Look at the crystal ball I pulled out last week – all four were correct. Can the brilliant prognostications continue? Don’t bet your child’s college fund on it, but let’s see….
Ravens at Broncos – The Ray Lewis farewell tour makes its next stop. This week, he and his buddies in purple visit the Mile High City with a new sheriff in town, Mr. Peyton Manning. Suffice it to say that Ray Rice has to hold onto the ball better this week for Baltimore to have a chance. Joe Flacco can make two throws – deep sideline patterns to Anquan Boldin or Torrey Smith, or checkdowns to Rice. That is problematic given that Denver has a solid secondary with a couple of ballhawks in veterans Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter. The Ravens defense was on the field for 88 plays last week. If Manning runs the offense right this week, he will use methodical drives to tire out the aging defense with a mix of short passes to Eric Decker, Jacob Tamme, and Joel Dreesen, with a blend of Knowshon Moreno running the rock. This will set up some deep shots to Demaryius Thomas. Ray Ray makes his last ride. Denver 30, Baltimore 13.
Texans at Patriots – This is a rematch of a drubbing that New England handed Houston a month ago. The Pats defense surprisingly held Arian Foster in check, thus forcing Matt Schaub to beat them. He was incapable then, and I have become suspicious of his ability to lead the Texans anywhere. Without a play action component where opposing defenses are forced to focus on Foster’s outstanding running ability, Houston would have been 8-8. At their most effective, the Pats had a very good mix of pass/run this season. With Rob Gronkowski returning to health, the full arsenal of weapons will be available to Tom Brady. If J.J. Watt gets in Brady’s face, expect dump-offs to Danny Woodhead and Wes Welker. When Watt gets doubled, Brady will exploit the Texans’ middle linebacker deficiencies using Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. This may prove to be a bit closer than the last time if Houston can keep giving Foster the ball – 40-45 touches would be appropriate…seriously. New England 31, Houston 23.
Seahawks at Falcons – Seattle played an impressive three quarters last week against Washington. The Seahawks had the misfortune of losing pass-rushing defensive end Chris Clemons for the rest of the playoffs with an ACL tear. Atlanta is looking to get Matt Ryan his first playoff victory (in four chances). The Falcons have a pair of exceptional receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones. Seattle features perhaps the best tandem of cover corners in Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. This is the most intriguing battle on the field because Atlanta can no longer run the ball with regularity. Seattle’s offense has improved over the past quarter of the season thanks to allowing Russell Wilson to use his improvisational skills. If Clemons were playing, I would feel a lot more confident with this pick, but I think Seattle’s defense can fluster Matt Ryan into a costly turnover or two. Bruce Irvin needs to step up in Clemons’ absence. Seattle 24, Atlanta 23.
Packers at 49ers – This may end up being the best contest of the entire playoffs. Aaron Rodgers and a steadily more healthy Packers team (Clay Matthews, Jr., Charles Woodson, Greg Jennings all returned to action within the past month) take their high octane offense against a San Francisco defense that flies all over the field. Their front seven is especially stout with Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Navorro Bowman, and Patrick Willis. It will be a great chess match when the 49ers defense is on the field. Green Bay’s defense has not been exceptional all year, but they are still opportunistic. Colin Kaepernick is the best man for the job at QB for the Niners, but not in this game, not now. How many young QBs lead their team to the Super Bowl in their first attempt? If Alex Smith were QB’ing this game, I would take San Fran, but Jim Harbaugh made the decision two months ago that the future was now, and it will cost him a chance at the Super Bowl this year, but may have benefit in years to come. Green Bay 23, San Francisco 17.
About the Author
Written by Rob Stroup
I grew up in western Pennsylvania, so I have followed the Pittsburgh sports teams (Steelers, Penguins, Pirates) since the womb. It has become a tradition to make the yearly trek to a Steelers and Penguins game each year despite the distance. I hope to make writing a profession because I thoroughly enjoy attempting to paint a picture with words.