Championship Sunday

I am the first one to admit it: I have been wrong about the Jets all playoffs long. Each week, facing an elite QB and a dominant offense, the Jets D has stepped up. While the Jets offense hasn’t been spectacular, they are doing just enough to score points and eliminate turnovers. This team is starting to remind me a bit of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens- amazing defense, great special teams, “smart” offense. It is hard not to be impressed with the way they are playing right now.

One the other side of the bracket, the Packers remind me of the 2007 Giants – road warriors. They finished the season playing great football and went into the playoffs as the hottest team in football. Their #6 seeding is only a number, as they have proven they are the #1 team in the NFC. They have already beaten the Bears this season, so can they do it again and head to Dallas next week?

On to the picks…

When I look at the Bears, I see one of the most over-rated teams to be a #2 seed. They have major issues with QB decision making, so they will need a dominant performance on defense to stand a chance. Meanwhile, the Packers have elite WRs, a stud QB and an aggressive defense that does not give up points very easily. It is hard to see the Bears putting up many points, so if GB can score 14+ points, I think they win this game. My Pick: Packers 17 – Bears 10

The AFC Championship game is shaping up to be one of the best games in years. These teams played at the end of the regular season and there is no love lost between many of the players. This is the first game the Jets are playing this postseason against a team with a steller defense AND stellar offense. Are they up to the task? Mark Sanchez has been a rock the last few games, so he will need another Broadway Joe-like performance to put up points. This seems like the type of game that will be played between the 30-yard lines, so special teams could be a huge factor. Brad Smith is a welcome return for the Jets, as he can change the field position game in a heartbeat. This game will be close till the very end, and overtime is a strong possibility. The Jets better hope the game does not come down to the leg of Nick Folk. My Pick: Steelers 20 – Jets 17


NFL Divisional: Dead Birds Saturday Edition

Other than a gruesomely awesome tackle where bones are heard cracking and necks are seen snapping, nothing is more emotionally painful to watch than seeing a player turn the ball over.  You see it in his eyes, his demeanor on the bench afterward and ultimately, if he can’t shake the disappointment and shame, his overall play on the field will suffer.  Turnovers are the great equalizer if one team is far inferior to another.  A few big takeaways by a 1-15 team can set them up for victory against a 15-1 team.  When two teams are equally matched, like it was on Saturday, turnovers will decide the game.  And they did, resulting in lots of “dead birds.”

The Ravens-Steelers game did not start as I, or many others, had anticipated.  I thought a start like the Jets-Colts game last week would be apropos: 0-0 for 25 minutes until the first team could make a score of any type.  Here we were, 25 minutes in, and there were 4 TD scored.  Why?  Turnovers.  Suggs’ sack-fumble which was scooped up for a TD or Mendenhall’s cough-up deep in Steeler territory had predictable results.  Ravens 21 – Steelers 7, at the half.  Now two touchdowns is certainly not an insurmountable deficit, especially for Big Ben.  But whatever the Steelers ‘tookaway’ from Tomlin’s halftime speech, they applied that mantra well.

Pittsburgh completely upended the turnover game with three takeaways in the second half.  Baltimore’s defense was out-gunned by then.  Roethlisberger had his offense chugging down the field.  The 2nd Half result: Steelers 24 – Ravens 3.  Despite the closeness of the game itself, Pittsburgh had 3 takeaways to the Ravens 2.  That was the ball game.  Momentum swung so far in the third quarter, the scene of all 3 Ravens giveaways, that the Steelers were in prime position to take the win going into the final 15 minutes.  Despite what you think of the officiating in this game, second half turnovers can be especially deadly.

First Victim Birds: Ravens.

Aaron Rodgers is simply coming into his own as a elite NFL quarterback.  He has his detractors.  Each successive week that he plays in the playoffs, these naysayers disappear at an increasing rate.  Rodgers has been spectacular, against two teams of the avian-named variety.  You hear it often from his critics that he hasn’t yet proven his elite status because his regular season win-loss record is unattractive, especially in tight games.  It’s true, I believe (but don’t quote me exactly because I did the math quickly) that he is 9-15 in one-score games.  Can you attribute all those wins or losses to Aaron?  Not at all.  What his performance this postseason shows that he is beginning to overcome his deficiencies and is ready to be truly elite.  Just imagine if he takes his Packers to the Super Bowl, going through the Bears, in Chicago?  Rodgers is here to stay.

