Last week was a fantastic beginning to the NFL playoffs, and this week is primed to be even better. There will be some bitter rivalries renewed in the AFC, as the hatred between the Ravens and Steelers is well documented, and last time the two teams met, Ben Roethlisberger left with a broken nose. John Harbaugh said this week that he is happy his team was able to give Big Ben that little parting gift, although this rivalry needs no more bulletin board material. They hate each other, pure and simple. In the other AFC matchup, Rex Ryan has already declared that the Jets versus the Patriots will be ‘personal’. Tom Brady was recently singled out by Ryan stating that he does not have the same preparation level as Peyton Manning. While Brady has been well trained by his coach to avoid that kind of trash talk, you can bet he will be looking to show Ryan just how prepared he is. In the NFC, the Seahawks proved that no team is safe as they defied all odds (and a double digit spread) to beat the defending champions Saints, and now have the confidence that they can do it again in Chicago. Meanwhile, the Falcons and Packers square off in what should be one of the most exciting and competitive games of the season between two teams highly touted as potential Super Bowl representatives for the NFC. In the final weekend where there will be more than one football game per day, let’s soak in every minute of it and enjoy it to the fullest. And what better way to do that than by making some good picks and going 4-0. So let’s take a look at how you should be conducting your business this weekend… oh and I recommend signing up for 5Dimes.com so you can get the best odds for your NFL playoff picks!
NFL Picks for Divisional Playoff Round 2011
Ravens/Steelers UNDER 37 (-102) @ 5Dimes.com
This game should be a typical Baltimore versus Pittsburgh matchup. That means a lot of animosity, big hits, and defensive dominance. Although the line is way lower than you will see any of the other games this weekend, we need to consider that the worse of the two defenses has given up 16.3 points, that being the Ravens. The Steelers are even better, allowing only 14.5 points per game. While both offenses are capable, they won’t blow you away. Both teams achieve success by running the football and coming up big on defense. Roethlisberger and Flacco are capable, but they aren’t exactly gunslingers leading high-octane offenses like a Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. This game will be won and lost in the trenches, as the battle for field position will be the determinant of who wins this game, likely to be decided by a field goal. The Steelers are just about impossible to run on, leading the league in the category, allowing a ridiculous 62.8 yards on the ground to go along with only 5 touchdowns. The Ravens are tied with the Steelers for the league lead in fewest rushing touchdowns allowed, and have given up 93.9 rushing yards per game, good enough for 5th best in the league. This doesn’t mean that both quarterbacks will take to the air, but rather that yards will be well earned and hard to come by. While scoring points against these two teams is difficult at the best of times, the offensive difficulties will likely be compounded by inclement weather. There is a 70% chance of snow for Saturday, and while that doesn’t guarantee a low scoring game (just ask the Patriots), it certainly doesn’t make scoring any easier. For further proof that the Under is the right pick despite the low number, consider this: The Under is 4-0 in the Ravens’ last 4 games against teams in their division, and 7-2 when they play teams with winning records. It is also 5-2 in Pittsburgh’s last 7 overall. This is not the game to watch if you want to see an aerial shootout. But if you appreciate tough defenses and big tackles, this is your Super Bowl. Take the Under and get ready for a low-scoring, hard-hitting affair.
Packers +2.5 (-103) @ 5Dimes.com
In a weekend full of exciting games, none dazzle me more than this one. The Atlanta Falcons have been the definition of consistency this season, calmly and quietly building a 13-3 record and earning the number one seed in the NFC. Meanwhile, Green Bay went from pre-season Super Bowl favorite, to being on the outside of the playoff picture looking in as backup Matt Flynn took the reins, to scratching and clawing their way into the final playoff spot in the last week of the season. Now Green Bay are as hot as any team in the league, and a big threat to leave Atlanta with a win. The Falcons are extremely tough to beat at home, but not invincible as the Saints proved this season. It is a battle of two great young arms in what could ostensibly be the first of many postseason battles between Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan. While there is no denying that the Falcons are loaded with offensive weapons, the Packers can go toe to toe with anybody in sizing up offensive stars. What gives Green Bay the slight edge is the fact that in addition to their impressive offensive capabilities, they also have one of the league’s top defenses. When Rodgers and company have trouble getting going, the defense is usually able to keep them in the game long enough for the offense to kick into gear. If last week is any indication, the Packers have finally added the running dimension they so badly needed, as rookie James Starks exploded for 123 rushing yards in the win against the Eagles. If the Packers can continue to use Starks and Brandon Jackson effectively, it makes Rodgers and the throwing game even more dangerous. In their last 6 divisional games, the Packers have only lost ATS once, and are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 as an underdog of a field goal or less. This game should be a competitive and close match right until the final whistle, but I trust Rodgers more than Ryan, and believe in Clay Matthews and the Green Bay defense far more than the leaky Falcons secondary. Green Bay wins in a close one, as they continue to be road warriors on the road to the Super Bowl.
