After an exciting regular season and the Wildcard Round we've reached the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. Even though my favorite team, the Dolphins, have been eliminated, I plan on enjoying the rest of season. That means analyzing the match-ups and making predictions.
*Disclaimer* I picked the Eagles to win the Super Bowl in the pre-season.
Let's start with the AFC...
Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans - I look for this game to be a low scoring, defensive struggle. Both teams are fairly evenly matched. The Ravens defense appears to be as good as the unit that carried them to a Super Bowl XXV victory. However, last week against the Dolphins, the Ravens allowed Miami to move the ball, especially in the fourth quarter. Tennessee should be able to as well. They just need to avoid the turnovers that plagued Miami last week. Attention Kerry Collins, avoid Ed Reed. The Titans defense is just as good. As long as Albert Haynesworth can play and be effective, the Titans should be able to rattle Flacco.. On offense, both teams like to run the ball. I like White and Johnson slighty more than McGahee and Rice. Whichever quarterback makes the fewest mistakes will lead his team to victory. And sorry Joe Flacco, I'll take the veteran Collins to do that. In a previous match-up the Titans won 13-10. I expect a similar outcome. Titans 16 Ravens 13
San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers - The Chargers have gone from Pre-Season Super Bowl contender to mid season disappointment to the hottest team in the NFL. The Steelers have been, well, the Steelers. They play tough, physical defense and run the football. San Diego will likely be without LT for this game. That will leave the workload for Darren Sproles who had a great game last week against the Colts. That won't happen at Pittsburgh. The Charger offense will struggle like they did in a 11-10 loss at Pittsburgh on November 16. I don't expect the Steelers to have much of an easier time against the Charger defense either. The Steeler offensive line has struggled to protect Ben Roethlisberger all season. They'll need to a better job, especially after the concussion Ben suffered in the season finale against Cleveland. Look for poor weather conditions and a lousy playing surface to play a role in this one causing a couple missed field goals. Steelers 17 Chargers 14
And now, on to the NFC...
Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers - This is probably the game I would almost consider a lock. Arizona will again travel to an east coast that has been not been kind. They were blown out by the Jets, Patriots and Eagles. They played well though, earlier this season at Carolina, in a 27-23 loss on October 26. However, this is a different Panther team. They are running the ball much better now. The tandem of Williams/Stewart have accounted for over 2,300 yards this season. And even though the Cardinal run defense has been better, I expect them to have a good game. Arizona should be able to have some success through the air against a suspect Panther secondary. Having a healthy Boldin in the line-up would help Arizona's chances but it doesn't look like that is going to happen. Arizona is a great home team. Too bad this game is in Charlotte. Look for Delhomme, Smith and co. to put this away late in the third or early fourth quarter. Panthers 34 Cardinals 20
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants - Ahh, the game of the week. The Eagles have been on a bit of a roll recently. And thanks to an Oakland miracle, they squeaked into the playoffs. The Giants struggled a bit down the stretch but won against Carolina when they had to. In this match-up of division rivals, records go out the window. These are two teams that know each other well and there should be no surprises between the two. Despite the retirement of Michael Strahan and loss of Osi Umenyiora due to injury, the Giants defense has been great. Justin Tuck and Antonio Pierce have picked up the slack and performed well. The Eagle defense has also been playing well thanks to coordinator Jim Johnson. This game is going to come down to the running backs. Andy Reid needs to commit to running the football. It's no secret, when the Eagles balance their attack, they look really good. Westbrook is a dangerous weapon. The more he touches the ball, the better. For the Giants, they need to get Brandon Jacobs going early. The offensive line and other backs seem to feed off what Jacobs can do early in the game. They split their season series, each winning in the other's building. Expect a good game that comes down to the wire. Eagles 31 Giants 27
We'll be back next week, Simian permitting, with previews and predictions for the Championship games.