Fearless First-Round NFL Playoff Predictions...Sunday Edition

Brian PeoplisCorrespondent IJanuary 10, 2010

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 03:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers throws the ball in the first half against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 3, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Let me start off this column by saying that I have been humbled by the NFL playoffs once again. I went 0-2 in my 'Fearless First-Round' Saturday edition column.

The Jets took care of business against Cincinnati, and the Cowboys easily dismantled the Eagles for a second straight week.

I guess the lesson learned is that I should start taking into account the importance of those Week 17/Wild Card rematches, and how they may or may not have affected the outcomes of yesterday's games.

With that in mind, I bring you my Fearless First-Round playoff predictions, Sunday edition.

Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots (12:00 CST)

Despite the slight difference in regular season record (Baltimore 9-7, New England 10-6), I think this is a battle of two very evenly matched teams.  In fact, I'd call it the closest game of the weekend.  

Both teams were basically feast or famine on a week-to-week basis during the regular season, so in the end, I think it's going to come down to playoff experience as the deciding factor.

So who do you take? Baltimore has veteran leaders, a few of which remain from the 2001 Super Bowl team. As for the Patriots, let's sum it up real easy: they're the Patriots. Enough said.

The loss of Wes Welker last week is surely going to hurt New England. I'd argue that Welker is more valuable to the team's offense than Randy Moss is, so this puts the onus on the rest of the receivers to step up, make big catches, and get Tom Brady's attention.

Baltimore took care of business at the end of the season to get them to this point, and now that Ray Rice has emerged as Baltimore's feature back, they've finally found the formula to a good offense.

Heck, even Willis McGahee chipped in last week, so if the two-headed rush attack can go strong again, Baltimore will be even tougher to stop.

I think New England, despite having homefield advantage, loses this one.  I like Baltimore mainly because of the strength of their run game against a New England defense that allowed an average of 110 yards rushing per game.

Final score prediction: Baltimore 24, New England 13

Green Bay Packers vs. Arizona Cardinals (3:40 CST)

Michael Wilbon said on P.T.I. Friday that he expects the winner of this game to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. A pretty bold prediction, but I can't help but agree.

Call me a homer, a cheesehead, a f*****g idiot, whatever you will. But mark my words, the Green Bay Packers will not only win this game, they will represent the NFC in February.

With all the hype recently bestowed upon the Dallas Cowboys, the Packers have quietly gone 7-1 until this point and ended the regular season by thrashing an Arizona team that really couldn't have phoned it in more.

Some writers think Ken Whisenhunt was actually playing to lose last week, knowing that their playoff position was secured thanks to Minnesota's win over the Giants.

By not showing the Packers what their team is apparently capable of actually doing, the theory is that Whisenhunt showed Green Bay nothing last week, therefore giving Packers coach Mike McCarthy and the coaching staff little to work with in terms of strategy for this Sunday.

I don't buy the notion that anyone actually plays to lose, but it's hard to argue with that theory based on how god-awful Arizona looked last week.

I don't think the supposed "strategy" is going to play out well. Despite a potentially lethal offense from Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald, the Packers defense is in full throttle at this point.

Dom Capers' blitz packages are wrecking havoc on opposing offenses, and Clay Matthews has more than emerged as one of the best blitzing linebackers in the NFL.

Which Arizona team shows up tomorrow, I have no idea. For all I know, it could be the team that manhandled Minnesota a few weeks back.

I think we'll see a pretty solid combination of bad Arizona/good Arizona, but not enough good to beat Green Bay.

Final score prediction: Green Bay 35, Arizona 17


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