by Ryan Meehan (Davenport, IA – US)
and Joe Feeney (Davenport, IA – US)
RM: Divisional playoff weekend presents a bit of a dilemma for me since I do predictions in these pieces. Last week, we watched three road teams win and the only home team that won was a ten and a half point underdog. So, what should I do? Stick with the chalk picks and hope that all of the bye week teams can help me return to glory? Or pick underdogs since that’s what everyone else is doing? Perhaps a combination of both?
The matchups in each conference couldn’t be any different: In the NFC, you have two games where the teams involved have almost no history. In the AFC, both are divisional matchups between two teams that are consistently at the top of their division and can’t stand each other. The AFC playoffs are a little bit more appealing to me this postseason.
Also, this week is the second installment of our “Educated Guest” series, as we welcome in local expert and resident Iowa Hawkeye and Green Bay Packer fan Joe Feeney to help us with our picks.
JF: Wildcard weekend lived up to it’s name as 3 of the 4 games came down to the final drive…no surprise that the new kids to the party (Chiefs…though it might as well have been the Chefs) didn’t show up and the road warrior Ravens took care of business.
So we get to see 4 rematches this weekend, two of which are division rivals meeting for the 3rd time…the Patriots and Jets and the Steelers and Ravens. These might as well be bar room brawls based on all the trash talk and hitting that will take place in each game.
Baltimore Ravens (13-4) +3 at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
Saturday, Jan. 15th 3:30 CST @ Heinz Field
JF: The Steelers and Ravens kick things off on Saturday and if you like old school football, this is your game. It will be defense, defense, a little offense and more defense. This could easily be a 9-7 football game with either one team kicking the FG to win or missing it to lose. Flacco couldn’t get the job done vs. the Steelers in 2008, throwing the pick to Polamalu which clinched the game for the Steelers and they went on to win the Super Bowl. I just see this game coming down to Randel El and a trick play, not Big Ben, to get the Steelers the win…
Joe’s prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers 16, Baltimore Ravens 10
RM: I really don’t like the Steelers. I don’t like their fans, and the whole “Terrible Towel” thing is fucking weak. Let’s do a short exercise: Do you know any cool Steelers fans? Of course you don’t, they’re all shitheads. But enough of me ranting about the fanbase… These two teams seem to cross each other’s paths quite often, this being their eighth meeting over the last three years. And they hate each other’s guts, which always makes for great TV. Baltimore has what you would expect to be aging defensive players, but the only problem for the opposition is they don’t show any signs of aging once they hit the field. They allowed just 161 total yards (just 25 in the 2nd half) last week against Kansas City.
But Big Ben is 8-2 lifetime against the Ravens, and since the two teams do play each other so often he’s got a bit of an advantage knowing what type of looks they’ll give him. And Pittsburgh still has an awfully robust offensive roster that boasts Rashard Mendenhall, Hines Ward, Heath Miller, and the emerging Mike Wallace who just might be the next big play receiver in the league.
Either way if you are planning on picking this game, it won’t be a blowout: Six out of the last seven games between Baltimore and Pittsburgh have been decided by four points or less, and three of those games have been decided in overtime. The Ravens did lose their last game against the Steelers in week 13, but they’ve won every game since. I’m taking the Ravens here because I believe their running game is a little bit better. I can’t believe I’m saying that, but it’s true. Flacco is definitely not the better QB, but in a game like this he won’t have to be. Joe Flacco could go 8 for 14 for 99 yards and the Ravens could still win this one.
Saturday Jan. 15, 7:00 PM CST @ Georgia Dome
JF: The late game on Saturday is the 6th seed Packers vs the #1 seed Falcons. These 2 teams played in Week 12 and the Falcons won on a last second field goal, 20-17. The game featured miscues by the Packers when Rodgers fumbled a QB sneak at the 1 early in the game. The Falcons went down the field and got a TD of their own which totally swung momentum. It also featured a 4th down catch by Tony Gonzalez which had it been challenged, it would’ve been incomplete. McCarthy said this week that they never got a replay of it in time and kind of hinted that the home replay operator did it on purpose.
This game will come down to running the ball…the Packers got a surprise contribution by ‘message board legend’ James Starks, putting up 123 rushing yards vs. Philly. This was partly due to the fact that Stewart Bradley was out for Philly at MLB, but also because of his fresh legs. Rodgers had over 50 yards rushing vs. the Falcons, so they will try to contain him better on Saturday. Michael Turner will see plenty of carries as he had over 100 yards against the Packers the first game. The Packers defense missed several tackles that game and will be swarming on Turner this time. Clay Matthews was neutralized and didn’t get much pressure on Matt Ryan…in fact, Ryan only had 4 incompletions on the day. I expect more pressure blitzes by GB, but if they can’t stop Turner, they’ll have to hold back. I expect the Packers to still go with a good amount of 5 WRs to expose the Falcons secondary. The Packers went 5 WR 30 times this year…the rest of the NFL comblined did it 16 times. That’s my nugget for the day.
