Your favorite pigskin pick’em columnist is back to tackle the NFL Divisional playoff round for the Peninsula Clarion. There are eight teams left contending for the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the Vikings, Bengals, Colts and hapless Redskins were sent home crying to their mommas last weekend.
Each remaining team is just one win away from playing in their conference championship game. The stakes couldn’t be higher. Normally, I would waste precious seconds of your life with pointless blabber, but it’s the playoffs! My Seattle Seahawks are still alive! I can’t possibly remain calm in a moment like this!
@ DENVER BRONCOS -10
The Denver Broncos defeated the Ravens in Baltimore 34-17 just a few weeks ago in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicates. Denver led 31-3 at the end of three quarters. That’s a butt-kicking.
So why should we expect a different result in the Mile High City? Ray Lewis returned from a torn triceps last week and led the team in tackles. Lewis is the heart and soul of Baltimore’s franchise. His availability alone makes the Ravens a dangerous foe for any offense.
Unfortunately, Ray Lewis doesn’t pass the football for Baltimore. That task falls on the entirely inadequate Joe Flacco. Expecting Flacco to keep pace with Peyton Manning is like expecting my puppy to turn down steak in favor of dog food.
It’s not happening folks.
The Broncos are the only remaining team that ranks in the NFL’s top five offensively and defensively, and Denver enters the contest riding an 11-game winning streak.
Doubters can point out that Denver has benefited greatly from a soft schedule. The Broncos have only defeated two teams all season with a record better than .500. They were gift-wrapped six wins playing in the unbearably bad AFC West, but I believe this Broncos team, led by Peyton Manning’s bionic neck, is the real deal.
Broncos win 30-13
GREEN BAY PACKERS
@ San Francisco 49ers -3
The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Green Bay Packers 30-22 in Lambeau on the first weekend of the 2012 NFL Season. So why would anyone suspect a different result with the 49ers at home?
San Francisco benched longtime starting quarterback Alex Smith in favor of the less-experienced Colin Kaepernick in the middle of the year. Kaepernick has had some big games for the 49ers against teams like the New Orleans Saints, Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots. Teams with defenses as rough and tumble as cheerleaders.
Kaepernick really struggled against the only elite defense he faced up in Seattle when the 49ers were crushed 42-13 by the Seahawks. You have to wonder what that rear-end kicking did to San Francisco’s confidence.
If I’m a 49ers fan I’m terrified of this matchup.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers come into this game on an absolute tear. Rodgers has continued to post Nintendo numbers this season after being crowned league MVP last year. How do you side against Rodgers right now? Especially against a quarterback with just a handful of career starts? You don’t.
Packers win 27-20
@ ATLANTA FALCONS -3
Is there a hotter team in the NFL than my Seattle Seahawks? Honestly I don’t know what to be more excited about. The fact that this team is just two wins away from appearing in the Super Bowl or that it’s the second youngest team in the NFL?
That second little nugget suggests the Seahawks are entering into an era of unprecedented franchise success. Seattle’s defense led the NFL in points allowed per game. The Seahawks have the strongest strength of victory mark of any NFL team and the best point differential in the NFC.
What does all that mean?
The Seahawks have played against an extremely difficult schedule, and excluding the first few weeks of the season, they’ve generally blown teams out. They’re good.
Even worse if you’re a deranged Falcons fan, you have the 21st-ranked rush defense in the NFL. Say hello to Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and the Read-Option.
The Falcons’ strength, their wide receivers, plays directly into the strength of Seattle’s top-ranked defense. The Seahawks are loaded with size and speed on the back end. Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas form the NFL’s best secondary.
On top of it all Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons have made choking all over themselves in the playoffs an annual postseason tradition.
Anti-jinx policy requires that I side with the Falcons, but … Falcons win 24-17
Houston Texans @ NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS -10
The Patriots defeated the Houston Texans 42-14 in Foxborough a month ago without all-world tight-end Rob Gronkowski. New England is an offensive juggernaut averaging over 34 points per game. The Patriots average margin of victory is over two touchdowns! Wow.
The key to defeating the Patriots is pounding the ball down their throats with a strong running game keeping Tom Brady and the Pats offense on the sidelines. Houston, with Arian Foster, is capable of doing that, but you get the sense that Houston doesn’t believe it can win this game.
The Texans started the year 11-1 but really stumbled down the stretch, ultimately losing home-field advantage in the AFC. That late season swoon will cost them dearly this Sunday.
Patriots win 34-20