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Old 01-10-2013, 09:57 PM    (permalink
Eazy Picks
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Default Divisional Preview

Divisional Weekend

Game #1 - Ravens +10 at Broncos

- Broncos went to Baltimore and gave the Ravens an ass-kicking about a month ago, but it was against a very different Raven team. The Ravens were missing several key players, and seemed to quit on that game at halftime. Down 10-0 late in the first half, they were driving deep in Denver territory. Flacco threw a pick that was returned 98 yards for a TD, and the Ravens never recovered. Flacco hasnít thrown a pick since. The Ravens are now healthy and playing with much more purpose. I wouldnít expect a repeat.

- Peyton Manningís career playoff record: 9-10, and he was probably favored in almost every one of them. His career stats (reg season) 95.5 QB rating, 429 touchdowns, 208 interceptions. Playoffs: 88 QB rating, 29 Tds, 19 INTs. Most of his great numbers he put up against awful teams during the wild card round. The point: Peyton Manning has had some awful games in the playoffs and has made quite a habit of leading his team on incredible winning streaks in the regular season only to falter in the playoffs.

- Emotional edge: Ray Lewis is retiring, and words cant even describe how much he means to his team, community, fan base, etc. This is the last run for him and Ed Reed, two of the best to ever play.
Lewis is also one of the greatest motivators to ever play the game. No way is Baltimore going to come out lackluster.

- Peyton v Ravens history. This is a great matchup because Peyton is the king of pre-snap reads. No QB makes as many adjustements at the line as Peyton. But he has Lewis and Reed playing chess on the other side of him. Lewis does a great job of getting his guys lined up and realizing the adjustments Peyton is making and countering them. Reed is the best there is at anticipating what Qbs are doing and making them pay, and Ive seen him pick off Peyton plenty of times. Peyton has gotten the best of the Ravens over the years, but they are usually close games and not blowouts.

-However, the dynamic has changed. It used to be the Ravens were all defense, no offense. There defense would slow down Peyton, but it was never enough. The Ravens defense is not what it once was, but their offense has greatly improved. If their D can do what it has done in the past and simply slow down Manning, their offense might be able to give them enough points to win.

- Completely ignored injury: HB Willis McGahee, who was sensational last year and had a great start to the year, has been out for some time and will miss this game. The Broncos have been on an 11-game win streak, so it hasnít really been noticed. Establishing the run will be very important in this game, and it will be harder without McGahee. Their backups are OK, but may not be ready to perform in such a big game.

-Speaking of that 11-game win streak: Not quite as impressive when you really look at it. 2 wins against the chargers, 2 against the chiefs, 1 against the raiders, 1 against Cleveland. Thatís 6 of 11 against 4 of the leagueís absolute worst teams. The Saints, Bucs, and Panthers got about 6 wins each, so thatís 9 of 11 against ****** teams. Then we have the game where the played the injured Ravens, who didnít show up for the game. They have a bad habit of doing this is in the regular season, but not in the playoffs. Their only quality win was a close affair against the Bengals in which Andy Dalton threw for 300 yards, but it came early in the season before the Bengals started to gel and went on their winning streak. Before the winning streak, the Broncos played 3 playoff teams in their first 5 games (Atl, Hou, NE), and lost to all of them. In a way, the winning streak is kind of troubling. The Broncos havent really been challenged in 3 months now. Itís very possible they can come out a little overconfident and uninspired. The Broncos have some young players who may not be seasoned enough.

-Size advantage at receiver. The Ravens have big receivers. Anquan Boldin is a big, physical receiver. Torrey Smith (6-1) has good size for being one of the leagueís speediest receivers. Slot receiver Jacoby Jones is also 6-3. Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are both quality tight ends who stand at 6-4. The Broncos do not have good size on defense. Outside of Champ Bailey and Von Miller, their two best players, the Broncos have an undersized defense. They make up for it with good speed, but if the Ravens can play power football and move the chains with their running game and big receivers, they could wear down the Denver D.
On the flipside, the Broncos have two big receivers of their own, but the Ravens have two good-sized corners to cover them. Corey Graham has quietly done a nice job of filling in for Ladariusí Webb, whose injury caused many to write off the Ravens this season. The Ravens donít have great depth at DB, but the Broncos are thin at receiver themselves and will likely run a lot of 2 TE sets. The Ravens cover tight ends reasonably well, while the Broncos have had some issues with getting gashed for big plays down the seam by tight ends.

