pick of the Eagles may have just been a bit of a homer pick. As for the Jets, well I didn't expect them to be able to shut down Peyton Manning so effectively. (I also didn't realize how bad Colts coach Jim Caldwell was either)
Will the divisional round bring me any better success?
Originally published on my blog: Stranger in a Strange Land
Big Ben's ability in the clutch may decide the game
Here's where I once again mention my conspiracy theory that the NFL wants the Steelers to win.
The Ben Roethlisberger suspension could have killed this team, but thanks to the way the Steelers schedule was set up, they were able to get past it. In a way, even the many fines on Rodney Harrison fit into my theory. The NFL wants to present the Steelers as a model franchise, so they can't have one of the team's players as the poster child for illegal hits. If it was another team, they might have tried to suspend him.
The Steelers look like a very solid team, with their biggest weakness being at offensive line. This might seem like a major concern, but they were able to win the Super Bowl two years ago with a subpar offensive line, so I guess they don't really need one on order to thrive. They seem to have everything else: Dynamic wide receivers, a powerful running back, and a playmaking defense.
The Ravens will be playing their second consecutive road game after their win over the Chiefs last week. The Ravens are familiar with road games, mostly because they seem unable to win their division, and always have to settle for a wild card berth.
The Ravens looked impressive in beating the Chiefs, although the Chiefs seemed half beaten heading into that game. Even after the victory, I still have concerns about QB Joe Flacco in big games. While teams can win by leaning on a strong running game and defense, you've got to figure that at some point they'll need Flacco to make a play in a key game.
I think that is the key difference in a pretty even matchup: Roethlisberger makes a play that Flacco does not.
Prediction: Steelers 24-16
Matt Ryan has homefield advantage on his side
Last week, the Packers showed that if teams overload against their passing game, they can indeed run the ball. This is a lesson that I wish Andy Reid would learn one of these days.
In a way, I thought the running game might have been to the Packers' detriment a bit. By running the ball so much, they kept the game close, when it appeared that they were the more talented team. Consider that as much as the Packers outplayed the Eagles, the game still came down to the final drive. It should also be noted that in the fourth quarter, when they needed the running game to eat up yardage and clock, it did not get the job done.
The Falcons have managed to go under the radar, despite being the conference's top seed. It feels like everyone expects them to lose, even though they've been good all year, and have been especially tough at home. Unlike the Eagles, the Falcons have an imposing pass rush, and when Packers QB Aaron Rodgers needs to make a big throw, he may not have the necessary time.
These are two good teams - perhaps the best two in the conference. The Packers may have more playmakers, but the Falcons seem a bit better rounded. The Falcons also have several other factors in their favor. They have been able to rest their players, while the Packers have had three do-or-die games in a row. Eventually, that will wear even the best of teams down. Combined with homefield advantage, I think that gives the Falcons the edge.
Prediction: Falcons 27-24
Cutler must avoid interceptions
After last week's upset of the Saints, all of a sudden people are jumping aboard the Seahawks bandwagon, saying they're a sleeping giant.
I think it was more a case of the Saints underestimating the Seahawks, as well as the Seahawks homefield advantage giving them an edge. QB Matt Hasselbeck looked rejuvenated, throwing four touchdowns, and the game was sealed when running back Marshawn Lynch had his electrifying run down the field.
This week, the Seahawks will have to travel to Chicago to face a well rested Bears team. People have underestimated the Bears all season. Most of this has been due to skepticism about quarterback Jay Cutler. While he has a strong arm and can make some great plays, at his worst, Cutler is an interception throwing machine. I think the worst fear of Bears fans is that Cutler decides to go into Brett Favre mode and start throwing the ball all over the place.
If the Seahawks can pick off a couple of passes and convert them into scores, then there is the real threat of an upset.
Assuming that doesn't happen, the Bears should be in good shape. Unlike the Saints, the Bears have a strong defense, and I can't imagine Hasselbeck having a repeat performance. The Bears should win a low scoring contest.
Prediction: Bears 20-10
Tom Brady and the Patriots seem to have the talent advantage
I was quite surprised by the Jets last week. After thinking they wouldn't handle the playoff pressure, they came through, beating the Colts on a last second field goal.
The pressure only gets higher this week as they face off against the top seeded Patriots, and the trash talk has been in full effect. The Jets seem to legitimately dislike the Patriots. Perhaps that dislike is justified since the Patriots crushed them by a score of 45-3 the last time the teams played.
The Jets appeared to have the advantage at just about every position over the Colts (QB being the notable exception), but that does not appear to be the case this week. The Patriots are very talented and well coached as well.
This doesn't seem to be a good matchup for the Jets. The Patriots might have a vulnerable pass defense, but is Jets QB Mark Sanchez capable of taking advantage? And the Jets' best player CB Darrelle Revis will mostly be wasted against the Patriots who tend to spread the ball around on offense. Does it matter who Revis is covering when Tom Brady has so many other options to choose from?
The Jets will surely keep talking, but I don't think it will matter against a more talented team that has had two weeks to prepare.
Prediction: Patriots 30-17