The Rundown: Division Playoffs

Boys and girls of the NFL world! Before you go to sleep, I have to get my thoughts out on where the we stand for the games coming up. If you’re an article-reading nut like me, you’ve probably read the same story lines over and over again, so let’s get those out and done with now:

  1. Matt Ryan needs a win for credibility.
  2. The Ravens are probably not going to win in Denver.
  3. The AFC Championship looks like one last Brady vs. Manning hurrah.
  4. Green Bay vs. San Francisco looks like the battle of the crappy kickers.
Blah, blah, blah, hutututut, on with it. There’s more to the games in this round.

Nate Gray of the Nate Gray Zone sent me his thoughts on his picks:

And I agree almost completely. Let’s take a short look at what we’ve got here:

Baltimore Ravens vs. Denver Broncos (24-31)
No, Baltimore is nowhere near as good as Denver on either sides of the ball. Joe Flacco is not Peyton Manning, and even though LB Ray Lewis is a surefire Hall of Famer, Denver’s Von Miller is tearing it up and will punish the Raven’s offense if they slip up.

I do believe Denver will win, but I only give them a slight advantage. Keep in mind, the playoffs are a place where good teams can become great. All bets are off, no matter how good a team’s record is. Green Bay and the New York Giants won it all in the last two years, and the last six Super Bowls included a wild card team who no one thought had a chance.

I’m not saying the Ravens are getting hot at the right time, because they’re luke-warm, if I’m being nice. But anything can happen, and Denver is not invulnerable.

Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers (27-24)

Green Bay didn’t come into the postseason with a winning streak. Hell, they lost to the team that they beat in the wildcard in the season finale. But Aaron Rodgers is one of the best, if not the best, quarterback in the league. He’s proven that he can win in the postseason, and he can win on a long road with the team in a wild card seeding. I pick the Packers only because I think Colin Kaepernick won’t be able to dial it up in pressure. Kaep hasn’t faced this kind of pressure all season long, handily beating the teams San Fran won against, losing big time to one division rival in the Seattle Seahawks, and losing a nail biter against another rival in St. Louis.

Please put it out of your minds that this is some sort of legit rematch from Week 1. These are NOT EVEN CLOSE to the same teams we saw at the beginning of the season. Rodgers was continuing a slump that started last season and ended in Week 5. San Fran’s starting QB in Week 1 was Alex Smith, and Justin Smith was healthy on a defense that would go on to terrorize opponents until his triceps injury in Week 15. Since then, Green Bay has improved, and the 49ers are less of a sure thing and more of a “I know what you’re thinking, but you’re probably not right” team. The game could go either way, but I trust Mike McCarthy and his offense much more than San Fran from top to bottom.

Seattle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons (24-20)

Matt Ryan has a monkey on his back, we all know it. I’ve been reading articles about how Ryan is actually statistically better on the road than he is at home this season (I’m not counting passer ratings, but rather raw, unprocessed stats). Atlanta just hasn’t given me enough confidence to believe that this is the year they move on after one game. The defense is not in a good position battle, as they’ve been mediocre against the run and Beast Mode, Skittles junkie Marshawn Lynch is coming to town on a streak of five consecutive 100-yard performances. Oh, and that one rookie for the Blue’s is pretty fleet-of-foot, too.

Russell Wilson has ignited a read-option attack that’s become a hallmark of Seattle’s winning strategy. Of course, Atlanta has a 2-1 record against teams that ran the same offense this season (Carolina twice, and Washington). But Seattle is a different monster altogether. They are complete package team that won’t be stopped on offense. And Legion of Boom in the defensive secondary will give Roddy White and Julio Jones of Atlanta a tough time trying to simply locate the ball. I expect one of the two to surpass 100 yards receiving, but I doubt that they’ll have a serious impact on the game.

And don’t get me started on Michael Turner. He’s lost the tread on his tires, let alone any decline. Jacquizz Rogers will be the deciding factor in this game if it’s close, but I don’t know that he’ll be there to save the day with enough time on the clock. Seattle will take this one and move on to play their grudge rematch in Green Bay.

Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots (23-35)

This is one pick that I really do hope is wrong. All of my picks are based on the most realistic possibility in my mind. I absolutely believe that the New England Patriots will win this game. They’ve played it before. Just hit rewind on the tape.

But Houston was my AFC pick this year. Not only that, I’ve been so sour since Brian Cushing went out for the season on an ACL tear after a BS “tackle” on the play. I can’t stand to see New England win this one. We need new blood!
But I digress.

Win this game, and the Patriots are in against Manning, possibly for the last time. New England’s defense has become a bend-but-don’t-break unit once again, ball-hawking Oppa Ed Reed Style. And on the offense, Brady has had Stevan Ridley, finally a complimentary back in a passing offense for Tommy, to keep defenses true. It helped, in part, to keep Wade Phillips on his heels when they beat Houston 42-14 earlier in the season. This is as good a time as any for New England to capitalize and bring Brady closer to a fourth ring. 

But if Houston wants to win, J.J. Watt needs to be 1000% better than in their last meeting. Watt was non-consequential last time and that’s not him. He’s got to be in a higher zone than he’s ever been to pressure Brady. And Matt Schaub has to, HAS TO, elevate his game to the Pro Bowl status he was deemed worthy of. Without extra effort against a team they know, there will almost certainly be disappointment in what was once considered their “season of all Texans seasons”.

Shame.

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