Previews, predictions for NFL divisional round
And then there were eight. If you read my wild-card weekend preview and, ahem, predictions last week, I don't blame you for giving this column a Marshawn Lynch stiff-arm. But for those who believe in second chances, or are just so jazzed up about divisional weekend you'd like to offer up your own prognostications, please read on. And to honor my mom, who will be celebrating her 60th birthday in Sin City this weekend, these predictions will be Las Vegas style -- against the spread!
Saturday: Baltimore at Pittsburgh, 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS
On the surface, this looks like a defensive battle extraordinaire with a possible final score of 3-0. But if you consider how the Ravens defense played last week, especially the mourning Ed Reed, the Steelers' passing attack should get some opportunities. With a healthy (enough) Troy Polamalu and a Steel Curtain defense that held the Ravens to 54 total rushing yards in their Week 13 meeting, Ravens points might not be easy to come by.
Saturday: Green Bay at Atlanta, 8 p.m. ET, FOX
For some reason, I find this matchup the toughest to predict. Matty Ice (aka Matt Ryan) is virtually flawless at home, and there aren't many holes to speak of across the Falcons' roster. But Aaron Rodgers leads a Packers' passing game that is truly special, the best in the NFL if running on all cylinders. The Packers generally lose when shooting themselves in the foot, but I'm going to say they take a week off from any major erring.
Sunday: Seattle at Chicago, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Oh those Bears. From the Calvin Johnson "catch" to the happenstance of facing several backup quarterbacks to now hosting the Seahawks, lady luck has been on their side. Improvements in the offensive line made the Mike Martz system work, stopped Jay Cutler from needing an ambulance on standby -- and turned the Bears into a legitimate contender. As last week proved, you never know what can happen in the NFL, but it's hard to envision a Matt Hasselbeck as Joe Montana sequel -- especially away from Qwest Field.
Sunday: New York Jets at New England, 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Already smacking of desperation from terrible attempts by Rex Ryan and Antonio Cromartie to rabble-rouse Tom Brady, the Jets could see an outcome similar to Week 13's 45-3 Patriots rout. Since then, Brady has developed even more of a connection with rookie TE Rob Gronkowski, and the Pats secondary has greatly improved in terms of speed and inducing turnovers. The Jets should be more focused on their own quarterback, Mark Sanchez, who other than the final minutes of last week's Colts' game, did not perform like a playoff-caliber quarterback.