On the other hand, there is Matty Ice.  Or should I say Melting Matty Ice.  Yes, we should give him a break.  Ryan, unlike Rodgers, has been figuring this out on his own, starting from Week 1 of his rookie year.  Rodgers had an apprenticeship of years under Brett Favre.  That tutelage has paid tremendous dividends.  Matt Ryan is a great quarterback.  He may become an elite one as well.  After three years now, Ryan is officially a veteran.  His baptism under fire has equipped him with the ability to win games.  If Vick’s pass is completed against Green Bay last week, we’re talking about Matt Ryan torching the Seahawks for 5 TDs.

Green Bay is on fire.  Their defense is top notch.  Packers LB Clay Matthews is a beast and you can see that he definitely carries the NFL gene (like his father, uncle and grandfather).  His shoots through gaps in the line just as good as a wily veteran.  Green Bay is swarming to the ball and is relentless defensively.  If the Bears were watching yesterday, they should be prepared for a precision passer, a possessed runner in Starks and a defense that will want to nearly kill Cutler (of course, if they can kill some flying avians of their own).  It is setting up for a great NFC Norris (thanks Chris Berman) matchup for the NFC Championship.

I digress a bit however.  The Falcons were out-matched.  I was unimpressed with them in the regular season and am not surprised of this outcome in the slightest.  Sometimes you see 13 wins and think this team is dominant.  Other times, 13 wins can seem as if the team happen to stumble on a few of them.  Atlanta is one of those teams.  They had more than a few one-possession games that could have been the difference between the one seed and the five seed.  But for some good fortune, the Jets are another one of those teams.  Atlanta has some holes to plug but they will be in contention next season.

Second Victim Birds: Falcons.

Today, we will see two more flying team names who are underdogs.  It could be a bad weekend for the flying world.

NFL Playoffs: It’s “Divisional” Time

We’re down to the NFL’s Elite Eight. How many members of last year’s final eight are playing tomorrow and Sunday?  Two, both I-95ers.  The Ravens and Jets.  No teams from the NFC.  How wide open is that conference?  Very.  Next year, if Washington, Detroit, Carolina and St. Louis are not the NFC division champs, I will be quite upset.

Anyway, last week’s games were a mixed bag.  The Saturday games were spectacular.  Sunday’s match-ups were disappointing (except for last few minutes of Packers-Eagles).  This week could be the most riveting playoff weekend in many years.  Both AFC Divisionals are rubber games and as well as I-95 games.  Can Seattle actually host the NFC Championship?  Are the Falcons unstoppable at home?  Has Rex’s mouth run just too much?  The games begin Saturday at 4.30p in Pittsburgh.  Let’s begin there…


5 Baltimore (13-4) at 2 Pittsburgh (12-4): Book-ending this weekend are the two AFC intradivisional rematches.  The AFC North is the first of those games and promises to be a bloodbath.  I make no guarantees that someone might die during this game.  These two defenses are going to rip each other.  Since 2008 – Mike Tomlin versus John Harbaugh – the Steelers are 5-2 versus the Ravens.  Remove 2008, these two teams are even closer.  Against one another, they have split both regular season series including one OT game (’09 Bal 20-17 win).  The point differential in those 4 games: zero!  How hard is it to pick a winner in this one, given recent history?  Damn near impossible.

Big Ben has two rings; Flacco, none.  Tomlin versus Harbaugh, a wash.  Their defenses are equally brutal.  Just look how close these two teams have played each other, their division counterparts and the conference as a whole the past three seasons.  Pittsburgh was fortunate to have won more division games than Baltimore thus getting a bye and one guaranteed home game.  The Ravens are not on a full week’s rest and the Steelers have had 13 days although I doubt this will play a huge factor.  Baltimore will be there.  I suspect this bloodbath will be played in snow (as per the forecast).  And I have a strange feeling this game will go to overtime.  In 2008, Pittsburgh defeated Baltimore to win a spot in Super Bowl XLIII.  They won that Super Bowl.  I said the survivor of this game will beat the Pats in the AFC Championship.  Tom Brady, are you ready for the Steel Curtain?

