In a somewhat odd turn, all four games in the NFL Divisional Round are repeats of games played in the regular season. Other than the two Patriots/Jets contests, the other four games were each determined by 3 points. That should make for one helluva weekend. Instead of wasting time on another debacle in the life of Brett Favre, let’s get right to the games.
PITTSBURGH -3 over Baltimore
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
The first match-up between these two teams featured Charlie Batch at quarterback for Pittsburgh, so you can throw that game out as quickly as you threw that fatty out of your bed when you woke up next to her this morning. (Blackouts suck, right?) The second meeting between these two teams took place on Sunday night in early December during which Big Ben broke his nose, the offenses were stifled all game by the defenses, and Troy Polamalu caused a sack and forced fumble in the last four minutes of the game that led to Pittsburgh stealing a win in Baltimore. The game highlighted the flaws of Joe Flacco as a winning quarterback as he fumbled the game away (yes, Polamaulu is a beast, but you still need to have awareness and know how to protect the football), and threw one of the most worthless passes I've ever seen to the flat on a 4th and 2 while the Ravens were driving at the end of the game. Had he not gotten lazy with his footwork and been able to throw a more accurate ball, the Ravens, and not the Steelers, would be playing at home this week.
Many like to point to the games Joe Flacco has won in the playoffs, since his playoff record sits at a very respectable 4-2 with all the games coming on the road. However, he's thrown five interceptions in the two losses, which shows that he's been personally responsible for both of them. The Steelers have the best run defense in the league by a 28-yard margin compared to the second-best run defense, so all the pressure is going to be on Flacco again this week.
For the gamblers out there, it's worth adding that the under seems like a good play to make. The first two games had totals of 31 and 23 and as Aaron Schatz from Football Outsiders points out, both teams have good punt value and bad punt return value.
ATLANTA -3 over Green Bay
Saturday, 8 p.m. (FOX)
This is the toughest game of the weekend to handicap, especially since the Week 12 game they played was a pretty good one. Aaron Rodgers fumbled on a QB sneak near the goal line in the second quarter, which ended up being the difference in the game. After Green Bay tied the game with a minute to go, Matt Ryan brought his team down the field and Matt Bryant kicked the game-winning field goal with nine seconds left. In an unrelated note, 20 kids born the next day in Atlanta were named Matt.
Green Bay’s losses this year have all been in close games. Their margin of defeat in those six losses were 3, 3, 3, 3, 4, and 4. If you’re a fan of the Falcons in this game, you might want to look into betting something around them winning by a specific margin of victory of four or less. The key to this game will be James Starks, who busted out for 123 rushing yards last week. If he can provide the Packers with a credible running game, their passing game becomes that much more effective.
There’s very little difference between these two teams, so I’m going to take the home team and the quarterback who’s lost only two home games in his three-year career. I’d advise against betting this game, but sometimes you can’t help yourself.
Seattle +10 over CHICAGO
Sunday, 1 p.m. (FOX)
Last week’s Seahawks game really makes you wonder what we’re in store for in the coming weeks. As if the NFL season wasn’t wacky enough, the Seahawks surprised everyone and beat what was supposed to be a superior Saints team. The Saints defense put up one of the most pathetic performances in a playoff game I’ve ever seen. Roman Harper should’ve been cut at halftime, as he was personally responsible for giving up three big plays. It got to the point where it was a good thing there were no pictures of Harper around because I could’ve been found saying “I just don’t like Harper” as the Saints killed my 10-point teaser with the Jets and the Ravens.
The Week 6 encounter between these two teams wasn’t a pretty one and Chicago surprisingly had issues offensively. Cutler completed less than 50% of his passes and the running backs only combined for a total of 42 rushing yards. I don’t expect Seattle to win this game, but I think they can keep it somewhat close. They’ll be energized from last weekend’s victory and they have nothing to lose compared to the Bears.
NEW ENGLAND -9 over N.Y. Jets
Sunday, 4:30 p.m. (CBS)
The final game of the weekend pits another pair of bitter division rivals against each other. Week 2 is a distant memory for everyone as the Patriots have since recreated their offense without Randy Moss. What everyone does remember, however, is the 45-3 drubbing the Jets took in New England on an early Monday night in December. While anyone can tell you this is a new day and everything starts fresh when they flip the coin, that game gives the Patriots all the confidence in the world that they can do it again. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out on Monday, “teams that beat an eventual playoff opponent by 35 points or more in the regular season went on to win again by double digits in the postseason.”
Many factors are working against the Jets right now. Mark Sanchez's numbers in Foxboro are an embarrassing one touchdown and seven interceptions in two games. The Jets have also failed to score more than 10 first-half points in four of their last six games. By comparison, the Patriots are averaging 20 points in the first half during their eight-game winning streak. If this trend continues, the Patriots will build a nice first-half lead and the Jets will be forced to turn to Mark Sanchez to win the game. They’ll be making more than a few foot fetish jokes (see video below) on the New England sideline with things playing out that way.
Last Week: 2-2
Regular Season Record: 128-122-6