- Pass-Rush? This is the factor that could decide the game, and its where the Broncos have the big edge. Von Miller and Dumervil are the best pair of pass-rushers in the league, and the Ravens tackles are better at run blocking than pass-blocking. It is imperative that the Ravens establish the run and run plays that get the ball out of Flaccoís hands quickly to slow down the pass-rush. On the flipside, the Broncos have a great OL, and the Ravenís pass-rush has been struggling. Terrell Suggs has failed to regain form, and will be going up against maybe the best OT in football. The Ravens will need Haloti Ngata to create a push inside and OLB Paul Kruger to follow up on his big game last week.

-Key players no one is talking about:
1. FB Vonta Leach. Im gonna go back to the Bronco defense being undersized deal. Leach is the best blocking fullback in the league, and he is going to be running around laying people out.
2.Backup HB Bernard Pierce is a bruising runner who has been playing great, and he will probably see some playing time. A dose of this is exactly the kind of thing that can wear the defense down, setting up big plays with Ray Rice.
3. RS Jacoby Jones isnít a bad receiver, but he has been a game-changer on special teams. He was the best return specialist in the game this year, and consistently sets the Ravens up with good field position. A touchdown on special teams could be a game-changer.

-Position Analysis
QB: Broncos
HB: Ravens
WR: Even
TE: Ravens
OL: Broncos
DL: Even
MLB: Ravens
OLB: Broncos
CB: Broncos
S: Ravens
ST: Ravens
Coach: Even

-Last thoughts: Itís easy to see why the Broncos are the big favorite here. The Broncos have a great home field advantage at Mile High, which is always a tough place to visit because of the high altitude. Theyíve been on a dominating run, while the Ravens have limped through the second half of the season and have showed their age at times. But there is more young talent on the Raven roster than people realize. And thereís something in me that says Ray, Reed and Suggs have something left in the tank and even though theyíve been dealing with some injuries, they will play their asses off and not let Peyton walk all over them.

My Pick: Ravens, 27-25

Game #2 - Packers +3 at 49ers

- Rematch game. The 49ers played the Packers in Green Bay week 1 and won in convincing fashion. Rodgers didnít have a very good game, and was actually outplayed by Alex Smith, who is now on the bench. This is a very different matchup now with Colin Kaepernick at QB. The Packers secondary has really taken shape with Woodson and CB Sam Shields healthy, and rookie CB Casey Heyward having an incredible season. The 49ers have a pretty good passing game, but that Packer secondary is going to be tough to throw on. The Packers didnít have much run game early in the year, but they have been getting good production lately from DaJuan Harris. Whether or not that will continue against the 49ers is another matter. Their defense is the best in the league, and Rodgers is the best QB in the league. Who will win out?

- I wouldnít bet against the kid. Rodgers has been on an absolute tear, and it feels like there might not be anything that can slow him down. Heís dealt with injuries to his receivers and OL all year, and a revolving door at HB, and still led the league in QB rating. Now all his receivers are healthy and they finally seem to have a good back. Heís great on the road. Heís money in the playoffs. He rarely ever makes a mistake. There is no throw he canít make. Oh, and heís from the Bay Area and went to Cal and wants to pay back the 49ers for drafting Alex Smith over him.

- Kaepernick will do great thingsÖbutÖ.heís only been a starting QB for half a season. Is he really ready for this kind of situation? Were talking about a guy who played his college ball at Nevada. Not that he has shown he is a guy who canít handle pressure or big situations, but this is a big jump. Heíll make some nice plays with his legs and arm Iím sure, but I can also see him making some key mistakes that cost the Niners the game.

- Pass rush. Again, the pass-rush is a key factor. The 49ers have a great pass-rush, and Aldon Smith is one of the best in the biz. The Packers do not do well against edge rushers because of the injuries at OT. Rodgers is one of the best there is at feeling the pass-rush, moving around, and making good decisions under pressure, but the 49ers could get some drive-killing sacks. Clay Mathews is a great pass-rusher for the Pack, but he will be going up against Joe Staley and the rest of the Packers front 7 has not been getting a great push. The Pack may not get a great pass-rush on Kaepernick, but the real key for them isnít so much to rush him as to contain him. The Packers secondary can hold their own against the Niners receivers, and Kaep isnít seasoned enough to pick apart a secondary. What they canít do is let him have room to run around and make big plays on the run. I would expect some exotic schemes from the Pack.