Steelers 23 – Ravens 17

6 Green Bay (11-6) at 1 Atlanta (13-3): Everyone loves the Packers in this game.  Everyone.  Nevermind Matty Ice is 20-2 at home.  But that doesn’t matter.  I underestimated my NFC Super Bowl pick last week thinking the Eagles would scratch out a last second victory.  Damn you Vick.  This time, I’m getting back on the Green Bay bandwagon.  Aaron Rodgers is turning it on.  He’ll be on this week as well.  He has found his postseason swagger.  The Falcons defense has been flaky at times and Green Bay’s D will be lights out.

The Falcons are sheep in wolves clothing.  Perhaps it’s the fact their regular season, all 13 wins of it, was littered with one possession games.  Fair, they won nearly all of them but sometimes you give up the goose.  Green Bay has found a foundation for winning games.  If they keep running the ball strong and play stout defense they will win.  Look for Matt Ryan to play average and Roddy White to be less effective.  Rodgers will continue adding to his postseason TD totals.  This year, America loves Wisconsin.  Matty Ice, not quite yet for you.

Packers 30 – Falcons 17

4 Seattle (8-9)* at 2 Chicago (11-5): The ultimate question here is which Jay Cutler is going to show up?  Since their bye week, Chicago is 7-2.  Their two losses were that embarrassment at the hands of New England and their Week 17 loss to Green Bay which meant nothing to the Bears.  The Bears are 4th in overall defense.  Briggs, Peppers, Urlacher.  It’ll be bitter cold and I expect Cutler to launch a few over the heads of his receivers.  Actually, I can see one or two tipped INTs for him.  I’m not big on Chicago but their defense is well fortified.  How could anyone not be thrilled by drawing Seattle?  What luck!  Perhaps not?

The Seahawks (* – still under .500) have made the final eight.  Wow!  I was wrong.  Luckily, the entire sports community was wrong too.  Fortunately for all of us pundits, we have an out.  The Saints defense played like complete dog doo-doo.  Lynch’s earthquake-causing run was all about heart… and extremely bad tackling.  New Orleans offense was fantastic as was Drew Brees.  Albeit, Hasselbeck played inspired football while the Hawks defense floundered.  The Seahawks have beaten these Bears in Chicago too – this year in fact.  Don’t expect a repeat or another Lynch run because Chicago’s run defense is second in the NFL.  Pete Carroll has also decided to kick to Hester.  Dumb move.  If this holds true, expect Devin to score a touchdown – or two (not saying both will be on special teams but you never know).  Seattle finally shows its true nature.  See the asterisk.

Bears 24 – Seahawks 10

6 New York (12-5) at 1 New England (14-2) : So has Rex said something else?  How about Cro?  Crickets in Foxboro?  I bet.  I’m glad these teams have stayed the course.  We should have expected as much.  They are who they are.  But enough of the “@*#!% Brady” comments.  On to the game.  [DISCLOSURE- I am a Jets fan.]

Forget the Jets 28-14 win in Week 2.  Forget the Pats 42-point domination in Week 13 on MNF.  This game is going to make the Pats cry, eventually with tears of joy.  A young, inexperienced defense will hold its own.  The Jets offense will play surprisingly better than against Indy but not score.  It will be a relatively low-scoring affair.  Rex Ryan has showed that his ego isn’t as big as we thought when it comes to calling defense.  Tom Brady will be frustrated but not flustered.  Mark Sanchez will play like he did in San Diego last postseason.  He will be effective, making incredibly smart throws with occasional gotta-have pass completions.

The Patriots and Jets hate each other.  There is no love lost on this part of I-95 (like how I did that right).  Tom Brady has been here a thousand times and is usually victorious.  He has the hardware and doesn’t need to say a word.  In a close but mostly defensive game, Brady’s way of saying “&%$# the Jets” will be a 25-yard slant TD pass to Welker mid-fourth quarter.  New England’s defense then holds, forcing the Jets to kick a field goal.  Gang Green never gets the ball back.  My AFC Super Bowl pick is sent packing.  Pats in victory formation.  New England says, without saying anything, “Bring it Pittsburgh.”

