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Saturday, January 12, 2013

NFL Playoff Predictions: Divisional Round

I was a slacker last weekend and did not write a column.  But, for those of you who are interested, I was 3-1 in my official contest picks for the first round of the playoffs.  My only hiccup was misplaced faith in the Cincinnati Bengals.  This week, I'm back to posting.  Here are my predictions in the order that the games will be played.

Baltimore at Denver:  Saturday at 4:30 p.m. EST on CBS.  The Baltimore Ravens won an emotional game over the Colts last week to open the playoffs.  Ray Lewis announced his retirement earlier in the week and danced and screamed his way to victory.  Meanwhile, Peyton Manning and company were resting up.  All week, we've been hearing that Manning has struggled in cold weather playoff games.  According to the Weather Channel, the high today in the Mile High city is going to be 15 degrees.  Yikes!  It's going to be hard for anyone to throw the ball in that weather.  And, although the national focus this year has rightfully been on the resurgance of Peyton Manning, the Broncos have actually run the ball for almost as many yards as the Ravens.  So, both teams will have to respect the run.  In the end, I believe it will be the defenses that decide this game.  And, as weird as it feels to type this, I believe that edge goes to the Denver Broncos.  The Broncos were fourth in the NFL in scoring defense, and that is better than the Ravens mark.  Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are great players, but time waits for no man ... especially when trying to tackle NFL running backs.  I think this game will be competitive throughout but that the Broncos will eventually win by a comfortable margin.

Green Bay at San Francisco:  Saturday at 8:00 p.m. EST on FOX.  This is a rematch from Week 1.  San Francisco won that game 30-22 in Green Bay.  And, in that game, the 49ers were clearly the more physical team.  Things have changed some since the start of the season.  Most notably, the 49ers no longer have the steady hand of Alex Smith at the helm.  Instead, they have the potentially more explosive but clearly more unpredictable Colin Kaepernick.  But the thing that has remained the same is the 49ers defense and running game, especially with the return this week of Pro Bowl DE Justin Smith.  Last week's respectable performance against Adrian Peterson notwithstanding, the Packers have been a bit porous against the run.  That will eventually cost the Packers this week.  The 49ers will be able to chew up enough clock and keep Aaron Rogers off the field just long enough to pull out a close victory.

Seattle at Atlanta:  Sunday at 1:00 p.m. on FOX.  Right now the Seattle Seahawks are darlings of the national media.  And it's easy to see why.  They have a quarterback in Russell Wilson who is easy to root for. We all got to see the 'Hawks throttle the 49ers on NBC on a Sunday night in late December.  And, Seattle's strong defense and running game should travel well.  But, let me remind you that the Atlanta Falcons are the #1 seed in the NFC.  The Falcons finished the season with a record of 13-3.  That kind of record is not a fluke.  And while the Seahawks have showed defensive dominance in the last month over the likes of the 49ers and the Redskins, they have not faced a receiving corps anywhere near the caliber of the Falcons'.  I am not saying that the Falcons will fly up and down the field.  But, Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzales will get the Falcons some points.  The other factor is that Seattle is coming from the West Coast for a 1:00 p.m. EST kickoff.  Gamblers will tell you that West Coast teams with early kickoffs on the East Coast consistently struggle.  Add to that the fact that the Seahawks are making their second trip to the East Coast in as many weeks.  That is a lot for a young team to overcome.  Mattie Ice and the Falcons will come out of the gates fast.  The Seahawks will eventually regroup and perform respectably, but they will not be able to overcome the Falcons' explosion to start the game.

Houston at New England:  Sunday at 4:30 on CBS.  We saw this game a month ago.  On December 10, the Patriots annihilated the Texans 42-14.  I understand that both teams enter the game with identical records of 12-4.  But, they are clearly trending in different directions.  The Texans lost 3 of their final 4 games heading into the playoffs.  The Patriots only loss since Week 6 came against San Francisco.  Not too shabby.  I do not expect this game to be competitive.  I don't know if the Patriots can repeat their 42-point performance, but I do expect Brady and the boys to win by at least three touchdowns.

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