NFL DIVISIONALS – BEST MATCHUPS IN YEARS

12Jan13

I know, that’s a pretty bold statement, considering some of the divisional round matchups over the past few years.  But let me ask you a question.  When was the last time you saw all four games in this round that could very easily be won by either team?

Usually there are one or two games that you know are merely being played out as a formality.  Not this year.  All four games will showcase opponents that have realistic chances of moving on to the Conference Finals.

Let’s take a look, starting with the first game.

NFL Football

Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos:

We were fortunate enough last week to be able to see a storybook end to a future hall of famer’s career, as the Baltimore Ravens took care of business for Ray Lewis’ final home game as a professional football player.

The emotion was high, not just for Mr. Lewis, but for his teammates, the broadcasters and fans all around the world.  The Colts didn’t have a chance.

Now we bring that story to Denver to do battle with a team that has its own Hollywood season still being written.  Peyton Manning was in bed watching last year’s playoffs, after going through one of several ‘procedures’ on his neck, unsure if he would ever get the chance to return to the game.

Now he has led his new team to the top spot in the AFC and has them running smoothly on all cylinders, favored by most to make it to the Super Bowl, if not winning it.  He has played as well as ever, apparently not missing a beat from two years ago.

So how can you not be excited by this matchup.  Baltimore was the preseason favorite to get to the Super Bowl by many (including me).  Denver has evolved into the team to beat.  With the two storylines I just described, how could this game possibly disappoint anyone?

Well, I guess if it became a blowout, it might lose some of its luster.

Yeah, right!  Don’t count on that happening.  Forget the points spread, this game will be hard fought and won’t be decided until the final minutes of play.

Ultimately, the Broncos solid play will outshine the Ravens’ inconsistent performances of late.

Denver wins 27-23.

Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers:

Many experts are picking the winner of this game to make it to the Super Bowl.  Hopefully the players themselves are not paying attention to those stories and are focused on this battle.  Because this will be a battle and one mistake could very well be the difference between moving on the Conference Finals and hitting the golf course early.

First let’s get rid of the clichés that are circulating.

Yes, the 49ers went to Green Bay in week one of the regular season and thumped the Packers on their own tundra.  That was eighteen weeks ago.  Get over it!

Yes, the so-called QB controversy in San Francisco has been a distraction over the past several weeks.  Not to the team, but to the media, who just can’t seem to get past the fact that the starting quarterback for a winning team was demoted.  The team doesn’t seem to be distracted at all, they prepared for this week’s game well-rested, thanks to having a bye in the first round.

So let’s look at the reality of this matchup.

The 49ers have one of the best defensive units in the game.  They put a lot of pressure on the quarterback and are very good at stopping the run.  The Packers have one of the best passing quarterbacks in the league and a whole slew of solid receivers to choose from.

The 49ers have a strong offensive line that can open big holes for a brutally powerful running back that is very capable of putting up big numbers.  Their current starting quarterback, while still learning the game, is very mobile and is difficult to bring down.  Their receivers have discovered over the past few weeks that they can be dangerous, peaking at just the right time.

The Packers defense, which began the season as a non-existent entity, has become a force to be reckoned with.  While not nearly as solid as the 49ers squad, they have been playing much better and are very capable of making the big plays when needed.

So which team gets to move on?  That depends on which team makes the most big plays.  I’m looking for the 49ers defense to contain Rogers for a while, allowing time for their own running game (aka Gore) to get into the flow.  As a result, the Packers will be held to less than thirty points, allowing the 49ers to get the home field victory.

San Francisco wins 30-27.

Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons:

First let me say that I had pegged this Seattle team as the dark horse of the playoffs about six weeks ago, when they began to steamroll their opponents at will.  I have also been a critic of the Falcons all season long, never believing that they were as good as their record.

However, this is the playoffs, so I will not make the mistake of thinking that Atlanta will not be ready when the game begins on Sunday.  I’d like to think that they will live up to the #1 seed’s expectations and put up a solid battle.

There’s only one problem.  You see, the Falcons have a very good quarterback, a couple of good running backs and some stud receivers.  Their offensive line is solid.  Their secondary is a legitimate force and overall, they seem to be a team that can figure out how to win games, even when they are not playing at their best.  The only week spot is their defensive line, that is among the bottom in the league in yards rushing allowed.

Not good news if you’re a Falcons fan.  Out of all of the teams that made the playoffs, Seattle is the worst possible matchup for this Atlanta team.  They have arguably the fiercest, hardest hitting, impossible to tackle running backs in the league in Marshawn Lynch.  He averaged nearly 100 yards per game this season (99.4) with 11 TDs.

With the Seahawk defense playing at the top of their game (not to mentioned two Pro-Bowl caliber cornerbacks) and their rookie QB playing like a seasoned veteran, this could very well have the makings of a blowout.  Many experts are predicting that very thing.

I’m not so quick to go there.  I’m not saying that I will be surprised if it happens.  And if one of the four games this weekend were to be a blowout, I think it would be this one.  But I’ve got a feeling that the Falcons are going to surprise people this week.  They’ve had two weeks to rest, strategize and come up with a game plan to contain Lunch.

That’s right, I said contain.  Not stop.  They’re going to need to key on him and keep a couple of players dedicated to following him wherever he goes.  In order for this to work, they will need to rely on a lot of man-on-man coverages.  Otherwise Wilson will light them up.

Will it work?  For a while, yes.  But not for four quarters.  Seattle has been playing too well over the past six weeks in all aspects of the game.  I don’t see a 30-point blowout, but I do see a Seahawk victory.

Seattle wins 38-24.

Houston Texans at New England Patriots:

This has the potential of being the most exciting game of the weekend, so it’s fitting that it is the last one on the schedule.

Houston has had its ups and downs, which ultimately cost them the top seed and a bye week in the first round.  But we cannot forget that they have the weapons to put up big points at any time.  With a Pro-Bowl running back and receiver and a solid QB, they can score.  Their defense has been underachieving lately, but has the potential to shut down the best offenses.

Tom Brady

They will need to hit their ‘potential’ on both sides of the ball this week, as they travel to Foxboro.  The Patriots are one of the most difficult teams to beat this time of the year, especially at home.  Brady is one of the best playoff quarterbacks ever and they have found a solid running back game with Ridley.  If their tight end game is there, the offense will put up big points.

I don’t see the defenses stopping each other this week, as the score will certainly be the highest of the four games.  In the end, I think the team that should win will win.

New England wins 41-34.

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