Who will step up when it counts?
It is fitting that just as it has been all year long, once again three rookie quarterbacks are taking the spotlight. Andrew Luck and the Colts suit up against the Ravens on Sunday, followed by a Russell Wilson - Robert Griffin III showdown at FedEx Field. Saturday's games are highlighted by a week seventeen rematch of the Vikings and the Packers and a battle between the surging Bengals and the plummeting Texans.
Saturday, January 5, 2013
Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans
The Bengals are 7-1 in their last eight games. Their 6-2 record on the road is the same as the Texans' record at home. While the Texans' have been touted for their stellar defense, the Bengals have actually given up fewer points on the year. The Texans on the other hand have lost three of their last four and they are definitely not the powerhouse they seemed to be.
In the playoffs, the key is momentum, and Houston is certainly lacking in that department. The heavily favored Texans come in to this one as losers of three of their last four, not exactly a recipe for playoff success. Despite owning a 12-4 record, the Texans are not nearly as good as their record suggests. They have looked very vulnerable at times this year, needing overtime to beat both the Jaguars and the Lions. These teams combined for six wins all season. Their secondary is very average, ranked 16th in the league in yards given up per game. This secondary will be challenged by standout Bengal wideout A.J. Green, who is one of the best players in the league. Green ranked fourth in the league this year in touchdown receptions and tenth in receiving yards. I expect Green to carry much of the offensive load for the Bengals and be the difference maker in this one.
A lot of people doubt Houston right now, and I do too, but I still think they take down Cincinnati on Saturday afternoon. Houston simply has too many weapons on offense for the Bengals' secondary to handle. Andre Johnson has had a spectacular season as has Arian Foster. The big X factor will be Matt Schaub's performance. If he can effectively get the ball to his weapons on the outside and open things up for Arian Foster, the Texans win. The one thing that could prevent this is if Cincinnati's solid pass rush dominates the Houston O-Line. Look for Houston's O-Line to be on their game, however, in this do or die game. The Bengals also just do not have the same type of offensive explosiveness that Houston does. Expect Houston to bounce back after losing three of their last four.
It's commonly believed that to win in any playoffs a team has to be hot at the right time. This is especially true in the NFL where Wild Card teams can get hot and make a run to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately for Houston they're ice cold after losing three of their last four games while Cincinnati is coming into the game on a three game winning streak. A key fact to look at regarding this game is that Houston is exactly average (ranked 16th) in allowing opposing offenses 225.8 passing yards a game. Cincy has A.J. Green ready to make plays and tear up the Texans for long gains.
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
The Packers are the best team in the NFC. The Falcons are beatable and the 49ers have proven themselves unable to beat the Rams. The Packers have won four of their last five, and granted, that loss was last week against the Vikings, but with more to play for and another look at Adrian Peterson the Packers will be ready for the challenge. Peterson has done a lot to change it, but the NFL is still a passing league and Aaron Rodgers is one of the three best quarterbacks in the league.
Aaron Rodgers and the Pack have playoff experience, something that is foreign to the underdog Vikings. But playoff experience alone will not win Green Bay this one. Aaron Rodgers will. Rodgers boasted the highest Quarterback Rating (QBR) in the league this year, while finishing second in the league in touchdown passes with 39. The Vikings rank 24th in the league in pass defense, giving up north of 240 yards per game through the air. I expect Rodgers to slice this defense up like swiss cheese, leading the Packers to a defiant victory. There is only one thing that could prevent this from happening, Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson had one of the best seasons by a running back of all time, finishing with over 2,000 yards. In his two meetings with the Packers this year, AP rushed for over 400 yards combined, yet the Vikings only won one of those games. Although it might be impossible to keep Peterson from reaching the century mark, don't expect him to have the type of success he had in the previous two meetings. The Packers like all good teams will make adjustments, and AP might need to rush for 300 yards for the Vikings to have a shot in this one.
Although Minnesota beat the Pack to clinch a spot in the playoffs, I like the Packers to take this game. Quarterback play will be a deciding factor in this contest. Expect Aaron Rodgers to be focused and on his game. Christian Ponder has not been good enough so far to take some necessary weight off of Adrian Peterson. The Packers are also more playoff tested than the Vikings, having gone to the playoffs the last few years. Green Bay eliminates Minnesota at Lambeau.
Minnesota has Adrian Peterson and the threat of a great running game without any real threat of a passing attack. Green Bay has Aaron Rodgers and the threat of a great passing attack without any real threat of a running game. In the end Aaron Rodgers and his receiving corps will be able to put up more points than Peterson and his offensive line. With the experience of a Super Bowl run in their back pocket, Green Bay will be able to get the win.