Patriots 17 – Jets 13

[Alternate History for Sunday: Tom Brady is being blitzed from all directions.  The Pats O-line has been dominated the entire day.  The Jets pass defense has shut down #12’s TE options.  Deion Branch has been completely shut out on Revis Island.  Danny Woodhead has been ineffective against his old team.  Mark Sanchez looks like Broadway Joe, picking apart the Pats inexperienced defense.  LT finally sticks it to New England with a TD run and a long breakaway jaunt setting up a Sanchez to Keller TD pass.  Brady makes one last desperate attempt to get his Pats in the game but throws a pick six to Lowery who faked a blitz.  With about five minutes left, New England, losing by 14, are just about done.  A last gasp fourth down just outside FG range fails, dooming New England.  Jets in victory formation.  After the game, Rex Ryan says that it’s “personal” because in 2008, Pittsburgh swept his Ravens defense in three games, including the AFC Championship.  Here we go again.]

[Jets 27 – Patriots 13]

Jets Win War Of Words, Lose Actual Game

While I may have been off in some of my picks last week, one thing I was right about was this: Rex Ryan does not shut up- ever. It’s fine for a coach to do the talking, especially since come Sundays, all he can do is use words to try and help his team win. However, encouraging your team to insult the opponents through the media is simply classless. The Cowboys of 90’s were a hated team because of their swagger and arrogance and it seems the Jets are aiming to take on the role as “Most Hated Team in America”. Only difference between the two: The ‘Boys have the rings to show for it. Pardon my rant and allow me to get to my picks.

6 New York (12-5) at 1 New England (14-2) [-8.5]

The Jets came out swinging in the media this week, but the Pats will wait to take their shots on the field. Antionio Cromartie had a lot of words for Tom Brady this week, which I am sure Brady won’t forget about come game day. Cromartie has had some coverage issues all season, so he may have picked the wrong time, and wrong QB to go after. The Pats can rotate receivers and change the look of their passing game better than any other team in the NFL, so if the Jets want to have a chance, Cromartie may need to play the game of his life. Given the upgraded Pats running game (I use “upgraded” lightly) the Jets defense will need to play like they did the first time these teams met in 2010. I dont see Sanchez and company being able to put up enough points to out-score the league MVP. My Pick: Patriots 31 – Jets 20

5 Baltimore (13-4) at 2 Pittsburgh (12-4) [-3.5]

The Steelers secondary had a week to rest, so that means Troy P. will be ready to fly around the field. That is bad news for the Ravens who continue to struggle in the passing game and who got a good first-half scare from the Chiefs last week. These are two very equally matched teams on paper, and their regular season stats also showed how similar they can be. The Ravens have no problem playing in the cold outdoors, but playoff time in Pittsburgh is always a very tough road game for anyone. I think this game comes down to which QB makes fewer mistakes..and which defense can capitalize on them. My Pick: Steelers 13 – Ravens 9

6 Green Bay (11-6) at 1 Atlanta (13-3) [-2.5]

The Vegas odds-makers have decided what most people who watch football have decided as well: This game is a toss-up. The Falcons were unbeatable at home in 2010, but the Packers are the hottest team entering the playoffs. They were dominant against the Eagles last week and there is no reason to think they can’t be again. Their defense is spectacular against the run, so lots of pressure will fall on Matt Ryan to carry the team. Can he throw a few TDs and avoid turning the ball over to a swarming defense? I have my doubts. I think this game will probe that the Packers are the best team in the NFC. My Pick: Packers 24 – Falcons 13

4 Seattle (8-9) at 2 Chicago (11-5) [-10]

The Seahawks surprised everyone last week, myself included. Despite their record, could this team really be this good? Short answer: No. They won a home game with some great play by the offense, but much of that was due to very poor defense that allowed big plays. You can bet (and I am) that Chicago will not allow the Seahawks to break 10 tackles on a single play, or throw long TD passes in the 2-minute drill. The Bears defense is leaps and bounds ahead of the Saints, so expecting Seattle to score many points would be mistake. The Bears love the cold and snow of Chicago almost as much as they love playing shut-down defense. My Pick: Bears 20 – Seahawks 6

Outside Looking In

As a Giants fan, I have no horse in this race, although based on my last post, there are some horses I hope do not make it close to the finish line. Billy has made his predictions, so here are mine.