- Key Matchup: WR Michael Crabtree v CB Tramon Williams
Kaepernick loves to throw to Crabtree, who is having a great year. Williams is a great corner who has made a habit of making Qbs pay for trying to throw at him in big situations in the playoffs. Vernon Davis has disappeared from the 49er offense, and it will be interesting to see if they get him involved this week or keep going to Crabtree.

-Injury issues: The Packers have been one of the most injury-plagued teams during the season, but are looking pretty healthy now. They did lose starting Lbs Desmond Bishop and Nick Barnett for the season, but Charles Woodson, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Clay Matthews are all healthy now. The 49ers, on the other hand, were mostly healthy all year, but have been hit hard by injuries late in the season. All-pro DE Justin Smith is battling a triceps injury but is expected to play. How effective he will be is yet to be seen. They have also lost some important skill players on offense: Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams, and Kendall Hunter. The 49ers are suddenly thin at receiver and running back.

-Special teams woes. The 49ers fell short of a Superbowl last year because of two fumbled punt returns by Kyle Williams, who was returning in the place of injured Ted Ginn. Strangely, Williams has been great on special teams this year, while Ginn has been extremely shaky. With Williams out, the duties will fall on Ginn, who needs to not make any mistakes. K David Akers set the points record for the 49ers last year, and nailed an NFL-record-tying 63-yard field goal in week 1 for the Packers, but has been dealing with an injury last year that has made him one of the NFLs most ineffective kickers. The 49ers have picked up Billy Cundiff, who famously missed an easy FG that lost the Ravens the AFC championship last year, to replace him. The Packers kicker, Mason Crosby, has also been shaky this year, but is still a lot better than what the 49ers have. Randall Cobb is one of the leagueís most dangerous return specialists.

Position Analysis:
QB: Packers
HB: 49ers
WR: Packers
TE: Even
OL: 49ers
DL: Even
OLB: 49ers
MLB: 49ers
CB: Packers
S: Even
ST: Packers
Coach: Even

- Final Thoughts: This feels a lot like the Packer team that won the Super Bowl a couple years ago. They overcame a lot of adversity early in the year, have come on strong now, and have a lot of guys who have been stepping up. Their defense is really taking shape, and Rodgers to me is head and shoulders above every QB in the league, including Tom Brady and Peyton Manning (who are head and shoulders above of everyone else). I am prophesizing that Colin Kaepernick will lead the 49ers to multiple Super Bowl titles and get his first one as soon as next year, but I donít think heís ready to do it yet.

- My Pick: Packers, 23-16

Game #3, Seahawks -2 at Falcons

-Why are the Falcons so underrated. OK, Iíll start with the negative. They have never won a playoff game, they played a weak schedule, their offensive line is so-so, their pass-rush is too reliant on one player, and HB Michael Turner has lost a step. On to the positive. They won their first 8 games and had the best record in the league from start to finish. Matt Ryan is one of the leagues top qbs and has been playing at an MVP caliber, they have the best receiving duo in the league and a HOF TE who is still playing at a high level, they have a secondary full of playmakers, theyre doing a good job closing out tight games, and they have been a consistent winning teams for 5 years now. While this team has some problems, theyre not getting enough credit for how good they are.

- Homefield advantage. The Falcons are a great home team. Go and look up Matt Ryanís career record in the Georgia dome. Its ridiculous. The Seahawks are best known for their 12th man, the home stadium they play in, where they are nearly unbeatable (8-0) this year. But they are only 4-5 on the road this year, including last weeks win. They needed a gimpy Robert Griffin to win that game, and their only other road win against quality competition was an OT win against a Chicago team in the midst of a losing streak. Also, traveling to Atlanta from Seattle is about as far as you could possibly have to travel, and the Seahawks have to play the morning game on the east coast, a scenario that is always difficult for west coast teams. Throw in the fact that the Seahawks played the last game in the wild card round and the first game in the divisional round, and its easy to see them coming into this game a little bit worn down and out of sorts.

