The common theme of the divisional playoffs this weekend is revenge. Every game this weekend features rematches from earlier this season, but will the results be different this time around?
Here are some questions to consider heading into the weekends games.
Can the Jets keep it close in New England?
Which defense plays better, the Steelers or Ravens?
Will the Seahawks win in Chicago for the second time this season?
Can the Packers win in Atlanta?
Game 1 (Saturday): Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers, 4:30 EST On CBS
Is there anything better than a Ravens-Steelers game? Every time these two teams get together you just get the feeling that someone is going to get killed out there, that’s how physical it is. These two teams hate eachother, and it’s always one of the most hard hitting games of the season. The season series was split, but the Steelers loss was without Ben Roethlisberger. Now it’s time to prove who is the better team. Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a physical game.
In the first meeting, the Ravens won a tight game on a late T.J. Houshmanzadeh touchdown over the Charlie Batch led Steelers to give them the 17-14 win. The second time around, in week 13, the Ravens let it slip away at home, ultimately costing them the AFC North and a first round bye. Had they won that game, they would have been likely been hosting the Steelers this week instead of traveling to Heinz Field. Does it matter though? When these two teams get together, it’s going to be even, no matter what field the game is played on.
For the Ravens to win this game, they are going to have to run the football effectively with the Ray Rice, Willis McGahee combo. Last week, in their win over the Chiefs, the Ravens accounted for just 101 rushing yards, and to win against the Steelers, that will need to improve because it won’t be as easy in Pittsburgh for Flacco than it was in Kansas City. This Steelers defense is mean, and when Troy Polamalu plays they are a completely different team. Remember week 13 when Polamalu won the game for the Steelers?
The Steelers are well rested, and they know what they are up against. This will be a dog fight. Ben Roethlisberger always comes to play come playoff time, and after all he went through this off-season, he won’t stop until he gets his third Super Bowl ring.
Having said that, something tells me the Ravens are going to win this game. This team knows how to win on the road, and Joe Flacco knows how to win playoff games. The Ravens will advance to the AFC Championship game.
Fearless Forecast: Ravens 16, Steelers 13
Game 2 (Saturday): Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons, 8:00 EST On Fox
Saturday night, the two best teams in the NFC will square off in a rematch from week 12. In round one, the Falcons won on a late field goal, 20-17, after Aaron Rodgers led a 90 yard drive to tie the game. Now, it’s round two, and Packers want revenge, but it won’t be easy.
If there has been one knock on the Packers, it’s that they cannot run the ball, ranking 24th in the NFL during the regular season. That wasn’t the case last week in Philadelphia as rookie James Starks ran for a career high 123 yards. If the Packers can continue to run the ball like that, they will be very tough to beat. With one of the best defenses in the league, the Packers have lacked a running game all season long since losing Ryan Grant in week one. Is James Starks the guy to change that?
The Falcons have been the most consistent team in the NFC this season. Matt Ryan comes into this game having just lost two games in the Georgia Dome in his first three seasons. All year long, the Falcons have been led by their lethal trio of Ryan, Michael Turner, and Roddy White. For them to win this game though, the defense will have to come up huge. This team knows how to win close games and has done it all year long.
Aaron Rodgers is ready to be mentioned among the NFL elite, and back to back wins in Philadelphia and Atlanta would place him there. I said in week 16 after the Packers man-handeled the Giants that they were the most dangerous team in the NFC if they were to make the playoffs. Nobody wants to play them, and they are getting hot at the right time. They should have beaten the Falcons in week 12, and will do it here.
Fearless Forecast: Packers 27, Falcons 23
Game 3 (Sunday): Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears, 1:00 EST On Fox
I feel that it’s only fitting mention Marshawn Lynch here after his incredible run last week that lifted the Seahawks to the divisional playoffs and a trip to Chicago. The Seahawks shocked the world last weekend beating the Saints 41-36, can they do it again?
Like every other game this weekend, these two teams met during the regular season. In week five, the Seahawks went into Chicago and took down the Bears 23-20. They only won two games on the road this season, and the Bears were one of them. That’s got to be a sign of optimism.
For the Seahawks to win this game, Matt Hasselbeck will have to play like he did last week, but against a better defense. I gave the Seahawks no chance to win last week against the Saints, and I thought Matt Hasselbeck was washed up and couldn’t play anymore. I was wrong on both accounts. After Marshawn Lynch made Qwest Field shake, literally, how can you not hop on the Seahawks bandwagon? I’m pulling for them in this one, I just don’t think they will win.
The Bears were one of the biggest surprises in the NFL this season, getting the second seed in the NFC. Still, even with all that they’ve done, nobody gives them any credit. The Bears should not have any problems in this game, but here is something. This is Jay Cutlers first playoff start of his career, and he’s going up against a veteran quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck who knows how to win big games. Cutler has the ability to win games with an amazing throw, or lose them, making a terrible mistake. Which Cutler will show up for his first playoff start?
I want to believe in the Seahawks, but I think they’re Cinderella Story ends here. Da Bears will advance to the NFC Championship.
Fearless Forecast: Bears 23, Seahawks 13
Game 4 (Sunday): New York Jets at New England Patriots, 4:30 EST On CBS
The most anticipated game of the weekend is also the last one to be played. The Jets and Patriots will square off for the third time this season, and the stakes could not be higher.
This week, leading up to the game, the Jets have been firing shots at the Patriots, specifically Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Once again, Rex Ryan says that this game is “personal,” and both he and Antonio Cromartie criticized Tom Brady for pointing when the Patriots score a touchdown. In addition, Ryan ripped into Brady for seeing a broadway play during the Jets-Colts game, saying that Peyton Manning would never do that. Really? As if Tom Brady needed extra motivation? I wish the Jets would just keep their mouths shut, as the Patriots have always done. Don’t the Jets remember the last time they visited Foxborough on Monday Night when they got embarrassed 45-3?
Having said that, this game will be closer than last time. The Jets are a better team than what they displayed in week 13 against the Patriots, that’s for sure. For them to win this game, it simply comes down to the play of Mark Sanchez. If Sanchez had played well last week in Indianapolis, the Jets would have easily won that game instead of squeaking it out at the end. Sanchez overthrew players all night long, and will not be able to do that against the Patriots.
Tom Brady has had arguably the best season of his career, and the Patriots looked poised to make the Super Bowl. They will not be taking this Jets team lightly, and cannot wait to shut them up once and for all.
Fearless Forecast: Patriots 27, Jets 17