5 New Orleans (11-5) at 4 Seattle (7-9) [+11]

Seattle doesn’t deserve to be in the playoffs, but thanks to a weak division, they are hosting the defending champs in what should be a blowout. The Saints have issues in the running game, but with Brees behind center, the air attack will be more than enough to carry them into the Divisional round. My pick: Saints 27 – Seahawks 10

6 New York (11-5) at 3 Indianapolis (10-6) [-3]

A few weeks ago, the Jets played a team (Patriots) with a dominant passing game, an inconsistant running game, and a sub-par defense. The Jets lost that game 45-3 and were outmatched in every aspect. While I don’t see this game being a mirror image of that game, the Jets only chance to win is if they can out-score the Colts, which I doubt they can do. Peyton Manning has a second gear come playoff time and he has enough tools on offense to find the open man. Mark Sanchez is still learning on the job and will need a Manning-type performance to give the Jets a chance. My pick: Colts 28 – Jets 17

6 Green Bay (10-6) at 3 Philadelphia (10-6) [-3]

No team comes into this weekend hotter than the Packers have been the last few weeks of the season. Hot teams that peak at the right time often make a run in the playoffs and the Packers may be that team this year. The Eagles haven’t played their best football since the Giants game and Michael Vick may be a little banged up. I am not convinced that he can put this team on his shoulders against one of the best defenses in the NFC. This one stays close, but a FG may win it. My pick: Packers 23 – Eagles 20

5 Baltimore (12-4) at 4 Kansas City (10-6) [+3]

In what may be the most boring game of the first round on paper, the Chiefs come into the playoffs after a pounding from the Raiders when they had a chance to clinch the #3 seed. The Ravens are playing typical Ravens football with great defense and just enough offense to win close games. While Flacco has been missing some reads over the past week, he has all the tools to move the Ravens up and down the field. This game may still be close at halftime, but in the second half, the Ravens pull away. My pick: Ravens 17 – Chiefs 9

NFL Playoffs: It’s “Prediction” Time

It’s that time of year.  The NFL playoffs have arrived! In the words of our favorite Jersey Shore characters, “It’s T-Shirt Prediction Time!”  Now us prognosticators and blogonuts have our say in what will happen.  The games begin Saturday at 4.30pm ET (1.30pm PT) in Seattle.  Let’s begin there (the non-I95 game) and then I’ll do the I-95ers (lucky, they are in that order chronologically):


5 New Orleans (11-5) at 4 Seattle (7-9) [+11]: As I have stated previously, the Seahawks have no business being in the playoffs.  Lucky for all of us, they get to play the defending Super Bowl champions.  Drew Brees will pick them apart.  Start taking that 12th Man flag down early.  If you like blowouts, you’re in for a treat.  I won’t even go farther.  The Saints are winning, 100% lock, and cover the spread.  Saints then have to wait until Sunday to know whether they’re headed.

Saints 38 – Seahawks 13

6 New York (11-5) at 3 Indianapolis (10-6) [-3]: Rex Ryan’s record against Peyton Manning has been well documented this week.  Not counting the Great Benching Incident of 2009, Ryan has never defeated Manning.  The Jets have been up, down, forward and back this year.  It reminds me a little of last year’s team that backed in and then took out Cincy and San Diego.  This year, Indy is banged up and certainly not as talented.  The Jets barely survive Peyton’s air assault down the middle.  A late turnover by the Colts might do them in.  Manning’s magic needs to end sometime.  Tomorrow night it will, at least for this season.

