NFL Playoff Predictions 2011: Who Will Get Their Revenge?
If you thought the Wild Card round was crazy, that's nothing compared to what will happen this weekend, which will feature some of the most anticipated games in quite some time. We have rivalries that have been hyped beyond belief. Games like Ravens vs. Steelers and Jets vs. Patriots won't end pretty. These teams absolutely hate each other and will add fuel to the fire of these never-ending rivalries. Can the Ravens avenge their Week 13 loss to the Steelers? Can the Jets back up their trash talk and take out their biggest rival after a Week 13 thrashing by the Pats?
We also have two other interesting games in the NFC where the Packers and Falcons will do battle once again after a close victory by Atlanta earlier this year. The Seahawks will go on the road to face the Bears, and the Seahawks have already beaten them at Soldier Field this season. Can the Packers and Bears get their revenge in order to set up the oldest rivalry in the NFL for the NFC Championship next week?
Ravens vs. Steelers
This game will be physical to say the least. These teams can't stand each other and the game will come down to the very end. Here are the keys for each team as they try to advance to the AFC Championship.
Keys for the Ravens
The Ravens need to play ball control here and Ray Rice needs to come up big here. It will be tough to run on the Steelers, who own the best statistical defense in the NFL. Rice has never topped 80 yards against them, but will need to be a big factor for the Ravens offense.
Joe Flacco also needs to step up here as he aims for his fourth career playoff victory. Anquan Boldin will need to make some big plays for Flacco to have a big game. Boldin is very physical and is their best receiver. The Ravens defense is hungry for a championship and was ferocious against the Chiefs last week, creating five turnovers.
Keys for the Steelers
The Steelers also are a very physical team and will try to play smashmouth football against the fifth-ranked Ravens run defense. Ben Roethlisberger has a great track record in the playoffs with two Super Bowl rings to his resume, but will need his offensive line to protect him. The line has been lousy this year, but Ben is tough to bring down so he will be ready for the Ravens attack.
The Steelers defense is great once again and will look to shut down Flacco, Rice, Boldin and the rest. Troy Polamalu is the best player on the field and will look to make another huge impact after forcing a turnover that led to the game-winning touchdown for the Steelers in their last meeting.
Steelers 20, Ravens 17
The Steelers defense will be too much for the Ravens with a healthy Troy Polamalu.
Packers vs. Falcons
This will be a classic showdown between two of the best, young quarterbacks and defenses in the NFL. The Falcons have an advantage playing at the Georgia Dome, but the Packers won't be phased by the crowd noise since they almost won in their last meeting. Here are the keys for each team in this game:
Keys for the Packers
They need to avoid turning the ball over early, because the Falcons thrive on takeaways and never turn the ball over. They also need to establish a running game with James Starks early to balance the offense. Starks had 123 rushing yards last week against the Eagles and will need to be a big factor once again.
Aaron Rodgers is used to playing in a playoff environment after being in playoff mode for three weeks in a row. Rodgers will need time to throw to his numerous playmakers downfield. Rodgers will come up big as will their top-five defense. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has saved this defense and turned it into one of the best in the league. Clay Matthews has been the most dominant defensive player in the league this year and will be a force to be reckoned with once again. Watch out for this scary defense.
Keys for the Falcons
Michael Turner will need another big game to take down the Pack. Turner is the key to the offense, because he keeps the offense balanced and can control the clock and wear down defenses. Matt Ryan is ready to step up to the challenge, as are veterans Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez.
Ryan has never won a playoff game, but is already one of the best quarterbacks in the league. The Falcons defense will also need to step up, because they need to contain Rodgers and bottle up Starks. Sack specialist John Abraham will look to make life miserable for Rodgers.
Packers 24, Falcons 21
This game will be tight, but I give the edge to the Packers because of their dominant defense and Rodgers.
Seahawks vs. Bears
The Seahawks weren't given a prayer against the Saints last week, but had the game of their lives and pulled off the huge upset. They are big underdogs in this game once again, can they pull it off again? Here are the keys to the game:
Keys for the Seahawks
The Seahawks need to protect Matt Hasselbeck, who is one big hit away from another injury. If he isn't protected, he's a sitting duck and Julius Peppers will be licking his chops. They also need to feed the ball to "Beast Mode" Marshawn Lynch, who had arguably the greatest run in playoff history last week and sealed the game for Seattle.
The Seahawks have struggled on the road this year, but beat the Bears in Week 6 at Chicago. The Bears are much improved since then, so Seattle will need to step up its play even more. Seattle's defense isn't particularly good, but it came up with some huge stops last week.
Keys for the Bears
They need to protect Jay Cutler, since he's been sacked 52 times this year. Cutler will be fired up for his first playoff game, but needs to keep the emotions in check and not make bad throws and poor decisions. The Bears also need to get Matt Forte involved as much as possible. He's the key to the Bears offense and is one of the most underrated running-backs in the NFL. Forte has had some big games lately, including 91 yards rushing and 60 receiving against the Packers in Week 17.
The Bears defense will also play a huge factor and will look to make this game a nightmare for Matt Hasselbeck. Will the Seahawks kick to the dynamic Devin Hester? They say they will, but it would be foolish to do so.
Bears 24, Seahawks 14
The Seahawks had a nice run, but it will come to an end against a fierce Bears defense and Matt Forte stepping up for a huge game.
Jets vs. Patriots
This is turning out to be the most hyped up game of all time after all the trash talk. Jets coach Rex Ryan has called out Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and made it "personal." Antonio Cromartie has also made some noise by cursing out Tom Brady. How will the Patriots respond?
Keys for the Jets
The Jets will need to play exactly like they did against the Colts. If the Jets can control the clock and keep Tom Brady off the field, they will have a chance. Mark Sanchez needs to improve his accuracy, but for now will look to feed the rock to Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson. If the Jets defense can contain Brady and the offense can sustain long drives, the Jets will win this game.
Keys for the Patriots
The Pats are the best team in the league right now and will need Tom Brady light up that secondary once again. Brady is going to be the league MVP and will shut up the Jets for once. Look for the Patriots to also run the ball with BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The Patriots defense really needs to step up here and prove their worth. They will most likely win the turnover battle and will need to stay consistent throughout the game. Guys like Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski will have a huge games here.
Patriots 27, Jets 17