Last week KJ and I (or K-Daddy if you’re nasty) both went 3-1 in our predictions for wildcard weekend. My only slip-up was predicting that the Cincinnati Bengals could go into Houston and upset the Texans, while KJ thought ChuckStrong would override Ray Lewis’ last home game ever.
(By the way, if we don’t do as good with this weekend’s predictions, I won’t even mention it here in next week’s post.)
The four teams left in the AFC are the same four teams who played during this same weekend last year. But the teams are mixed up a bit. Instead of playing the Broncos, the Patriots are hosting the Texans. The Broncos host the Ravens. The Packers and 49ers represents an old-school match-up. It’s the franchise of the 60s against the franchise of the 80s. Both teams were in the divisional round last year as well. But Atlanta and Seattle are new this year. They’ll face-off and give us one new team in the NFC conference title game.
Baltimore Ravens Vs. Denver Broncos
Ray Lewis versus Peyton Manning, one last time.
There were times when Manning was with the Colts that I loved watching the cat-and-mouse game between Manning’s barking at the line of scrimmage and Lewis howling back. I loved watching the Ravens move around on defense, as if they were mocking what Manning was doing on the other side of the ball. Thanks to Ray Lewis calling it quits, we’ll see it one last time this Saturday in Denver.
Before the season started, I picked the Falcons to win the Super Bowl. I had them defeating the Baltimore Ravens. Unlike my Falcons pick, I’m not sticking with my guns here, not against Manning and a red-hot Broncos team that have won 11 straight, have put up over 30 points a game, have given up a lowly 18.1 points per game and have lost just three times, to teams a combined 38-11.
This game will be closer than Bronco fans would like (and closer than the 34-17 romp the Broncos put on the Ravens in Week 15). The Ravens have Lewis and Terrell Suggs back on defense. Joe Flacco, with a huge help from Anquan Boldin, looked decent against a shoddy Colts defense, and the Ravens D flustered future-Peyton into erratic throws, sacking him thrice and holding Indianapolis to three field goals.
Still Manning didn’t take a year off so he could work on his long ball. He came back so he could match lil’ brother in Super Bowl victories. Thus, the reason to join a team with a great defense (Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller combined for 29.5 sacks, and 12 fumble recoveries. Yes, you read that correctly, 29.5 sacks), a stout running game, a super-talented receiver in Demaryius Thomas and the Denver altitude – and this just in frigid weather!
Game time temperature is expected to be 20-degrees with temperatures dropping to the teens by the second half. As a Manning-lover, this was the one thing I feared about him coming to Denver. How will he do in the cold, cold weather? I don’t think it’ll matter as much this game as it might if they advance to the AFC championship.
This is the first of three games where KJ and I disagree. While all of those stats KJ mentioned above are true, Denver played in a terrible division. In their sixteen games, only five were against winning teams. FIVE. And they lost three of those games. I have a bad feeling about this game for Peyton Manning. Baltimore has been here before and they are built to play late in the season. I’m taking Baltimore in the upset. Also, while Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever live, he’s only 3-5 in the divisional round for his career, and by my count, just 1-4 when his teams have the first round bye and their first game is divisional week. I don’t know that it means all that much, but those numbers surprised me.
KJ’s Prediction: Denver 27, Baltimore 17
GG’s Prediction: Baltimore 23, Denver 17
Green Bay Packers Vs. San Francisco 49ers
When San Francisco beat Green Bay in Green Bay to open the season, many folks were shocked. I wasn’t that shocked. While I didn’t think they’d pull off the upset as easily as they did, the 49ers are built to beat one-dimensional football teams. And on that day, Green Bay was one-dimensional. But then, they stopped being so one-dimensional. They can now defend much better. What was once a terrible pass defense just one year ago is now 11th in the league. And they showed a willingness to stop the run in beating the Vikings last week.
The reason why the 49ers are built to beat one-dimensional teams is because of their ability to control both sides of the line of scrimmage. They are just too tough for most teams to handle and come the 4th quarter, teams who play them are just worn out. That’s what they did in Lambeau and I think they do it again. No one can stop Aaron Rodgers. But I also don’t think DuJuan Harris will be much of a factor. Rodgers and the Packers are a short-to-medium passing team. They don’t go deep often, which plays in the 49ers’ favor. Rodgers will be facing many passing third downs and if Justin Smith can play even close to the level he usually does, that means Aldon Smith and Aaron Rodgers will have some meetings.
Now, on the other side of the football, the 49ers have stopped running the football effectively. Some of that is due to the loss of Kendall Hunter, and some is probably due to the new pistol formation that they use more frequently with Colin Kaepernick under center. Kaepernick was brought in to be less predictable and make big plays, which he does, but if he can just match what Alex Smith did in Green Bay, the 49ers will be fine. If he doesn’t, they could be in trouble. You don’t want to get into a boat race with Aaron Rodgers. But I don’t think they will. I think they’ll get out ahead of the Packers, hold on for dear life, and eventually come out of Candlestick with a victory.