Jets 27 – Colts 26

5 Baltimore (12-4) at 4 Kansas City (10-6) [+3]: Going to Arrowhead is a tough challenge for Baltimore because it will be incredibly loud.  I expect their offense to be more like when they played the Saints and less like when they faced the Browns and Bengals.  The Chiefs are inexperienced.  Cassel will make his first playoff start.  Ray Lewis and Co. are going to make Cassel’s life difficult.  The game stays close until an Ed Reed Pick Six in the early 4th quarter.

Ravens 31 – Chiefs 20

6 Green Bay (10-6) at 3 Philadelphia (10-6) [-3]: This game is going to be low scoring.  The Packers defense will give Vick fits.  Aaron Rodgers has been in one playoff game.  Andy Reid usually wins Wild Card games.  Despite the Eagles being awful late in the season, I expect they make the adjustments to keep Vick upright just enough to win.  Green Bay will score early and then struggle to score late.  Six FGs make it a last possession win for the Eagles.

Eagles 19 – Packers 13

Home Theater Playoff Special: For the I-95 Giants and Redskins & the other 18 teams watching the postseason from their couches, here’s a reminder that you aren’t in the playoffs.  Enjoy!

Hail to the Chiefs?

As someone who doesn’t have a favorite team in the AFC, I looked at the field of participants to try to find “my team” for the 2010 playoffs and a run towards Super Bowl XLV. For each team in the dance, there is a reason why one might want to root for them. Reading about how much a sick little boy impacted Mark Sanchez could give you reason to want to see him succeed. Perhaps you loved The Blind Side so you are in the Michael Oher fanclub. Or maybe you love Head & Shoulders shampoo, so Troy Polamalu is your guy. Whatever the reason, real or fictionary, something could push you to one team or another. Yet, for each team, there are also reasons to hate them. Let’s examine:

The New York Jets

Everybody wants an aggressive, outspoken, and egotistical coach who expects their team to win every game. However most fans aren’t looking for a coach whose mouth has been hit harder by Montezuma than my stomach after a week in Cancun. From the bold predictions, the vulgar outbursts, and the starring role in Hard Knocks, no coach in the NFL is disliked more than Rex Ryan. Insulting future Hall of Fame QBs the week before you play them not only shows no class, but is also makes the game about the coach, not the players. For the average fan, it may be painful to see any more of Rex Ryan than necessary, so rooting for an early exit is more likely than rooting for a bigger ego.

The New England Patriots

Similar to the Jets, the Pats have a coach that is also widely disliked, but with one main difference: Belichick has the rings to back him up. So maybe the reason the average fan doesn’t like the Patriots is Tom Brady, the playboy of New England, married to one of the world’s hottest women. He cares about how he looks on the football field, always brushing back his hair and making sure not one strand is out of place. He wants his wifes job as a model while playing football at the same time.

The Pittsburg Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger. He missed the first 4 games of the season after being suspended for (allegedly) sexually assaulting a young woman. This was also the third time charges of rape had been brought against “Big Ben” since he joined the NFL, so unless you are a Steelers die-hard, its easy to want to see Ben sulking on the sidelines after a loss.

The Baltimore Ravens

Along the lines of run-ins with the law is Ray Lewis, who in 2000, was arrested on murder changes after the nightclub stabbing of two bystanders. After rolling over on his friends, charges were dropped against him and he was given only probation. Now, Lewis is known as one of the dirtiest players in the NFL and his pre-game barking has become the trademark for annoying rituals.

The Indianapolis Colts

Some people just don’t like Peyton Manning. Whether it’s the commercial endorsements, the SNL skits, or the constant yelling at the line of scrimmage, Peyton just rubs people the wrong way.

The Kansas City Chiefs

Ok, first of all, can anyone name more than 5 players on the Chiefs?? Probably not. So as far as I am concerned, the Chiefs ate the easiest team to root for in the AFC this year. They may be underdogs, they may be no-names, but there is no real reason not to like this team.

I’ll be back with predictions and a look at the NFC later in the week.

NFL Russian Roulette: Which Team Will Knock Your Team Out?

Happy New Year I-95ers!  The arrival of 2011 means the NFL playoffs are about to kickoff.  Of course, we have one last regular season Sunday before next week’s Wild Card round.  There is still seeding to be determined in both conferences although most of the participants have been decided.  For us along the I-95 corridor, four of our six teams have already qualified for the postseason, with a fifth team needing some help.  If you want to watch Redskins playoff football, load Madden 11 right now.

