After a literally wild Wild Card Weekend opened the NFL postseason, with the upset ruling the land, round two of the NFL’s run to Dallas continues. The “Any Given Sunday” rule was in full effect, with three teams taking to the road and bringing back home W’s on their returns. Matter of fact, the only home team that defended it’s turf was a heavy underdog Seahawks, who brought the worst playoff qualifying record ever, but still managed to beat the defending Super Bowl champs. It was a ‘Wild’ weekend to say the least.
Now in the Divisional Round, the heavy favorites, teams that took last weekend off, will play host. Will the upset trend become the defining characteristic of the entire playoff scene this year? Or will the true heavyweights of the league bring some balance to the force? The AFC has two tie-breakers between bitter divisional rivals. In the NFC, this is truly round two in both games, with one favorite looking to duplicate their fortune from earlier this year, while the other is looking for some home field revenge.
JETS AT PATRIOTS: Despite playing a tough game and overcoming the Colts on the road, going into New England is a complete different beast. They aren’t shorthanded, and have the knowledge of having beat the Jets 45-3 the last time they visited them. Regardless of the last outcome, this will be no means be a walk in the park for the Pats. With all of the back and forth banter between these teams since training camp, war may be on deck in Boston this weekend. However, all wars come down to strategy, and the planning advantage is tilted towards the host Patriots.
Unlike versus the Colts, who are a minor threat on the ground, the Pats can run the ball, so the Jets cannot sit back in coverage and wait for the ball to find them. They will have to pressure the pocket and hope they don’t leave themselves exposed on the back end. Tom Brady is playing the best football of his life right now, and that’s saying a lot considering his 2007, and after seeing how Peyton Manning took advantage of the Antonio Cromartie’s man matchup skills, he should no doubt look to take a similar attack. In the end, there is too much diversity in the New England attack and with the League’s best conductor orchestrating it, they will hold down the home field and make their game win with the Jets their most meaningful win yet. Winner: PATRIOTS
RAVENS AT STEELERS: If Jets/Patriots is a war, this could turn out to be Armageddon. Baltimore played much better than I thought they would in one of the loudest stadiums in the League, on the road in Kansas City last week, and walked off with a convincing 24 point win. That experience will be invaluable in their second trip to Pittsburgh this year, where they have already won once this season. However, unlike last week, points will be at a premium to say the very least, and another 24 point win (or 24 points total between both sides) would be a minor miracle.
As always, defense will be the order of the day between these two clubs, the two toughest remaining in play this year. Last week, KC got to Joe Flacco pretty often, but he was still able to make enough plays down field to put the game away. However, the Steeler rush is in a different class than most and they have the X-Factor of Troy Polamalu to wreak havoc everywhere (at once it seems). While the Steelers are vulnerable at corner, the pass rush will get the job done to reach Flacco often enough to keep the big play at a minimum. I take the big play combo of Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace to hook up for a game changing play or two that will set the Steelers up for their second shot at the AFC Championship in three years. Winner: STEELERS
PACKERS AT FALCONS: Atlanta is nearly invincible at home, to the tone of a 7-1 record this year. They have the complete package on offense, especially with the all-important ability to control the clock and ball on the ground with Michael Turner. They have already proven to the Pack that they can hold down their home turf, after edging them 20-17 earlier this year. However, what I saw in that game was a Packer team that was a few plays away from walking a way with a win a few times. Also they have the most resilient player in the entire playoffs in Aaron Rodgers under center. He’ll learn from that first game and come out ready to not make the same errors again.
I’m going against history and going with my, and Rodgers’, gut here to go with the Packers to knock off the top seed, behind a few big plays from the Green Bay secondary on Matt Ryan, and of course Rodgers and his endless receiving corps. Winner: PACKERS
SEAHAWKS AT BEARS: Cinderella is heading into Midway to continue their improbable march towards the big dance, this week in Chicago, where they won 23-20 in week 6. Last week, the Hawks went deep early and often to take out the Saints, burying them early and making the task of pulling even too daunting. While the Bears secondary is nothing amazing, and could be subject to a similar approach, their front seven features a guy that is the definition of amazing, Julius Peppers. The Seahawks have nobody that can even attempt to match up with him one-on-one, so they will have to double up the block on him. This should open up other Bears to make their run on Matt Hasselbeck, so he does have time challenge their corners and safeties.
While Chicago’s defense has to be disruptive, Jay Cutler must protect the ball, yet still look to strike deep. The Bears receivers can best the shaky Seattle secondary, but he has to be patient and wait for the big play to open up. The use of Matt Forte out the backfield in as many ways as possible will be the key to making this happen.
Seattle had incredible momentum at home last week, and underselling the chip they still have on their shoulder would be a mistake, especially with the knowledge they have that they are able to beat this team in the same stadium. However, the playoff atmosphere combined with the home field advantage that fueled them last week will not be there this time, and the Bears will utilize these advantages in their favor to take the win. Winner: BEARS