- Big matchup: Roddy White & Julio Jones v Richard Sherman & Brandon Browner
White and Jones are two of the best receivers in the game. Sherman is arguably the best corner in the game right now and both he and Browner have the size and physically to match up with White and Jones. However, Browner just finished serving a suspension and showed some clear signs of rust last week. Thatís okay against Pierre Garcon, but he better shake it off this week.

- Good spot for Turner? Michael Turner has had a great career, but has looked slow and plodding lately and hasnít been very effective. However, the Seahawks have shown some vulnerability to north-south power running attacks, and Turner is still a load to bring down. The Falcons have a great change of pace back for passing downs, but this could be a game where Turner proves to be a factor.

- Two Birds Down: DE Chris Clemons tears ACL, K Stephen Hauschka out. Clemens tore it late in the Redskin game when the team had the victory in hand, but he will be missed this week. He was their best pass-rusher, and the Seahawks are going to be in a world of hurt if they cant get some pressure on Matt Ryan. They have a great secondary, but no coverage group can hold up against Ryan, White, Jones and Gonzalez if their defensive front canít create pressure. And it goes without saying that you donít want to be in the position of picking up a kicker off the street to kick field goals that could decide your season, but thatís where the Seahawks are at.

- Seahawks have to hope for beast mode. Russell Wilson is a great young QB and should be applauded for his incredible season. He started off as a game manager but has become much more than that as the season progressed and is now one of the hottest Qbs in the league. This week could be tough for him. He will have a tough time finding any favorable matchups in the secondary and the Falcons have speedy Lbs and rangy safeties hard-hitting safeties who can limit his contributions as a runner. The Seahawks are going to need a big game from Marshawn Lynch. He is running great and could have some nice holes, as the Falcons have had some issues defending the run. However, the fact that they tackle well as a team bodes well against a back whose best quality is his ability to run through crowds of defenders.

Position Analysis:
QB: Falcons
HB: Seahawks
WR: Falcons
TE: Falcons
OL: Seahawks
DL: Even
LB: Even
CB: Even
S: Even
ST: Falcons
Coach: Even

Final Thoughts: I think now is the time for the Falcons to finally get their playoff win. Theyre ready. Maybe not Super Bowl ready, but they wonít be one and done, I canít see that. The Seahawks have too much working against them here, and the fact that theyre one of the leagueís hottest teams and the Falcons donít have a good playoff history has caused overreactions. The Seahawks as only 2 point dogs while the Ravens and Texans are 10 point dogs is ridiculous. The Falcons have great talent, are much more veteran/seasoned, well-rested and have the homefield advantage.

My Pick: Falcons, 27-13

4th Game, Texans +10 at Patriots

-Another rematch. The Patriots bum rushed the Texans in an embarrassing loss in front of a national audience. The question is whether that game was an indication that the Texans canít match up with the Pats, or if it was just one game where the Texans came out sluggish. The Texans quickly fell behind 21-0 and never recovered. You can bet the Texans will remember that game and come into this game with a chip on their shoulder, eager to prove they can play with the Pats.

-Can Pats stay balanced? A big reason the Pats havenít been as successful in recent years as they once were is the absence of balance in their offense. They completely abandoned their run game and relied too heavily on Bradyís arm. They showed change during the regular season, as Stevan Ridley has supplied the team with an effective power run game. However, he has not been as good in the second half of the season as he was early in the year, and the Texans have the 7th ranked run defense. If the Texans can shut down the Pats run game, they will be able to key in on stopping Brady and might have a chance of slowing him down.

-Pats re-shuffled secondary. It hasnít been a pretty year for the Patriots pass defense. They ranked 28th in the NFL, allowing 7.7 yards per attempt. They made a late-season trade for CB Aqib Talib and moved Devin McCourty to safety, but will that be enough to change things? Texansí QB Matt Schaub hasnít played in a stage like this before and wasnít particularly impressive against the Bengals last week, so this would be the week for him to make a statement.

- Rookie Wall? Patsí DE Chandler Jones started the season as one of the favorites for rookie of the year, collecting six sacks in the first 8 games. Thatís all the sacks he would get as he failed to record a sack in the last 2 months of the season. Rob Ninkovich has given the Patriots some pass-rushing presence, but with Jonesí slumping, the Patriots pass-rush is very much in question.