The question now remains, what match-up best favors your I-95 team next week and beyond?  The Patriots are, at the moment, the only team based on their #1 seed sitting out the Wild Card round (Baltimore can clinch a first-round bye with a win and some help from PIT).  For the others, none actually know who they will play next week.  But be careful what you wish for because on any given Sunday?  It’s like the six chambers in a gun playing Russian roulette.  Each team represents a chamber.  Which chamber holds the team’s bullet that will knock you out?

New England Patriots (Clinched AFC #1 Seed – First-Round Bye & Home-Field Advantage)

Here we are again.  A Pats rebuilding year turns into the best record in the NFL.  Year after year, Belichick transforms young, inexperienced players into postseason gold – and sometimes Tiffany sterling silver shaped like a football.  The AFC’s playoff seeding is a fluid situation so the Pats could be in-line to play virtually any team in the Divisional round.  Depending on tomorrow, the Pats could play Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Jacksonville, Indy, KC or the Jets.  That’s a lot of teams to scheme for but I’m sure Belichick and Co. are up to the challenge.

My Take: The Pats are young but lethal.  If there is one team that can parlay its success from regular to postseason, it’s New England.  Tom Brady hasn’t thrown an INT since mid-October and the defense is points-stingy.  If Peyton makes it in, would you want him coming to town?  If I put my money on an easy win for the Pats, Jacksonville would be my first guess.  Although, if the Jags can’t get a win with that Indy loss and are sitting home next week, KC is the next best thing.  Pats fans should hope that Kansas City drops to the #4 seed and Indy, who would be the #3 seed, beats the #6.  That would send QB Matt Cassel, Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel back to New England for a match-up with his former team and a game Belichick will win.  A third choice would be the Pats opening a can of you know what on the Jets… again.

The Bullet that would knock them out: AFC North survivor in the Championship game (either Baltimore or Pittsburgh)

Philadelphia Eagles (Clinched NFC #3 Seed – Wild Card Round Home Game)

The Eagles are locked into the #3 seed which means they will host the #6 seed.  Three potential teams could emerge with the final NFC spot: the Packers, Giants or Bucs.  Good news for Philly is the success they’ve had against the Giants this year, especially with that amazing comeback a few weeks ago.  A loss against the Packers Week 1 is so long ago, it really tells us nothing about how they would match-up next week.  They haven’t played the Bucs this year.  Perhaps playing in under 42 degree weather will affect Tampa?  If Vick puts last week’s tepid performance against Minnesota behind him, he should play equal – if not better – than he did during the regular season.

My Take: Bucs, definitely Bucs.  But with Chicago locked into a bye and the Falcons playing the lowly Panthers, the Packers have an easy path to that final spot.  If I were the Eagles, I would want the G-Men.  Beating a team three times in a season has occurred, but not often.  If the Giants sneak in though, their performance against the Skins would be determinative of whether I’d bet the house on them against Vick and their favorite punt return specialist, DeSean Jackson.  This year, I think the Eagles have the Giants covered.  Aaron Rodgers is due for some playoff magic and if I were Vick, I wouldn’t want it at my expense.

The Bullet: Green Bay Packers

Baltimore Ravens (Currently AFC #5 Seed – Can Move Up to #2 Seed & First-Round Bye w/ help)

The Ravens have been an enigma this season.  When they beat the Jets in week 1, they shut up Gang Green’s Super Bowl talk.  Since then, they have had a strong but not convincing championship run.  Their losses aren’t shocking (at NE, at ATL, PIT) save the week 2 loss to Cincinnati.  Their wins, based on the schedule, are mostly unimpressive.  They stuck it to the Saints and beat the Steelers at Heinz Field which are very notable.  A win plus a Steelers loss would give the Ravens a bye, making much of this talk moot.  However, Cleveland put the kibosh on Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes last season.  I doubt a repeat is in order.