Sunday, January 6, 2013
Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens have been absolutely awful of late. Luckily, they get to play the Indianapolis Colts, the only team to make the playoffs with a negative point differential, behind a rookie quarterback prone to throwing interceptions, with a 4-4 road record. Worst of all the Colts managed to get blown out by the Jets week six. This will be the last win of Ray Lewis' career because when they go to Denver or New England they will not be moving on.
Fueled by the return of Ray Lewis, the Ravens will get the win in what will be an emotional game for both teams. Ray Lewis has announced that this will be his last season, so you can bet that Lewis will have his Ravens ready to roll come game day. On the other hand, the Colts have been inspired by their coach Chuck Pagano all season after he was diagnosed with Leukemia early in the year. Although Baltimore ranked twelfth this season in total points allowed per game, they missed their two best defensive players, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs for parts of the year. With these two finally back on the field together, it will be a long day for Andrew Luck and the Colts' offense. In his last real game, Ravens' quarterback Joe Flacco dominated the Giants, throwing for over 300 yards and a pair of scores. If that was a sign on things to come, then this one really won't close. Baltimore will roll at home.
I don't think Andrew Luck will be ready for the hatred of the Colts that will be in store for him in Baltimore on Sunday. Andrew Luck has shown that he is a great QB but I think the playoff atmosphere in Baltimore will be too much for him to continue to carry his team like he has up to this point. The Ravens will be fired up and will bring that playoff intensity. Flacco has lead his team through the playoffs more than once before and I think he will be poised to do it again. Also, there's no way Ray Lewis, now officially in his final season, will let his team lose.
Ray Lewis' return versus Chuck Pagano's return. If the Ravens simply feed Ray Rice the ball they'll be sure to get the win. Unfortunately the Ravens don't seem to realize that Ray Rice is one of the best backs in the league, which is a small issue. One can only hope that they come to their senses and keep Ray Lewis' career going.
Seattle Seahawks at Washington Redskins
If this game were in Seattle, there would be no doubt in my mind that the Seahawks would win and probably in a blowout. However, this is in Washington and the Seahawks are 3-5 on the season in road games. A list of teams with road records as good or better than that on the year includes the Rams, Buccaneers, Panthers, Chargers and Jets, not exactly elite company. Now let's talk about them 'Skins. Seven wins in a row, the second best offense in the NFC and they lead the NFL in rushing yards. The Seahawks' run defense is not nearly as good as their pass defense and the Redskins will be ready to exploit.
Although the Redskins' cinderella story is cute, the clock will strike midnight against Seattle. Each team has a top five rushing attack, in fact, the RG3 and Alfred Morris lead Redskins running game is number one in the league. Seattle is top ten in the league in defending the run so something's got to give. These teams boast similar styles of play, with a ground and pound running game featuring an agile rookie quarterback, but the x factor lies in the secondary. The Seahawks boast one of the best secondaries in the league, lead by studs Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. The Redskins on the other hand give up the third most passing yards per game. Because of this I believe Russell Wilson will be able to outduel a hobbled RG3, who will almost certainly be wearing a knee brace this Sunday. Fueled by the return of Browner from suspension, and cornerback Marcus Trufant from injury, the Seahawks will get the W, and give RG3 problems all day long.
This, for me, was the most difficult game to call. Both teams are extremely similar. Both have great, athletic young quarterbacks, both have elite running back, both have solid run defenses, both are very hot and both play a very physical type of game. Washington, however, I think has the slight edge for three main reasons. First off, RGIII should be able to handle the playoff pressure better than Russell Wilson. Secondly, the game is in Washington, and Seattle has not been great away from home this season. And finally, expect the veterans on the Redskins' defense, London Fletcher in particular, to step up and lead Washington into the next round.
This stems from the belief that Robert Griffin III is a better quarterback than Russell Wilson. That Alfred Morris is just as good, if not a bit better, than Marshawn Lynch. That the Redskins' receivers are better than the Seahawks' receivers. While the Seattle defense is better, the ‘Skins defense has gotten better as the season has progressed. Seattle may have scored an obscene amount of points over the past five weeks, but those were the result of the opposing teams' turnovers and the Seahawks' ability to convert them into points. Arizona had eight turnovers, Buffalo had three, San Fran had two and St. Louis also had one. Unfortunately for the Seahawks RG3 only has 5 interceptions all season while Alfred Morris only has 4 fumbles. While keeping the ball with their offense and limiting Seattle's opportunities, the Redskins will get the win.
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