- Can Arian Foster follow up on his strong performance last week? The Bengalsí had the leagueís 12th ranked run defense, but that didnít stop Foster from gashing them in the run. The Pats have the 9th ranked run defense, but will they fare any better? Foster is one of the leagues best backs and the Texans have an excellent offensive line. DT Vince Wilfork and C Chris Myers are two of the best in the business, so that will be a key matchup in the trenches. If the Texans can establish the run and get their play-action going, they can control the pace of the game and keep Brady off the field.

-X-factor: Patriots TEs. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are both matchup nightmares that the Texans will have a hard time covering, especially with LB Brian Cushing out. Both have nursed injuries on and off all year, but appear to be healthy now. If they can step back into the offense seamlessly, it could be tough for the Texansí defense to come up with stops. The Texans do not have great depth at cornerback, but injuries have rendered the Patriots somewhat thin at receiver, so they wont be able to create mismatches by spreading the field with wideouts like they have been known to. Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson will likely be matched up in a lot of single coverage with wideouts Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, which should be good battles.

- The JJ Watt factor. DE Watt was by far the most dominant defensive player this year. Last yearsí playoffs were his coming out party, and he hasnít slowed down since. He had a strong game against Cincy last week, and could have a big impact again this week. The Pats donít have a bad offensive line, but it doesnít seem like anyone is capable of stopping this guy. He somehow led the league in sacks (nearly broke the sack record) and also was among the league leaders in passes defended, which is simply unheard of. He gets an incredible push inside, and does a great job of disengaging and knocking passes down. Another dominant performance from him could be what the Texans need to slow down the Pats, and considering he is coming off one of the greatest defensive seasons ever for any player, thereís not much reason to doubt him.

-Donít settle for field goals. The Texans rank only 14th in the league in red zone scoring, and settled for field goals all game against the Bengals. They dominated the game, but they failed to put away the Bengals, and they were only a few Andy Dalton misthrows away from losing that game. They canít afford to do that against Tom Brady, who doesnít miss many throws, and leads the league in redzone scoring at 70%. The Texans have the weapons to be a good red-zone team, but they just need to execute with confidence.

Position Analysis:
QB: Patriots
HB: Texans
WR: Even
TE: Patriots
OL: Texans
DL: Texans
LB: Patriots
CB: Texans
S: Texans
ST: Even
Coach: Patriots

Final Thoughts: The Texans were considered a Super Bowl favorite for much of the season, but have fallen out of favor recently. I personally crossed them off my Super Bowl list when LB Brian Cushing went down for the season, but that happened early in the season, and most people didnít jump off their bandwagon until much later, with the ass-kicking they took from the Pats being a main reason. I donít think the Texans are nearly as bad as that game indicated, and I think they will give the Pats a run for their money. If things go right, they might be able to steal a win. However, winning in Foxborough in January with Bellichick and Brady on the opposing sideline is always a tough proposition.

My Pick: Patriots: 30-24

Unreasonable Values

In general, I feel like the remaining 8 teams are all pretty close. Oddsmakers are ranking the Pats and Broncos as head and shoulders above the rest of the remaining team. To me, this has a lot to do with the love affair with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. They are two of the greatest Qbs to ever play the game, no doubt, but are their teams really that much better than the rest of the field? I donít see it. The Falcons went 13-3 just like the Broncos and beat them convincingly on MNF earlier in the season, yet they are only 2 point favorites over the Seahawks while the Broncos and Pats are 10 point favorites. There is no way anyone can tell me the Seahawks are a more dangerous playoff team than the Ravens or Texans, who both have playoff experience, unlike the Seahawks, who have a rookie QB and an extremely young roster. You have to go for the good value here, as the Texans and Raven are both dangerous teams being given no respect against two great but nevertheless overrated teams. Lets not forget the Ravens beat the Patriots and the Falcons beat the Broncos earlier this year, and the Packers went 15-1 last year and won the superbowl the year before that. Oddsmakers are saying that the Broncos are almost 13 times as likely as the Ravens to win the AFC, and nearly three times as likely to win the superbowl as the Packers. While I have to admit that the Broncos and Patriots are deserved favorites, the odds the rest of the field is getting makes them is ridiculous. What we have here is a field of 8 teams, 7 of whom look like legitimate contenders to me, and none of which look like dominating or unbeatable teams.
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