My Misguided Yet Likely Accurate NFL Playoff Picks 2nd Round

Steve JohnsonContributor IJanuary 15, 2011

I'm open!!!
I'm open!!!

Greetings to all fans of prediction pieces, which I am unashamed to say I really look forward to.

I love listening to all the various arguments, comparing them to mine, then proceeding to eviscerate every argument the poor prognosticator may have held forth with my dazzling insights and logical interpretations of the numbers.

Wild Card Weekend I was 2-2. Okay, maybe not perfect, but how many of you picked Seattle? Be honest. The other one I missed was the Jets-Colts game, which I had down to a field goal anyway, just off the foot of Vinatieri.

So all in all, a superior 2-2 record when compared to most 2-2 records. (I know it makes no sense but please, let me have this.)

I blame it on the current attempts to have our astrologers incorporate Ophiuchus the Serpent Holder to the Zodiac.

Ophiuchus’ inclusion would cast me out of the safe embrace of Gemini the Twins and into the foreign world of Taurus the Bull.

Forgetting for the moment the significance of my favorite sports team’s success is based primarily upon twins, stripping me of my Gemini-hood and pushing me unwillingly into Taurusville, well I can’t vouch for my judgment, can I?

For those of you who are buying the above disclaimer, excellent! I love you all.

For those brave enough to read on, here’s your dubious reward.

Saturday begins with a real in-your-face, every-yard-is-a-battle, knock-down-drag-out brawl between two teams who try to beat you physically, and have a rivalry that’s getting hotter and hotter every season.

The Baltimore Ravens, fresh off their relatively easy elimination of Kansas City, travel to Heinz Field, hoping the Winter Classic rink is gone, to take on the well-rested and rabidly motivated Pittsburgh Steelers. 

The Steelers, three-point favorites, are looking forward to playing in front of home fans for the first time in four weeks, having played their last two games on the road and then having the bye week.

They are itching to get to New England to test their game against the Patriots and they know the Ravens are in their way.

The Ravens, on the other hand, see themselves as the classic underdog. Having to win on the road against higher-seeded teams they feel that Rocky Balboa sense of destiny.

But even Rocky lost.

Big Ben Roethlisberger, like him or not, is a Super Bowl winning quarterback and as tough as they come. He’s been here before. Joe Flacco had much better overall numbers but again, Big Ben missed the first quarter of the season, yet the Steelers still took their division title.

Defensively, there is not a lot to pull hairs over. They are aggressive, very physical and opportunistic. If Troy Polamalu has his usual effective game, I like the Steelers’ defense here.

Offensive weapons also favor Pittsburgh; Heinz Ward and Rashard Mendenhall nicely offset Flacco’s weapons in Anquan Boldin and Ray Rice. But the Steelers will be at home and Mike Wallace has stepped up to give big Ben a couple of legitimately scary targets to look for.

I like Pittsburgh by eight or more.

Saturday’s evening game has Aaron Rogers and his Green Bay Packers traveling into Fulton County to play the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons and their QB Matt Ryan were almost perfect under their dome until the Saints burst that bubble in week 17, but the Saints fell to Seattle and the Falcons have had a week off.

I like Matt Ryan a lot; I like his poise and maturity for such a young QB. I have the same admiration for Aaron Rogers too. But I like Rogers’ toughness as well and over the couple seasons I’ve watched these two QB’s develop, I think Rogers is the tougher of the two.

Whether or not that’s going to make the difference has yet to be seen, but it weighs heavily in my deliberations.   

But this game is in a dome and the Pack has played their best football outside when the elements have a role. In the sterile, cookie-cutter environment of a domed stadium, the advantage is to the clinically precise team over the traditional hearty warriors from the tundra.

I really like Green Bay. I think Rogers is a stud, having Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and James Jones gives him an array of receivers as good as any team in the playoffs.

But it’s the running game and the ability to stop it that this game will come down to.

If the Falcons can get Jonathan Babineaux and John Abraham back for the game, the Packers should have a much tougher time getting James Starks some places to run.

Now that he’s no secret, expect the Falcons to have him game planned. If Green Bay has to rely only on Roger’s arm, then Michael Turner will make them pay. Atlanta is the one-and-a-half point favorite, which says the gurus in Vegas have no idea who’s going to win.

Personally, I’d love to see the Packers keep the dream alive, especially for Clay Matthews Jr. (my pick for defensive player of the year), but I have this nagging feeling Atlanta’s clinical approach to the game inside the dome will be too good.

I’m probably wrong but I like Atlanta by five.

I love my Dad. He’s been as steadfastly loyal to his Bears as any human being has in my whole life.

Through the days of Sayers and Payton, the lows of the '70s and the ultimate high of 1985 when Jim McMahon led a team of free spirits anchored by the meanest, toughest, stingiest defenses ever seen destroyed Steve Grogan’s Patriots in Super Bowl XX.