My apologies to my writing buddy here, but I’m not sold on this Kaepernick kid, at least not yet. He’s promising and he’s the future, I just feel like the move from the conservative Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick is going to come back and bite the Niners in the butt. I see a big night from Mr. Rodgers, a flustered night by Kaepernick and a Packers win in San Francisco.
GG’s Prediction: 49ers 27, Packers 24
KJ’s Prediction: Packers 24, 49ers 17
Seattle Seahawks Vs. Atlanta Falcons
Has there been a No. 1 seed, in recent memory, that has been given so little respect? Maybe it’s because I live in the Pacific Northwest and all I’m hearing is how the Seattle Seahawks, behind the best rookie quarterback *ever*, are going to run the postseason tables to their first Super Bowl victory.
Yes, the Seahawks are on fire, winners of six straight. Yes, the Seahawks can win on both sides of the ball. Yes, the Seahawks proved last week that they can win in the Eastern time zone.
But shouldn’t we be giving these Atlanta Falcons some credit for winning 13 games in the regular season?
This matchup is intriguing in a lot of football ways. You have the physical, trash-talking cornerbacks of the Seahawks battling against the best wide receiver duo in the NFL, veteran Roddy White (92 catches, 1,351 yards, seven TDs) and second-year receiver Julio Jones (79, 1,198, 10 TDs).
You have a Falcons defense that loves to give up rushing yards, and a Seahawk running back that loves to rush (Marshawn Lynch rushed for 131 yards in the Wild Card win over Washington).
And you have a composed rookie quarterback in Russell Wilson, playing like a veteran, not making silly mistakes and making teams pay for silly mistakes, going against a veteran quarterback in Matt Ryan, who is 0-3 in his postseason career.
By the way, those three losses were to Arizona (2008), Green Bay (2010) and the New York Giants (2011). See a pattern? All three of those teams went into the Super Bowl, two of them won it. Could the Falcons be a Super Bowl stepping stone for opponents?
Well, my apologies Seahawk lovers, I’m here to give some credit back to the ol’ Dirty Birds.
There was a reason that I made the Falcons my preseason pick to win the Super Bowl. Now, I’m not so sure if I picked today I’d take them, but I have to stick with my guns right?
The difference in this week’s ballgame? How about future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez? He of the 93 catches for 930 yards and eight TDs, who like Baltimore’s Ray Lewis, said he plans on retiring after this season. With Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman so focused on White and Jones (because they’ll have to be), will the Seahawks be able to find help with No. 88?
Let’s not forget the Thunder and Lightning running back combo of Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers that you have to try and slow down.
Sure the Falcons have to play defense, but they aren’t too shabby there either. They give up a ton of yards but allowed just 18.7 points per game (fifth best in the NFL), and were tied with the ‘Hawks with 31 takeaways during the regular season, good for fourth in the league.
When it’s all said and done, I think it comes down to Matt Ryan proving why he’s one of the better, least positively talked, quarterbacks in the league, leading the Falcons to a fourth-quarter drive and a berth in the NFC championship game.
I look at the Falcons the same way I look at the Broncos. They ran the table against an easy division. They have two impressive victories on their entire schedule. In week two, they beat Denver. In week five, they beat Washington. And then they played a string of games against .500 teams or worse. Finally, in week 15, they rolled the New York Giants. On the other hand, Seattle beat Green Bay (asterisk), San Francisco, New England, Minnesota, and Chicago. They play a style of football much like the 49ers; pushover teams who can’t play in the trenches, beware. And is anyone scared of Atlanta’s running attack? Both running backs averaged less than four yards per carry.
KJ’s Prediction: Falcons 31, Seahawks 28
GG’s Prediction: Seahawks 28, Falcons 21
Houston Texans Vs. New England Patriots
I talked about how divisional weekend hasn’t been kind to Peyton Manning in the past. It’s the exact opposite for Tom Brady. He cleans up this week. While I’m not sure that New England is a great team, they are surely the best offensive machine in football. You think of Atlanta and Green Bay as having pretty powerful offenses. New England outscored both teams by more than 150 points this season. Defensively, they still have issues in the secondary. They gave up the 29th most yards passing defensively and while a lot of that is because teams have to play catch-up when they play New England, it’s the same excuse people gave Green Bay last year and you saw what happened with that.
However, they’re still good enough offensively to offset any defensive deficiencies here. Houston is still struggling. The Seahawks and 49ers have already shown they can beat the Pats. Denver plays a similar style by controlling the line of scrimmage and would give the Pats a great game. The Ravens have the pedigree to play New England well. But Houston should be on that list of teams who can give the Patriots fits. They can run the ball and they stop the run well. But they aren’t the same team as they were in the first half when they were dominating teams. Matt Schaub’s play has been frustrating to watch.
If the Texans win, it’s because Arian Foster carries this team on his back and keeps Brady off the field. Houston can’t get into a shootout here. It could get ugly if they do, much like the week 14, 42-14 butt-kicking the Pats put them.
I dislike the Patriots so much that I’m not going to even write about them. Go Texans!
GG’s Prediction: Patriots 33, Texans 20
KJ’s Prediction: Patriots 35, Texans 24
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