It’s funny when you realize that your children have it so much easier, and better, than we did as kids. Yes, we were raised in a much simpler time. I don’t think my son, who just turned 11 the other day, has ever spent an entire afternoon making up a world of his own with action figures like I used to at his age. Instead he has devised an entire world on a computer inside a computer on a game called “Minecraft” which is far more intricate than anything I could come up with.
So Mr. 11 Years old got a card in the mail from my parents for his birthday, and inside it was a check to buy himself a laptop. He freaked out, and inside so did I. I was certainly psyched for him, and glad that I wasn’t going to have to shell out the money to buy him a computer, but I never got anything close to that big for any of my birthdays. Am I jealous, yeah, probably.
This weekend in the NFL it’s also a case of comparing the past to the new. Back in the day there was no way that you’d ever trust a rookie to win a playoff game as the quarterback. Now, there are many people that believe that a rookie could take his team to the Super Bowl this year, and there are rookies starting for two of the final eight teams. Back in the day, teams that lived by the pass were said to be the ones to shy away from in the playoffs. There’s no way that you would say that now. Almost all of the top teams have superstars QBs that sling it all over the field. The running game is a complement.
This may be the best weekend of the year when it comes to football. Four games, all with huge implications, and we’re not sidled with any bad teams. You can honestly make a case for any of the eight to win it all this year, and I could see any of five teams really doing it.
Going into this weekend, I believe that the Broncos are No. 1, the Patriots a close No. 2 and Seattle is No. 3 followed closely by both San Francisco and Green Bay at 4A and 4B.
So, if you’re rooting for Baltimore, or Houston, or Atlanta, I’m sorry. I just don’t see your team winning it all, but honestly, that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t pull an upset. This is the NFL, and the beauty is that anything can happen. Teams get hot, just look at the Giants last year and 2007.
Speaking of hot, I went 4-0 last weekend in round one. Matt went 2-2, so that finished off his chances of beating me for the season. He owes me lunch, and I will cherish every bite of burger and sip of Guinness. Good times.
Rich: 4-0 (playoffs) 183-75-1 (overall) .709 winning percentage
Matt: 2-2 (playoffs) 173-85-1 (overall) .670 winning percentage
Baltimore at Denver, Saturday at 4:30 PM: You can certainly make a case for the Ravens winning this game, and you might even be able to talk yourself into it. Baltimore did a nice job against the Colts last weekend, the defense looked good and the defense was menacing.
But let’s calm ourselves first, okay. First, it’s still Joe Flacco behind center. Baltimore completed just 12 passes in the game, and the biggest one was all improvisation by Ray Rice on a late second quarter screen that was the big play in the game. The Colts actually had the screen read perfectly, but Rice found a tiny amount of space and did what Ray Rice can do, busting it for 45-yards and taking the ball down to the two. The Ravens scored on the next play and Indy was never in the game after that.
The Ravens played that whole game on emotion. It was Ray Lewis’ final home game, and he fed off the crowd. Now he’s taking his team into the most hostile of places (in my opinion, Denver is the 2nd best home field advantage) and has to take down a team that is playing better than anyone.
Denver is the real deal. Offensively, they’re pretty awesome. Peyton Manning has been great and he’s got two legitimate outside threats, in Thomas and Decker, that make plays. Brandon Stokley has made big plays out of the slot and Jacob Tamme is a good tight end. Knowshon Moreno has done a nice job filling in for the injured Willis McGahee, and the Broncos don’t seem to have missed a step with him hauling the rock.
The Bronco defense is also quite good. Von Miller and company get after the quarterback, and this is where I see the biggest advantage for Denver. Ray Rice does a nice job in blitz pickup for the Ravens, but if he has to stay in to block, then one of the Ravens’ biggest weapons isn’t out in a pattern. That puts the game on the shoulders of Flacco, and I don’t think he can make enough big plays against a good defense to win on the road here.
