Friday, January 9, 2009

NFL Divisional Round Picks

After a 3-1 performance in the Divisional Round, I thought I'd take another go at the second round of the NFL Playoffs that commence tomorrow. So here are my three picks for today, with the fourth one (The Steeler game) coming in much greater detail at some point tomorrow.

So here we go...
Baltimore at Tennessee
This one has the feel of the type of game that's so physical that, after its over, you're sore just from watching it. The Ravens and Titans both do their best to impose their physical will on the opposition. The early setting of the game will go a long way toward determining the outcome. If either squad is successful in this regard, it will be the deciding factor, mark my words. Both squads have a stable of talented running backs, but I don't think any of these guys will really be successful. Chris Johnson's speed may allow him to break a run or two, but for the most part, I envision him struggling to get any separation against the Ravens D. As for LenDale White, every Pittsburgh fans knows all too well how Baltimore handles overweight, slow running backs who rely on physicality and wearing down the opposition.
The Ravens defense will do its best to force the hand of Kerry Collins and try to get a costly turnover or three. But Kerry's done this once or twice in his career, and I think he does an effective job of moving the ball and playing smart football. A potential key I see for the Titans O is Chris Johnson getting the ball in the passing game. Screen passes and shovel passes could be deadly to Baltimore.
As for the Ravens offense, Joe Flacco surprised absolutely no one by laying an egg against a decent Miami defense, and I wouldn't expect much out of him this week against the ferocious Titans squad. The Ravens three-headed rushing attack needs to step up against that nasty Titans D-Line or the Ravens only chance to get on the board will be in the hands of their defense.
The Pick The Ravens have become something of a trendy pick this week, but consider me unimpressed. Unless they can force Kerry Collins into making a bad mistake or two (a definite possibility) I can't imagine the Ravens getting on the board. The Titans' ultimate weapon, Chris Johnson, finds a way to get in the end zone despite being a bit ineffective for most of the game and the Titans win 17-7 because of it.

Arizona at CarolinaThe Cardinals, to me, seem like the typical just-happy-to-be-here team. I mean I love the Cardinals, and would probably rank them as my second favorite NFL team behind the Steelers because of all the Pittsburgh connections (Larry Fitz, Steve Breaston, Ken Whisenhunt, Russ Grimm), but this squad just isn't ready for primetime yet, as they say. A playoff win is a terrific step in the right direction for the long-struggling Arizona franchise, but they have a lot of building still to do before they can be taken seriously in this kind of game. With Anquan Boldin out, the Cards entire offense is going to be based around the Kurt Warner-to-Larry Fitzgerald connection.
DeAngelo Williams has been nothing short of spectacular late in the season, and Jake Delhomme has one of the most deadly weapons in the NFL at his disposal in Steve "don't you dare trash talk me" Smith. The Cards D still needs a fair amount of work and will have their hands full with this squad.
The Pick Unless Larry Fitzgerald has the absolute game of his lifetime and Anquan Boldin somehow plays, I just don't like this matchup for them. So give me the Panthers 31-17 with Steve Smith and Larry Fitzgerald both going off for big yards and DeAngelo Williams going off for a big day.

Philadelphia at New York Giants
The Giants couldn't have been too thrilled with this matchup, all that work to get a number 1 seed and now they get a game against their long-time bitter division rivals. Yikes. This one should be an excellent game I think. Donovan McNabb has been simply spectacular the past several weeks, and as long as he avoids getting another case of the dry heaves, I think we should expect similarly excellent play from him in this one. And of course, the Giants have their own big-game big-play stud at quarterback in Eli Manning.
While the Eagles have the highly regarded Brian Westbrook playing running back, one of the top dual-threat players in football, but the Giants have not one but two backs who ran for more yards than Westbrook this season, so I think you can safely expect the Giants to establish a better ground game.
The Giants got a nice boost to their D when Justin Tuck all but declared he would do just about anything to play in this game, even if it means amputating something like Ronnie Lott.
The Pick I expect this one to be a pretty close because of just how well the Eagles are playing these days. The Giants will have some rust issues to overcome after the bye week against the hot Eagles. However, that won't be enough for Philly. Give me the Giants 24-20. Eli plays very well yet again and Donovan just can't do enough to get a W for the Eagles against a much better G-men squad.

I'll be back tomorrow with an in-depth Steelers preview.

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