Stick’s Picks: NFL Playoffs Round Two
January 13, 2011 6 Comments
And then there were eight! After a wild NFL wildcard weekend, we are back to square one. It doesn’t matter how well you played last week, each team starts over with a clean slate (gotta love the NFL). In my article last week, you may have noticed that I went 3-1 with my picks, only losing to a Seattle upset of New Orleans. As for last weekend, we learned a few things:
1. The Seattle Seahawks aren’t terrible, but in no means are they great either. Looking back at my article last week (link), I am still kicking myself for not picking Seattle despite all my relevant points.
2. Against a banged up Colts team, the NY Jets proved once again that a good running game and great defense can overcome subpar quarterback play (On a related note, in no way will the Jets make it past the second quarter in New England with Mark Sanchez notching a 62 QB rating).
3. If Joe Flacco and the Ravens defense play like this, then start booking a hotel in Dallas ASAP (*Baltimore did beat Kansas City, arguably the weakest of the AFC playoff teams).
4. And lastly, even though Mike McCarthy tried to throw the game with poor clock management and a conservative approach, Green Bay still emerged victorious in Philly.
Entering the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs, it only makes sense to have great divisional matchups. Division rivals Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh and NY Jets vs. New England square off highlighting another great weekend of NFL games (easily the two best games of the weekend). In the NFC, rematches between Seattle-Chicago and Green Bay-Atlanta are also very intriguing as well.
Riding all four road teams last week served me pretty well (and you too, if you happened to follow the Stick’s Picks). Once again, after hours of listening to podcasts, looking up team stats, and watching endless hours of ESPN, I have finalized my picks for this weekend. So with that in mind, feast your eyes on my weekly picks with Stick’s Picks: NFL Divisional Edition. Enjoy!
Baltimore at Pittsburgh- What a great matchup! If Baltimore or Pittsburgh want to advance to the AFC title game, they must get past their division archrival. In case you may not know, the past four meetings between these two teams have been decided by three points each time (as ESPN has shown this stat 19382 times). In week four, Baltimore beat Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh 17-14 without Big Ben Roethlisberger. Later in week 13, Big Ben continued his dominance over the Ravens winning 13-10 (*Roethlisberger has won his last six games vs. the Ravens). So what is in store for this playoff rubber match? Let me give you a hint… probably another close game. The Ravens are 5-3 on the road this season and the Steelers are 5-3 at home this season. The Ravens three road losses were only by a combined 13 points (two of these losses came to the top-seeded Patriots and Falcons). Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has only lost to the Jets, Patriots, and the Ravens at home (all remaining playoff teams). Both of these teams are tough, physical teams whose defense at any time can singlehandedly win a game. Each team’s defensive stars (Ray Lewis and Ed Reed for Baltimore vs. James Harrison and Troy Polamalu for Pittsburgh) cancel each other out, so where does that leave us? Offense! Joe Flacco and the young Ravens offense vs. Ben Roethlisberger and the electric speed of Mike Wallace. Advantage: Pittsburgh Steelers. As close as these teams matchup on paper, I like the Black and Yellow (link) and their extra week of rest and preparation winning at the end.
Stick’s Pick: Baltimore 13, Pittsburgh 15.
Green Bay at Atlanta- Two things: 1. I’m not sold on this Atlanta Falcons team as a 13-3 team and top seed in the NFC. The Falcons are 7-1 at home with two solid running backs, one stud receiver, and a quarterback who is strictly a game manager. Remind you of anyone? How about the 2008 Carolina Panthers? Carolina (8-0 at home), also held a first round bye in 2008 behind the cast of running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, pro bowl receiver Steve Smith, and QB Jake Delhomme. The Falcons are very similar to their NFC South rival than they may think. Lets take a look at some more comparisons between the teams:
2008 Panthers 2010 Falcons
25.9 PPG scored 25.9 PPG scored
20.6 PPG allowed 18.0 PPG allowed
10th in total offense 16th in total offense
18th in total defense 16th in total defense
These stats doing anything for you? However, Carolina fell to the Cardinals behind the great QB play of Kurt Warner and the much improved Arizona defense (Delhomme’s six turnovers didn’t help either). Could the Falcons fall to QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers NFL’s 2nd-best defense? I’d say so. Which brings me to my second point: 2. The Green Bay Packers are the best team in the NFC. Last week I praised the Packers offense, but how about their defense? Green Bay is 2nd in the NFL allowing 15 PPG while maintaining a 5th-best total defense. ESPN declared this year to be “The Year of the Quarterback” (link), and in this case I’d take my chances with Aaron Rodgers behind center.
Stick’s Pick: Green Bay 31, Atlanta 20.
Seattle at Chicago- Upset special round 2? I don’t think so. While Pete Carroll and the Seahawks might have shocked the world last Saturday, don’t expect anything similar come Sunday afternoon. While Seattle is great up in the Northwest (5-3 at home), they are downright awful anywhere outside the state of Washington (2-6 on the road). To top it off, all six of the Seattle’s road losses have come by 15+ points each time (a combined margin of defeat of 121 points). I know, I know, but what about in week 5 when Seattle marched out of Soldier Field victorious 23-20? That was week five, this is week 19. Things change over the span of 14 weeks. For example, the Bears offense was still in rebuilding mode behind offensive guru Mike Martz and their defense may now be the best unit in the league. In week five, I’m sure the temperature high wasn’t in the low 20s like it will be this Sunday. As I mentioned Seattle’s home advantage last week, Chicago has the home field edge this time, and I look for Jay Cutler to capitalize. Fourteen weeks ago, Julius Peppers was held without a sack (my personal over/under is 2.5 sacks for Peppers this weekend). Sad to say, but I think the magical playoff run by the 8-9 Seahawks comes to a cold, snowy end in Chicago.
Stick’s Pick: Seattle 13, Chicago 27.
NY Jets at New England- Once again, the most hyped game of the weekend is the finale. Heated division rivals (Jets and Patriots) battle for the rubber match, having split games in the regular season. This matchup is getting all types of media coverage. Nearly all the Jets players (and coach Rex Ryan) are taking shots at Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. WHY??!! Why would you give one of the great coaching-quarterback duos extra motivation. When it comes to the loudmouth Jets, the great Yankees Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson put it best, “Shut up, play football!” No one is forgetting what happened to the Jets on Monday Night Football back in week 13. New England won 45-3. I could understand trash talking but losing by MORE THAN 40 points… no team can recover from that kind of humiliation. New England may have loss to the Jets in week two, but that was a Patriots team with a younger defense and the distraction of Randy Moss. I guess if you can’t beat them on the field, attack them off the field? I am not condoning the Jets sloppy arrogance. I’m sticking with soon-to-be four-time Super Bowl champion (and soon-to-be named MVP) Tom Brady. Tom Brady singlehandedly carried my fantasy football team this season and I will return the favor… riding the Brady bandwagon all the way to the Super Bowl.
Stick’s Pick: NY Jets 17, New England 38.
Feel free to comment/let me know your thoughts. Stay tuned for my conference championship picks coming next week.