Seahawks +10 (-110) @ Sportsbook.com
The Seahawks caught everyone in the sporting world by surprise last week, this writer included, as they stunned the Saints with a 41-36 victory. Marshawn Lynch’s late 4th quarter rushing touchdown is already being considered the best postseason run of all time, and while that may be a tad premature, it is also pretty hard to argue with. Seattle proved the old football axiom about ‘any given Sunday’ to be true, and are hoping that lightning can strike twice this week against Chicago. The one problem for Seattle: they won’t be playing at home this week, so will not have the 12th man that Qwest Field provides them with. However, despite playing on the road where they are a paltry 2-6 this season, Seattle has a couple things working in their favor: Firstly, they have all the momentum. They are coming off a colossal win, while Chicago had a bye. Yes, it is helpful in resting players, but the extra week off kills any steam your team had entering the playoffs (not that the Bears had all that much, losing 10-3 to Green Bay in week 17). Secondly, the Seahawks are playing with house money. They have absolutely nothing to lose, since they aren’t supposed to be here anyway, and everything to gain. Meanwhile, Bears fans will be expecting them to take care of the ‘Hawks with ease, placing the pressure firmly in the corner of Chicago. Finally, the Bears simply aren’t that good. Yes, they had a regular season that far outpaced expectations, but the reality is that there are problems with this football team. The defense is very sturdy, but the offense is hit and miss to put it mildly. In 4 of their 5 losses, they managed to score no more than 14 points, and 3 times only managed single digits. While Jay Cutler has shown the potential to go off in certain weeks, he can also serve up ill-timed turnovers thanks to his tendency to throw interceptions. Let us also consider that 7 of the Bears’ 11 wins were by a single score, meaning some of those games could have easily gone the other direction. This isn’t to discredit the Bears’ accomplishments, but rather to show that they are far more vulnerable than we all thought the Saints were. Chicago may scrape by in this game, but have not proven that they deserve such a large spread. Seattle also thrives in January: they are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 games during this month, and 4-1 ATS in games where they have accumulated over 350 yards the week before. Conversely, Chicago is 1-4 ATS in their last 5 playoff games, and 2-8 ATS in their last 10 as a home favorite of 3.5 to 10 points. Recently it seems like every year we have an unlikely team make a deep run into the playoffs, and it could well be Seattle this time around. Go with Seattle and enjoy the 10 point safety net.
Patriots -8 (-108) @ 5Dimes.com
Rex Ryan has done all he can this week to take the focus away from his team and make it about himself. No, this is not entirely to serve his ever-growing ego, but rather to try and hide the shortcomings that his team possesses. Yes, the Jets were able to sneak past the Colts, but that shouldn’t mask the fact that Mark Sanchez looked awful in that game, routinely missing easy throws and making poor decisions. If not for a truly bizarre timeout call by Jim Caldwell, there is every chance the Jets don’t even win that game. Regardless, they are in tough this week against a New England team that has already embarrassed New York once this year. While it would be foolish to assume the Pats will have quite as easy a time this go-round, New England has seemingly only improved since that game, while the Jets have been incredibly inconsistent. Tom Brady is coming off what is sure to be an MVP season, and will only be fueled further by some of Ryan’s comments towards him the past couple of weeks. Coach Bill Belichick thrives in big games, and nobody better prepares his team mentally than him. You can bet the Patriots will be ready for anything the Jets throw at them. New England hasn’t lost since the first week of November, and very few of those games since have even been close. In 4 of their last 5 games, they have put up at least 34 points and have given up, at most, 7. While they are not a lock to win the Super Bowl, they are definitely the heavy favorite, and if they are to be knocked off, it won’t be by a team with as many glaring issues as the Jets. The Pats are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 against the AFC East, and 13-3 ATS in their last 16 as a home favorite of 3.5 to 10 points. On the other hand, New York is 1-4 ATS following an ATS win, and are 5-11-1 ATS in their last 17 meetings with New England. In the rubber match of the season series, Tom Brady and his crew should win this one with relative ease.