It won’t be easy predicting the outcomes of the Divisional Round games in this week’s NFL Playoff Predictions. With a strong Packers offense playing IN San Francisco against a tough defense and the Falcons, hoping to snap a two-year skid of one-and-done after the bye, will be tough against a Seattle team that is finding it’s groove on defense as well as offense. These are two games that could easily go either way. The AFC? Well, lets just say home-field advantage is going to go a long way this year.
Baltimore @ Denver – 1/12, 4:30pm EST
It wasn’t a big surprise that the Ravens were able to stick it to the Colts in Baltimore last week. I had figured that Andrew Luck and company would at least keep it close, but they had no solution for Anquan Boldin and his 145 yards and a touchdown in a 24-9 route. Those numbers aren’t going to come easy this week. The Broncos Defense ranked No. 2 behind only the Steelers in total yards given up per game with 290.8 and tied for No. 1 with the Steelers by giving up a mere 4.6 yards per play. Joe Flacco was abysmal at times on the road this year, putting up 147 yards against Houston in Week 7, 153 against the Browns in Week 8 and 182 against the Redskins in Week 14. Although he salvaged that game with 3 touchdown passes, but tossed a pick and lost a fumble. With Champ Bailey, I would assume, covering Torrey Smith, Flacco might have to rely heavily on Boldin, Dennis Pitta and Ray Rice to get the job done. On the other side, Peyton is Peyton. I’d be shocked if he didn’t put up close to 300 yards in this game. Ray Lewis might give the Ravens Defense a boost, but that secondary is still full of holes. If you have to choose a receiver, Demaryius Thomas should come up big, despite the fact that the Ravens held him to 4 catches for 13 yards in Week 15. But again, that was at Baltimore. I see the Broncos winning this one in easy fashion.
Green Bay @ San Francisco – 1/12, 8:00pm EST
Just like last week’s Vikings/Green Bay game, I love this matchup for Saturday night. The Packers put the bull rush on Minnesota, putting up 24 points and 350 yards of total offense. Flying to the West Coast could make this game more interesting. The 49ers Defense ranked 4th overall against the pass, giving up a little over 200 yards a game. Playing against the 49ers Defense in Week One, Aaron Rodgers tossed up 303 yards and 2 scores. I don’t see that happening this week. With the likes of Cedric Benson gone, the 49ers are going to test Wild Card wonder DuJuan Harris and force Rodgers to pass and pass often. That won’t be easy for Harris as the 49ers only gave up 94 rushing yards total per game. With the 49ers offense: the biggest wild card obviously is Colin Kaepernick, who showed major inconsistency during his time as the starter, but finished strong at the end. If Kaepernick can find rhythm early and get some other receivers not named Michael Crabtree involved, the 49ers could stay in it and keep this one going to the 4th quarter. But my prediction sees Rodgers and company’s playoff veteran leadership coming through in this one, making the Packers the winner and advancing to the NFC Championship.
Seattle @ Atlanta – 1/13, 1:00pm EST
Can the Seahawks continue the trend of knocking the Falcons out of the playoffs coming off the bye? As we saw last week, Seattle was able to keep RG3 in check. Although, Washington’s field played a big hand in that. To succeed against the Falcons, the defense will have to step up even more to keep Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez in check. Matt Ryan has shown greatness, while also showing the knack for coming up short at exactly the wrong time. I don’t see the Falcons running back duo of Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers doing much on the ground, but Marshawn Lynch can be “beast mode” again against a Falcon’s Defense that gave up over 123 yards per game on the ground this year. The biggest question mark is Russell Wilson and if he can do just enough to keep the chains moving. He used most of his abilities on the ground last week, rushing for 67 yards off 8 carries. The Falcons secondary was able to hold the brothers Manning in check this year and give them their worst games of the season, so Wilson will likely have to keep pace with his legs and hope he can connect on a couple deep passes. In the end, I think Atlanta’s offense will simply be too much. And forcing Wilson to constantly throw the ball to keep pace will have dire consequences. Atlanta finally snaps their one-and-done playoff run and advances to next week’s championship game against the Packers. Now THAT’s a game.
Houston @ New England – 1/13, 4:30pm EST
If the Texans play like they did last week, there is no way in hell they are going to beat the Patriots. Racking up a putrid 19 points in the first game against Cincinnati last week, that number is going to have to improve to the upper 20s if the Texans want even a chance to make a game of it. On the Houston side, I expect another big game from Owen Daniels, who went off last week with 9 catches for 91 yards. Statistically, the Patriots were at the bottom of the barrel in terms of stats given up to tight ends this year. So Daniels could be counted on early. Arian Foster is Arian Foster. Unlike last week, I think the rumbler reaches 100 yards this time around. The Texans will have to go to a more ground-oriented offense to keep Tom Brady and his offense off the field. While Matt Schaub has shown he can put up big numbers, he was held to zero touchdown passes in the regular-season meeting against the Patriots back in Week 14. I see business as usual for the Patriots. Brady should put up at least 2 scores, getting Wes Welker and the tight end duo of Gronkowski and Hernandez involved all game. Stevan Ridley could be held in check after failing to reach 100 yards in the regular season meeting. Not to mention you also have Danny Woodhead looming for playing time. To sum it up: Houston somehow makes a game of it going into the half, but winds up blowing it near the end. I just don’t see how New England can lose IN New England. They advance to take on Peyton Manning in another Brady vs. Manning rematch.