Tuesday, January 12, 2010

NFL Divisional Playoff Predictions

My predictions on Wild Card Weekend proved true: the Ravens knocked out the Patriots and the Bengals went down in flames.

The Jets and Ravens are being referred to as Cinderellas as they head to San Diego and Indianapolis this weekend, but I really don't see it that way. Both teams are hot and must be playing with a lot of confidence after beating division champs.

The Ravens proved once again the old adage that defense wins championships is true. They intimidated and flat-out manhandled the Patriots on Sunday. Early turnovers essentially ended the game, but the Ravens' running game was strong as well, keeping the Patriots offense off the field once the team regained its bearings.

I'm not discounting the Patriots had injury problems that hindered their offense. Who knows how a healthy Wes Welker would have changed the game plan. But none of the Patriots' offensive weapons were working in the first half. It was so bad the New England crowd began booing the team. Even if Welker was in the game, I'm not sure the Ravens' would have not won that game easily.

The Ravens now find themselves facing another team with a big offense this weekend. The Colts scored only 17 points at Baltimore in Week 11, but still won 17-15. The Ravens forced two Peyton Manning interceptions and recovered another fumble. Manning threw for 299 yards, but only one touchdown.

The Ravens were winning by a point in the fourth quarter, when they allowed a 25-yard field goal that ended up being the game-winner for the Colts. The game played out perfectly for the Ravens, but the offense could not get the job done late in the game when Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw an interception deep in Colts territory.

This leads me to Prediction No. 1 for the Divisional Playoffs: The Ravens are going to upset the Colts and return to the AFC Championship game.

The Colts have no momentum after taking three weeks off, which I think is a big problem. It will take a couple drives for the Colts offense to get into rhythm and if the Ravens again force early turnovers, the Colts could be in trouble. But it is the Ravens running game that is so dangerous. Manning can't throw touchdown passes from the bench. The Ravens did not run extremely well against the Colts in the regular season, but I guarantee the Colts defense will see a lot of Ray Rice if the Ravens go up 14-0 like last week.

Surprisingly, the Ravens pass-rush did not sack Manning in the regular season match-up. That will have to change in the playoffs. At the very least, the Ravens defense will have to hit Manning and make him uncomfortable. With safety Ed Reed back in the line-up I think the Ravens can do it.

Don't let the seeding and records fool you. These two teams are not as far apart as they appear. This is not your father's NFL, when an 9-7 record was a monster difference from 14-2. Increased parody forces you to almost throw out the records in the playoffs.

Prediction No. 2: Giants Stadium will be preparing to host the AFC Championship, but the Chargers will have just enough to win a close game.

Yes, the AFC could send a No. 5 or 6 seed to the Super Bowl. The Chargers are a hot team and a popular pick to beat the Jets this weekend. But I wouldn't count out Rex Ryan, who has named his team the favorite to win the Super Bowl.

This game will come down to the quarterbacks. Mark Sanchez, a rookie, will keep the Jets in the game, but like Flacco last year, will make a mistake at the wrong time that will cost his team the game. Chargers QB Philip Rivers has enough playoff experience to not be a liability.

The Jets have upset the Chargers in the playoffs before, but I think they get their revenge this year. Ironically, it's on a late field goal.

Prediction No. 3: The Cowboys prove they are over-rated. The Vikings-Cowboys divisional playoff is a no-win situation for me. It pains me to pick either team, but I don't think the Cowboys can sustain their level of excellence. They are due for a clunker after winning four games in a row and the hostile Metrodome is a prime spot. The Vikings will be ready for this game and should not underestimate the Cowboys and their momentum.

Vikings quarterback Brett Favre will play well, but will let the Cowboys stay in the game with a turnover or two. The Vikings will ice it in the second half with a lot of Adrian Peterson and win it by 10.

Prediction No. 4: The Saints be the team that snaps out of the late-season funk.

The Cardinals' defense was shredded by the Packers, which should have the Saints licking their chops. Quarterback Drew Brees will have no problem finding his favorite receivers and scoring 35 points or more.

The Saints may have lost three straight to end the season, but the defense did not give up more than 24 points in any of them. If the Saints and Cardinals defenses hold to recent form, the Saints should have no problems and win by 14 or more.

No comments: