Saturday, January 15, 2011

Footing the Bill

Wes Welker high-stepping to the end zone.
AFC Divisional Playoffs
New York Jets at New England Patriots
Sunday, January 16th, 2011 - Gilette Stadium, Foxborough, MA

It's funny with all the trash-talk going on between the Jets and the Pats this week that there hasn't been much talk about how New York will rebound from a 45-3 baptismal at the hands of the Patriots in Week 13.  If I was a Jet I wouldn't want to talk about it either.  New York coach Rex Ryan can say that the matchup is between him and New England coach Bill Belichik, and it is, because Ryan will need to throw some new wrinkles in the game plan this time around, because, obviously, nothing they did last time really worked.  On defense, New York cornerback Darrelle Revis did a bang up job last week against the Indianapolis Colts, holding Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne to only one catch for one yard.  But Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and the rest of the Jets secondary will have their hands full with the Pats very diverse passing game, which has been sparked by rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.  Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will have to keep his feet in the pocket as Ryan and the Jet D will probably send pressure at him similar to that of the first matchup between the two teams this season, a 28-14 Jets win in Week 2. On offense, the Jets will still try to pound it out on the ground with healthy doses of running backs LaDanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene, and rely on timely passes from quarterback Mark Sanchez (who wasn't extremely accurate in the Wildcard playoffs, but made big plays in the 4th quarter).

Pick:  Patriots, 27-20
Key to game for Jets:  Take the ball out of Brady's hands by running the ball on offense and controlling the clock.  Send exotic blitz packages to confuse Brady and force him to throw before he wants to.
Key to game for Patriots:  No 3-and-outs on offense.  The longer the New England defense is on the field, the better it plays into the hands of the Jets' gameplan.

NFC Divisional Playoffs
Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons
Saturday, January 15th, 2011 - Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA

Packers must slow the powerful Turner.
Aaron Rodgers took the first step in replacing legendary Packer quarterback Brett Favre last week on the road in Philly by recording his 1st career playoff win as the starter.  Rodgers will lead Green Bay (11-6) on the road again this week in the ATL and face a team that has a quarterback who is starting to build is own legend.  In just his third year in the league, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has been a juggernaut when playing in Atlanta, going 20-2 as starter in the Georgia Dome.  About half of those wins have been in dramatic fashion, including a 20-17 win over the Pack in Week 12 that was sealed with a Matt Bryant 47-yard field goal with 9 seconds left.  The Falcons (13-3) were aware of the implications that game had in playoff picture as league-leading receiver Roddy White said, "I have no plans of going to Lambeau Field in January, I plan on staying right here and sleeping in my own bed in the playoffs."  White and the Falcons did what they had to do to get home-field throughout but Rodgers and the Green Bay offense comes in more confident now with the emergence of fullback John Kuhn and running back James Starks, who started the year on the practice squad but had 123 yards rushing in the 21-16 win over the Eagles in the Wildcard playoffs last weekend.

Pick:  Packers, 27-24
Key to game for Falcons:  Don't let the Packers receivers get behind you.  Rodgers will kill you with the vertical ball, especially with guys like Greg Jennings, James Jones, Donald Driver on the receiving end.
Key to game for Packers:  Slow down Falcons running back Michael Turner.  The Green Bay D allowed Turner to rush for 110 yards and a touchdown in the Week 12 matchup.

AFC Divisional Playoffs
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Saturday, January 15th, 2011 - Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA

Flacco must know where #43 is on every play.
The annual "black and blue" game between these two no nonsense defenses is certainly poised to be another brutal affair.  The Ravens defense was dominant on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wildcard playoffs, blanking the Chiefs for the final three quarters of the game for a 30-7 win.  They will have to repeat that performance once again on the road, this time against a familiar foe.  On offense in the divisional playoffs, Baltimore (13-4) featured tight end Todd Heap (mostly on crossing routes) to the tune of 10 catches, a franchise record for the post season.  Heap was injured on the first offensive play against the Steelers (12-4) in the Week 13 matchup, a 13-10 Pittsburgh triumph, where the Ravens led most of the game but had the win stripped away by a blitzing Troy Polamalu and a shifty Ben Roethlisberger.  I expect Heap to be the difference maker in this one, just as long as the Baltimore O-line can keep quarterback Joe Flacco upright long enough to deliver the football.

Pick:  Ravens, 20-16
Key to game for Steelers:  Same as every matchup with Baltimore, keep Flacco guessing where the blitz is coming from.
Key to game for Ravens:  When Roethlisberger is to be had, bring him down.  Big Ben is the best in the league at making something out of nothing.

NFC Divisional Playoffs
Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears
Sunday, January 16th, 2011 - Solider Field, Chicago, IL

Beast Mode part 2 will be less likely against the Bears D.
Marshawn Lynch's "beast mode" was enough to take the Seahawks (8-9) and put them over that edge last week against the New Orleans Saints, and they are gonna need another beast-like performance to tame the Bears in Chi-Town on Sunday.  Seattle coach Pete Carroll and his team seemed to thrive on the underdog role against the defending champs in the Wildcard playoffs, and the fans at Qwest Field definitely were "The 12th Man" in that game.  Now we can see if they can turn those feelings of disrespect into a hostile environment at Soldier Field.  Yes, the Seahawks have already beaten the Bears (11-5) on that field this season, 23-20, but that was in Week 6 (October 17th).  That being said, it will be interesting to see how Jay Cutler and the Chicago offense responds to the bye week.  The Bear D will have added pressure to perform at a high level, especially if Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has it rolling like he did against the Saints (272 yards passing, 4 TDs).

Pick:  Seahawks, 21-16
Key to game for Bears:  Score when in the redzone . . . touchdowns.
Key to game for Seahawks:  Stop Matt Forte out of the backfield.  Force Jay Cutler to make plays in 3rd-and-long situations.

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