- Rich’s Pick: Broncos
- Matt’s Pick: Broncos
Green Bay at San Francisco, Saturday, 8 PM: I’m going to be honest, I’ve gone back and forth on this game all week long. This is the game of the week, on paper. I love watching both of these teams play, because they’re just fun.
The back-and-forth keeps bringing me back to one simple thing, since Justin Smith got injured against the Patriots, the 49ers have not been getting to the quarterback with the gusto they did before that injury, especially their defensive leader, Aldon Smith. Somewhere my boy Elias is nodding his head, and hating it.
Experience is certainly a factor, and the Packers have more of it at the QB spot. I had the opportunity to sit in on a panel last night with a couple of Major League pitchers, Steve Cishek and Rich Hill, along with Red Sox manager John Farrell. They all spoke about the importance of “slowing the game down.” When you’re a rookie the game moves fast in the early going, and you have to settle into it. We saw Colin Kaepernick struggle with this in his first start of the year, a loss to St. Louis. He made mistakes because he was too amped up. This is the biggest game of his life, I see that happening.
I very well could be wrong, and if I am I’ll be happy for my old friend, but I’m picking Green Bay.
- Rich’s Pick: Packers
- Matt’s Pick: Packers
Seattle at Atlanta, Sunday 1 PM: How is it that the NFC’s top team is one of the ones I feel so sure is not a true Super Bowl contender? It’s simple really, they have a bloated record that was bolstered by some close wins over teams that aren’t really that good. The NFC South was bad this year, and they dominated the division.
Atlanta used to rely on the running game, but this year they ranked 29th in that category. Michael Turner is no longer a burner, and they refuse to implement the underutilized Jaquizz Rodgers, even though he’s the most dynamic weapon they have out of the backfield. It makes no sense because they’ve become a throw down the field team, yet they still used Turner the majority of the time when they had a Darren Sproles clone on the sideline.
Matt Ryan is 0-3 in playoff games. I’m just saying.
Seattle ranks as Football Outsiders best team this year. They play great defense, have lockdown corners, they’re physical, they’re able to run the ball – both from the RB and QB spots – and can make plays in the passing game off of play-action. They’re well constructed.
So, I’m expecting a blowout? Not really. West coast teams that have to travel east for 1 PM games tend to struggle. Not only do they have jet lag, but the game is starting at 10 AM on their body clocks. It’s out of whack to the norm.
Seattle is better at home than on the road.
In the end, though, I do like the Seahawks. They are the hottest team in the NFL right now, and one of my rules is that you don’t mess with a streak. I think it will be close, but in the end Marshawn Lynch will be the difference, going Beast Mode in the second half and carrying the Seahawks to the conference championship game for a rematch of the Fail Mary Game.
- Rich’s Pick: Seahawks
- Matt’s Pick: Falcons
Houston at New England, 4:30 PM Sunday: Gee, thanks NFL. Glad we have to wait until all of the other games are over to watch the Pats move on, thanks for that.
We’ve seen these two teams play, and it wasn’t pretty. The Patriots dominated in their win earlier this season, and I expect another win. I don’t think they’ll be up 28-0 and playing backups in the second half, but I do expect a decisive win, by 10 or 11 points.
Matt Schaub does not throw the ball down the field any more. You know that the Patriots will send help at Andre Johnson all game long and force someone else to beat them. Who will do it? Owen Daniels? I don’t see it.
New England has been much better defensively during the second half of the season, since Aqib Talib joined the team (side note, I wish Aqib was playable in Words with Friends. Not enough ‘Q’ words). Alfonzo Dennard has been better than anyone thought he’d be too, and Devon McCourty has shined at safety, but at the CB spot he’s a train wreck. If everyone’s healthy this weekend, the Pats are in great shape.
I know that Arian Foster is all pumped up about something Shank Shaughnessy wrote this week, but if Texans fans are hanging their hat on a columnist being the difference, they’re in trouble. Actually, they’re in trouble anyways. The Patriots win big here, and next weekend becomes a circus of media hype.
- Rich’s Pick: Patriots
- Matt’s Pick: Patriots