This game will come down to the end again…and its hard to against Matt Ryan with how many comebacks he’s had and his 20-2 home record. I just think the Packers have the momentum, they know they blew the game the first time in Atlanta and will come up with enough plays on defense to win it. And no, I’m not being a homer.
Joe’s Prediction: Green Bay Packers 24, Atlanta Falcons 20
RM: The Packers’ offense didn’t exactly blow me away last week. They played a pretty average Philly defense and only racked up 21 points, fumbling four times. The one thing that the Pack does seem to do a great job of is running the ball effectively even though they don’t have the best offensive line in the world. (as evidenced by the two concussions Rodgers suffered earlier this year) Green Bay will need more big plays against a team like the Falcons if they are going to take the crowd out of it early. And they’re going to need to rely heavily on running back James Starks, who had a career game last week.
Atlanta is probably a little overrated (mostly due to the fact that we don’t see a whole lot of them out here) but I have a feeling one dominant game on national television could change all of that. Falcons head coach Mike Smith has done on hell of a job, and Matt Ryan will be looking for his first career postseason victory. It will be interesting to see Ryan face a very threatening defensive front including Clay Matthews, who is slowly becoming one of my favorite NFL players. I just love how aggressive he is. The haircut? Not so much. I read an interesting arguement this morning about how Green Bay should win, seeing as how they have equally potent offenses but the Packers are better on the other side of the ball. It’s a great point, but I can’t bet against the Falcons at home. Neither of these teams are reporting any injuries that we weren’t already aware of.
Meehan’s Prediction: Atlanta Falcons 28, Green Bay Packers 24
Seattle Seahawks (8-9) +10 at Chicago Bears (11-5)
Sunday, Jan. 16, 12:00 p.m. CST @ Soldier Field
JF: Now on to the Sunday games and look what we have here…the ol’ Seattle Seabags, fresh off the upset of the Saints, going back to a place they won at already this year. Chicago is a much different team than the one that lost to Seattle in Week 6, 23-20. My concern is the emotional high that Seattle is on…usually a team struggles the next week. Look at the Eagles…they had the incredible comeback vs. the Giants (sorry Meehan) and were on top of the world…and never won again, losing to the Vikings, Cowboys and Packers at home.
This one is going to come down to the QBs…good/evil Hasslebeck vs. good/evil Cutler. Seriously, whoever has the least amount of turnovers wins this game. I don’t think either team will run very well and whoever makes the dumb throw deep in their own territory to set up the other team is going to win it. And everything in my soul wants to say it will be Kristin (Cavaliri) Cutler, but I think father time will catch up to Hassy and a few hits by Peppers will have him giving away picks like candy.
Joe’s Prediction: Chicago Bears 27, Seattle Seahawks 14
RM: Although the Bears have an incredible defense and are playing in their own stadium, something gives me the feeling that they won’t live up to the number two seed they’ve been assigned. Plus, the Seahawks are a good cold weather team that won’t be phased by Soldier Field one bit. I saw enough out of Hasselbeck last week to believe that he knows how to pick apart a defense like Chicago. Whether or not he’ll be able to do it is another story…but they did put up 41 points last week against a team that just won the Super Bowl. In the first meeting between these two teams earlier this year, the Seahawks sacked Jay Cutler six times. The Bears’ offensive line has been questionable at best all year, and if that Green Bay game was any indication of how his ability to get rid of the ball has improved it could be a long afternoon for Chicago.
The Bears are also in a rough spot because although the Seahawks’ pass defense was 27th in the league, the only real deep threat they would have (outside of the six third downs they play Hester at WR) would be Johnny Knox. The rest of their receiving corps is made up of guys like Greg Olsen and Earl Bennett who are good for across the middle / dink and dunk stuff, but none of those players can bust the big one. Chicago’s running game is stronger even though everyone is still pumped about Marshawn Lynch’s big run last week against the Saints. I look for Matt Forte to get at least fifteen touches, most likely even more than that. Upset special.
Prediction: Seattle Seahawks 24, Chicago Bears 23
New York Jets (12-5) +8 at New England Patriots (14-2)
Sunday, Jan. 16, 3:30 PM CST @ Gilette Stadium
JF: And to the final game of the weekend…the Hoodie vs the Foot lover. These are the games the Patriots live for and this is the redemption that the Jets wanted after getting whooped 45-3 in Foxboro this year. This should be the Jets gameplan…run by Greene. Run by Greene. Screen to LT. Run by LT. Run by Greene. Over the middle to Keller. Run by Greene. Rinse and repeat.