My Take: For argument sake, Baltimore remains the #5 seed.  Who would they want?  It’ll be either Indy, Jacksonville or Kansas City.  Despite probably having a better record against each of these teams, they will be on the road.  Manning in Indianapolis?  Nope, don’t want that.  Chiefs at Arrowhead, in the playoffs?  No.  Jacksonville?  Yes.  But if the Jags don’t make it, I’d take the Chiefs.  Last year was a Colts year and they are certainly nowhere near that.  But would you want your Ravens D against Peyton or an inexperienced KC squad.  Yeah, I thought so.

If Baltimore manages to secure the #2 seed, they would, like the Patriots, have numerous teams they could be playing.  I’m thoroughly unconvinced with the Jags.  Based on the scenarios, if the Jags are in and if Baltimore were a #2, the Jets would have to be the #5.  If the Jags beat the Jets, that would speak volumes about the Jets, not the Jags.  They would be my first wish.  But if not the Jags, then I could see a promising Divisional victory against the Chiefs.

The Bullet: Pittsburgh Steelers

New York Jets (Currently #6 Seed – Can Move Up to #5 Seed w/ a win + BAL win + PIT loss)

Gang Green has been all over the place this season.  The aforementioned Week 1 loss to the Ravens showed the ineptitude of their offense.  The next week’s win against the Pats showcased Sanchez as the future standard-bearer of AFC East quarterbacks.  The Jets play like the class of the AFC until Denver nearly knocked them off and then put up an offense egg against Green Bay (literally no points).  Since then, the Jets have either won games unconvincingly, barely escaping with overtime road wins or getting embarrassed by their AFC East counterparts New England and Miami.  Luckily for Jets fans, a win at Pittsburgh and a hard-fought losing effort in Chicago may illustrate that the Jets are getting revved up for another playoff run.

My Take: The Jets will be on the road next week and are comfortable in that position.  They were better on the road than at home (it was a brand new home though).  Depending on seeding, they will be, like the AFC North runner-up, playing in either Indy, KC or J’ville.  As I have stated before, Peyton Manning unnerves me at home.  I have a strange feeling that if the Colts are in, #18 is going to have one last gasp before a road loss in the Divisional.  The Jets would certainly relish the chance to get revenge for last year’s loss in the AFC Championship where it went down.  Again, Jacksonville would be the Jets first choice but that will only happen if the Jets move up to #5.  That requires Baltimore to win the North, which I think will not happen.  I am also unenthusiastic about a trip to Arrowhead.  KC is undefeated at home this season.  The Chiefs defense has played above their potential this year and the offensive protects the ball.  This is a tough call but if the Jags are not an option, I’d be in for a trip to Indy and a shot to knock off one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks having an awful season.

The Bullet: New England Patriots

New York Giants (Currently Outside Looking In as NFC #7 Seed – Can Move Up to #6 w/ win and GB loss)

The Giants have looked horrible the past two weeks.  Ugly losses have shown their vulnerabilities.  The freaky fourth-quarter debacle against Philly was just the beginning of the end.  What was telling was their inability to bounce back.  The Packers dominated New York in every facet of the game.  The Giants looked magnificent the first half of the season but have regressed.  Eli Manning looks weak and listless.  Coughlin’s in the hot seat now with Bill Cowher waiting in the wings to take his job.  If the players really want another Coughlin season, they better go to Washington and embarrass them.  Then they need to do some damage in the playoffs.

My Take: There is one playoff scenario for the G-Men.  If they are so fortunate to win and have Green Bay lose, they will face the Eagles in Philadelphia.  They will need to forget Week 15.  Matt Dodge will have to punt out of bounce, the offense will need to light up the scoreboard and the defense will need to play sixty minutes.  This might be the one time the Eagles where three times a charm for the winners of the previous two division games.

The Bullet (if they make it): Philadelphia Eagles

To Recap:

  • Pats want JAX, KC, IND; Knock-out: BAL or PIT
  • Eagles want TB, NYG; Knock-out: GB
  • Ravens as #2 or #5 want JAX, KC, IND; Knock-out: PIT
  • Jets want JAX, IND, KC; Knock-out: NE
  • Giants want a win, GB loss and a Philly forfeit; Knock-out: PHI
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