If you are a betting man, hopefully you steered clear of my 0-4 against the spread picks last week. However, just like a quarterback needs short memory after throwing an interception, I will have short memory and keep on making picks. Here is my preview and predictions for the divisional round of the playoffs.
Saturday, January 10 at 4:35 PM: #6 Baltimore Ravens at #1 New England Patriots (-7)
Everyone is talking about the three playoff games between these two teams in the last five years, and how the Ravens always play well against the Patriots in Foxborough. People seem to forget that since the last time these teams clashed in the playoffs, Baltimore suffered a 41-7 beatdown at home last season en route to missing the playoffs, and no longer have several key players from their championship run including Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Ray Rice, and Anquan Boldin. This year, they backed into the playoffs after the Chargers faltered and beat a Pittsburgh team without its best player in Leveon Bell. The Patriots secondary is much improved and prepared to deal with the deep threats of Torrey Smith and Steve Smith Sr, while the Ravens secondary has been weak at times. Baltimore’s pass rush with Suggs and Dumervil can create pressure on the defense side, and Forsett has proved a valuable weapon in the ground game, but Flacco has only had an average season at best. I think the Patriots will win this game, but can’t see it being decided by more than 7 points. Baltimore +7
Saturday, January 10 at 8:15 PM: #4 Carolina Panthers at #1 Seattle Seahawks (-10.5)
These teams clashed in Carolina earlier in the season with the Seahawks pulling out a hard fought 13-9 victory. I would be surprised if the result were much different this weekend in Seattle. These are two of the hottest defenses right now and these teams have been in close low scoring battles in each of the last three years. Kuechly and Davis lead a Panthers defense that set a playoff record for fewest yards allowed against the Cardinals, while Seattle’s defense appears to have returned to championship form. This matchup also features two similar quarterbacks with Cam Newton and Russell Wilson, in that they are both dual threat quarterbacks who were #1 and #2 in the league in rushing touchdowns this season. The advantage for the Seahawks lies with Marshawn Lynch and the ground game. Seattle will need a balanced attack to keep the Panthers linebackers off balance, while the Panthers could fall victim to blitzes early if they become one dimensional. The Seahawks will win, but the Panthers will at least stay within striking distance in a low-scoring defensive battle. Carolina +10.5
Sunday, January 11 at 1:05 PM: #3 Dallas Cowboys at #2 Green Bay Packers (-5.5)
Two of the most historic franchises meet in Lambeau as MVP candidates Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers battle for a trip to the NFC Championship. This has the potential for most entertaining game of the weekend, with stars everywhere on both sides. Demarco Murray, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten against Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson, and Randall Cobb. A Cowboys team that was a perfect 8-0 on the road against a Packers team that was a perfect 8-0 at home. This might be an obvious statement, but I think this game will come down to quarterback play, simply because of the uncertainty revolving around injuries to both guys. Romo has had problems with his back, while Rodgers is battling a calf tear. With two prolific offensive attacks, neither one can afford to get off to a slow start. I like the Cowboys in this game. There are too many people expecting Dallas to choke in the playoffs, but this is a different Cowboys team and I’ve been riding the wave ever since I predicted them to win the division in the preseason. I’ll take Dallas outright with the points as a bonus. Dallas +5.5
Sunday, January 11 at 4:40 PM: #4 Indianapolis Colts at #2 Denver Broncos (-7)
This may be the most intriguing game for obvious reasons: Peyton Manning faces his former team in the playoffs for the first time after a 1-1 record against them in the regular season. Andrew Luck has an MVP type season while Manning had a great year despite a sluggish finish to the season. The emergence of C.J. Anderson and the Broncos rushing attack has helped them become a more balanced offense and helped cover up some of Manning’s late season struggles. The same can’t be said of the Colt’s run game, which is pretty much nonexistent. The key for Indianapolis is to shut down the ground game early and test Peyton’s supposedly fatigued arm against their secondary. Neither quarterback has had much playoff success lately, but I think the Colts will come out firing early and often and eventually hang on for the upset as Peyton adds yet another one and done to his legacy. Indianapolis +7
Thanks to everyone who read this blog, let me know who you think will win in the comments down below.