I was discussing the Seahawks with him last week and noted a little fear in his voice. As a 40 year devoted fan of the Vancouver Canucks, I immediately recognized it as the primal fear found in so many long suffering fans when they are sure they’ve seen this impending playoff collapse before.

However, the Canucks are having their greatest season in their history, torching the NHL right now, and the Bears quietly put together a very good season themselves.

Chicago is a 10-point favorite at home coming off the bye week against a Seattle team criticized for even qualifying for post season action with a 7-9 record.

Even after they put up an unimaginable 41 points against the defending world champions, (a dome team playing outside, by the way), the Seahawks are getting no love from the Vegas bookies.

Even after they went into Chicago earlier in the season and beat the Bears, Seattle gets no love from Vegas. Well, after what I saw last week and from what I’ve read and heard, I’m ready to give Seattle some love.

Just not enough love.

Can anybody tell me the last time Matt Hasselbeck had back-to-back 300-yard, four-touchdown games? How many back-to-back 131-yard rushing games has Marshawn Lynch had in the last few years?

We can debate all day why Seattle was able to throw on the Saints, we can debate all day why Seattle was able to run on New Orleans as well, and we may credit one for the other, but the point is...Seattle won’t be able to do that against Chicago on Sunday.

The Bears have had the bye; they’ve studied game film from their loss against Seattle earlier in the season and have learned from it. They still have Brian Urlacher patrolling the middle of the second line and Julius Peppers menacing the QB (imagine Albert Haynesworth on this D-line), so don’t expect Hasselbeck to have much time to find Mike Roberts downfield.

Matt Forte and Devin Hester are ready to punish the Seahawk run defense and special teams, especially if stud linebacker Lofa Tatupu is unable to play. That will be a crushing blow to the Seattle defense.

I was born in Champaign, Illinois. My father grew up in Lockport, just south of Chicago, so my Midwest roots are visceral. Okay, I love my Vancouver Canucks and I have been a lifelong Dallas Cowboy fan…but I do have some love for Chicago teams, just as long as they aren’t playing one of my teams.

For the longest time Seattle was one of my teams because they were 150 miles south of me and we got to see all their games.

Living in the Northeast now I have to choose which sport I am going to follow as if I were still living at home and since the Canucks play 84 games, and the Cowboys play 16, the economics of the decision became paramount and I got the Center Ice package on my cable.

But I digress, the point I am making is I have lost track of the day-to-day happenings in Seattle and I have a limited knowledge of their depth and capabilities. I have much respect for Pete Carroll but I just can’t see his team in the NFC championship game. Can you?

I love the Seahawks...but I’ll take Chicago by six.

Finally, we finish the weekend with the game everyone out here has been practically flagellating themselves over.

The New York Jets travel to Foxboro to face the Patriots, again. I have to admit a confusion of allegiance over this game.

I have never liked New England, even way back in the 1970s when the titans of that decade (Pittsburgh and Dallas) tore apart our family home every January, and the Patriots didn’t even exist in our world. They were just another team to be vanquished like flicking a fly off our cuffs.

I guess we have been paying for that arrogance for six or seven years now.

Arrogance is an affliction not reserved to young teenagers in the Pacific Northwest, however. It seems it is alive and well in the offices of the Jets, much to my dismay.

I have always had a grudging admiration of the Jets, feeling sorry for the “ugly little sister” of the Giants. Hating the Giants didn’t hurt much either. All the signposts were aligned for me to bang the drum like a banshee for the Jets this weekend.

I wanted to, I still want to. But I can’t.

Whether or not Rex Ryan is as much of a narcissist as he appears, his counterpart in New England is the antithesis of a bombastic coach.

Bill Belichick seems to be able to put the lie to the philosophy that it takes the right player to make the team succeed. His track record is one of finding the right talent to make his system succeed.

Right now it would appear he has the right parts to make the whole be successful. Getting rid of Randy Moss and bring back Deion Branch was a stroke of genius.

You brought in an enthusiastic devotee of the Belichick system and erased a cancerous “me-first” influence from the locker room, even if Moss’ attitude hadn’t metastasized yet.

Why wait? Belichick didn’t and the Patriots responded with a league best 13-3 record.

The Patriots are nine-point favorites over the Jets, and for good reason. As impressive as the Jets win over Indianapolis was, it came down to a last-minute field goal under a dome to get past the injury depleted Colts.

Sunday night they will be back in Foxboro, extremely hostile territory, outside in the bitter cold, in a stadium the suffered their worst loss in years just five weeks ago: 45-3 to the same team that’s had a week off to heal and rest up this time.

I really like the Jet team; I think Mark Sanchez has a future in the NFL. I was thrilled to hear LaDainian Tomlinson was given a second life with them, I think Darrel Revis is this generation’s Lester Hayes, but I don’t think this Jets team is Broadway Joe Namath’s team. It hurts to say this, but there really is no other practical way to go...

I’ll take New England over the Jets by 10.

So there you go. I was 2-2 last week but I waited until the last second to do this one. If Seattle pulls off the fairy tale win again, I will quit doing these.

Take that for what you will!


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