Playoff Preview – Divisional Round
I enter this weekend having gone 2-2 in last weekend’s games, hitting with the Cards and Eagles and missing on the Ravens and Chargers. Chargers were by far the biggest surprise for me with the ‘Lightening Bug’ Darren Sproles leading the Bolts past the Colts. The Ravens were most impressive with a thorough beat-down of the Phins.
The Divisional Round of the playoffs features four re-matches from earlier this season.
Baltimore at Tennessee
Last meeting: The Titans edged the Ravens 13-10 when the teams met back in October. Rookie QB Joe Flacco’s second interception proved costly late in the 4th quarter as he tried to lead the Ravens back after Kerry Collins took the Titans on the decisive drive with aTD hookup to Alge Crumper with under 2 minutes left.
Breakdown: The Ravens looked really impressive in their defeat of the Dolphins. The Titans are rested and enter the game with only center Kevin Mawae as a major question mark to play. As much hype as the Ravens’ defense gets, their offense is actually averaging slightly more yards per game than the Titans. Coupled with the formidable run defense and opportunistic Ed Reed in the secondary, the Ravens look like the team to beat, yet the Titans enter as a 3 point favorite. Something just doesn’t seem right. Everything points to Baltimore, but Tennessee is favored.
Key matchup: Titans rushing attack vs Ravens rush defense.
Prediction: One team has the momentum and the stats while the other is favored. When it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Arizona at Carolina
Last meeting: Carolina comes back to beat the visiting team which holds double-digit second half lead. Sound familiar Bears fans? Carolina did the same to the Cardinals back in October to defeat Arizona 27-23. Anquan Boldin tallied two touchdowns while rookie running back Tim Hightower added another. On Carolina’s side, it was Steve Smith’s 65-yard touchdown reception that did the Cards in.
Breakdown: Arizona surprised many (though not this observer) with their opening round win over Atlanta. The biggest surprise had to be the Cardinals defense, especially the run defense that kept Michael Turner in check. That defense will need to step up again this week against the Panthers robust running attack that ranked 3rd in the NFL behind the likes of DeAngelo Williams and rookie Jonathan Stewart.
Key matchup: Arizona rush defense vs Carolina rushing offense.
Prediction: Carolina is 8-0 at home and they’re rested and ready. Arizona’s run defense was a one week wonder and without Anquan Boldin, not enough offense to keep up with Carolina.
Philadelphia at New York
Last meeting:These two NFC East team split the season series, with the visitor winning each contest. The Eagles won 20-14 at the Meadowlands in December, while the G-Men beat the Eagles 36-31 in Philly back in November. In the Eagles win, Westbrook was on the key for the Eagles as he accounted for over 200 total yards and two TD’s. In the Giants win, Brandon Jacobs tallied 126 rushing yards with 2 TD’s of his own.
Breakdown: Philly pulled off the upset over the Vikings last weekend thanks in large part to the big play. The pick-6 from the defense and Westrbook’s huge screen pass touchdown sunk the Vikes. They’ve been on a roll since the benching of McNabb and definitely come in with the momentum. The Defending Champs from NY have looked mortal in recent weeks. In each victory, the winner held the opposing rusher well below his normal average.
Key matchup: Which rusher will outshine which rush defense?
Prediction: The Giants might be the champs, but the Eagles come in hot.
San Diego at Pittsburgh
Last meeting:The Steelers outlasted the Chargers 11-10 when the teams last met in November. This was another controversial game involving the Chargers, though only the gamblers were affected by this questionable call by the officials.
Breakdown:The Chargers pulled off the upset last week against the Colts thanks to the big effort by the little running back that could, Darren Sproles, who capably filled the shoes for the injured Ladanian Tomlinson. Pittsburgh faces injury concerns of their own, as QB Ben Roethlisberger recovers from a concussion suffered December 28thversus the Cleveland Browns. I expect the Steelers D to beat up the undersized Sproles and keep him in check.
Key matchup: Chargers passing offense vs Pittsburgh pass defense.
Prediction: Pittsburgh comes in with the #1 ranked defense. Defense wins championships.