The Jets tried to throw on the Pats when they could’ve run up and down the field on them. They got cocky and paid for it. I don’t see them making the same mistake. Heavy doses of Greene and LT, and short passes by Sanchez to Keller, Holmes and Edwards. The Packers did it in NE with a backup QB, I expect the same from the Jets.
Brady doesn’t lose these games…Cromartie is talking trash to Brady like he’s one of his 23 baby mommas trying to get another child support check. Brady will go at him early and I have to think Rex Ryan has a master plan behind all of this. There’s some sort of bait and switch and would love to see it come to fruition. If the Jets learn from the last game, focus on what they need to do and not get caught up in the trash talking, I think they will go into Foxboro and win this thing. I hope so or it’s going to be another beatdown by the Patriots.
Joe’s Prediction: New York Jets 30, New England 24
RM: In a postseason that’s already full of upsets, taking the Jets is a real popular pick this week. But I can’t see it going down. The Patriots have way too much of everything and they know how to use it wisely. They’re well-coached, well-practiced, and they have easily the best quarterback in pro football. There’s no foreseeable way the Jets come out of here with a win. But, don’t take my word for it: Wall Street Journal writer Michael David Smith reviewed all the times a regular-season game was decided by at least 35 points and the teams met again in the playoffs. It has happened five times before, and in each case the team that lost in the regular season lost again in the rematch by at least two scores. Here are the previous instances with the regular-season game first, playoff game second.
1969: Vikings over Browns 51-3; Vikings over Browns 27-7.
1980: Eagles over Vikings 42-7; Eagles over Vikings 31-16.
1991: Redskins over Lions 45-0; Redskins over Lions 41-10.
1991: Redskins over Falcons 56-17; Redskins over Falcons 24-7.
2009: Jets over Bengals 37-0; Jets over Bengals 24-14.
It would be a historical feat if they can pull it off, but it won’t happen. After the last meeting in which the Jets got worked 45-3, Rex Ryan was so disturbed that he buried the game ball in a hole in the ground next to the practice field. So at least when they do it now it’s not in the actual stadium where they play the games, and being buried isn’t just for Teamsters anymore. I have plenty of other asphyxiation / suffocation / death-by-concrete burial jokes if you’re interested.
On Monday, Rex Ryan came out and said that this game “isn’t about New England vs. the Jets, this is about Bill Belichick vs. Rex Ryan” Uh yeah…about that…He’d better hope that’s not the case, because 98 out of 100 times he’ll end up getting outcoached if put in that predicament. And the idea that this game would really end up being decided by a coach’s decision on a single play is sort of a silly thought to begin with. The Jets will also be without right tackle Damien Woody, leaving a huge hole in their offensive line.
Prediction: New England Patriots 32, New York Jets 13
Other news around the NFL:
Just when I thought the Broncos’ situation couldn’t get any more pathetic, I woke up to this story on Tuesday: http://www.aurorasentinel.com/hp_recent_headlines/article_32fa97d8-1ceb-11e0-be87-001cc4c03286.html That’s right, even the weather is trying to hold up Denver’s search for a coach. Nothing puts a damper on hiring a guy who coached his team to a 2-14 season than a snowstorm. Here’s an updated recap of how the Broncos’ season has gone so far: They draft Tim Tebow, one of their guys kills himself during week two, they fire their coach week ten, finish the season 3-13, and then hired John Fox. Sounds like those executives could use a vacation.
Speaking of Carolina, they hired Ron Rivera Tuesday. I sure hope he’s ready for a challenge, and I can’t imagine why anybody in the world would want that position. The runner up for the job was apparently Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, who is also interviewing for the Cleveland and Denver jobs. Oh, and the Minnesota Vikings have offered to pay 1/3 the cost of a new stadium, but won’t fork over a dime for a domed facility even if state lawmakers determine a dome is necessary. http://www.nfl.com/news/story/09000d5d81da20d7/article/vikings-offer-to-pay-for-onethird-of-roofless-stadium?module=HP_headlines
Non-NFL Football News:
RM: Funniest thing that I read all week was right before the BCS National Championship Game, a comedian who I had just recently interviewed (Stu McCallister) had a pretty ironic tweet: “Am I the only one that finds it funny the University of Phoenix has a football stadium but no football team”? Not anymore Stu, not anymore. For not having a playoff system, I thought that college football actually got it right this year. Auburn was clearly the number one team in the country. I’m not normally a fan of a 19 yard field goal deciding the championship of anything, but it happens.
So, that’s what we think divisional playoff weekend in the NFL might look like. Don’t forget to check out Joe on Twitter at @joeyhawkeye, and once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.