Last weekend’s Wildcard games are in the books. I hope my readers enjoyed a couple of them. I didn’t do all that great in my Wildcard Weekend Prediction blog. I went 2-2. I thought that the Indianapolis Colts vs the Cincinnati Bengals game and the Baltimore Ravens vs the Pittsburgh Steelers game were the best of the four. The lack of offense (especially from Arizona) in the Arizona Cardinals vs the Carolina Panthers game had me bored to death. The Dallas Cowboys vs the Detroit Lions game was decent, but the refereeing controversy hurt the game.
Let’s briefly discuss each game in further detail. In the Arizona vs Carolina game, the game was pretty lopsided. How does a team put up just 78 yards, or so? I thought that Arizona was better than that. The Panthers made a ton of mistakes as well (botched a punt, interceptions, and was giving Arizona chances, but Arizona just had tough times capitalizing. My advice to Coach Bruce “We can win the Super Bowl with Drew Stanton” Arians is to not be so cocky about your backup QB situation.
In the Baltimore vs Pittsburgh game, I don’t know where to start. The Steelers did not have Le’Veon Bell. Well, it looked like to me that the coaches, from Head Coach Mike Tomlin on down, had no answer for that Baltimore pass rush. No one on the Steelers coaching staff could figure out adjustments?
[adinserter block=”1″]Of course, I had forgotten about the “bad Steelers” that can pop up, and that is what happened. This is the same Steelers team who lost to the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints, and New York Jets. The Steelers played scared. Now, Let’s not shortchange the Ravens. They played a great game. QB Joe Flacco was relaxed in the pocket, and made some excellent plays. RB Justin Forsett gashed the Steelers defense like a knife through butter.
As for the Bengals vs Colts game, I thought it was a really good game. Even though they were at home, the Colts defense did a great job. They put a lot of pressure on Bengals QB Andy Dalton, and even stopped the Bengals running game. Colts QB Andrew Luck had a good game . I loved that TD he threw when he was being tackled. He demonstrated terrific arm strength.
I know that folks are making hay over QB Andy Dalton and Coach Marvin Lewis, as the Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1991. Dalton didn’t play that badly in the game. He also didn’t have a couple of his main targets either.Even so, I don’t know if Dalton freezes at playoff time, or gets too intimidated by the big moment. The Bengals need to deal with this. My problem with Lewis is that in many cases, he’s too conservative in his play calling.
Now, to the Lions vs the Cowboys game. Before I discuss it, let’s get to the refereeing controversy. I’m not going to rehash it, because it’s been replayed to death. However, the NFL has an image problem concerning the refereeing, in my opinion. The NFL will fine players, coaches, and even owners for criticism of the game officials. Why then, when referees make obvious mistakes, does the NFL just make apology statements after the fact? They don’t punish the refs. Oh, sure, low scoring refs during the regular season don’t get to work the playoffs. Well, look what happened last weekend. That’s the best the NFL can do?
I am not saying that the Detroit Lions lost because of the bad call. I am saying that the NFL has to do better concerning their referees. The NFL can’t give incompetent referees a huge amount of rules to memorize and enforce, and then when said referees screw up on a national stage, act as if the officiating is above criticism. The NFL can not issue apology notes after the horse has run out of the barn, so to speak.
As for the game, it was a good game. If folks paid attention, the Cowboys almost gave the game away. The Lions, especially Ndamukong Suh, just pounded on that Dallas offensive line. Dallas QB Tony Romo was getting sacked and hit. Lions QB Matthew Stafford was having a great day. After halftime, the Cowboys came out of their stupor, and took control.
The Lions secondary were making a ton of penalties. Tony Romo had a great second half, with a pair of TDs. What really hurt the Lions was not that screwed up referee call , but their head coach and his failure to go for it on 4th and 1. He didn’t trust his own team to get a first down? Anyway, it was a good game. The lesson that the Lions and other teams can learn is that teams need to make sure they play THEIR game, and don’t make dumb penalties so you don’t have to worry about a referee making a “wrong call.”
Now that I’ve reviewed last weekend’s Wildcard games, I am going to discuss my predictions for this weekend’s divisional round games. On Saturday, January 10th, the New England Patriots (1) will host the Baltimore Ravens (6), and the Seattle Seahawks (1) will host the Carolina Panthers (4). On Sunday , January 11th, the Green Bay Packers (2) host the Dallas Cowboys (3) , and the Denver Broncos (2) host the Indianapolis Colts (4). The respective winners advance to their respective conference championship.
All four of these games are very exciting. There’s a ton of drama involved in all four of these games, both on and off the field. There are injuries and grudges involved. Who needs a soap opera, when you have the NFL? Anyway, as I said, I was 2-2 in my prediction column last week. I hope that I can do better. So without further ado, here are my predictions for the 2015 NFL Divisional Playoff games.
AFC Playoff Divisional Game
#1 New England Patriots vs #6 Baltimore Ravens
Network : NBC
Kickoff : 4:35PM EST
Analysis: Is everyone ready for the actual game to start? I certainly am. To paraphrase Led Zeppelin, “Hey. Baby, have you heard the news?” “The Baltimore Ravens are back in town?.” ( Led Zeppelin – Heartbreaker: http://youtu.be/qJi3DSROkJs). I mean, the world is out. “Here come the big bad Ravens.” “The Flacco has Brady’s number.” “Tom Brady can’t play anymore.” Well, let’s see. how many teams with a winning record did Baltimore beat this season? One? Now, counting the Steelers,two? The Patriots have an 8-3 record overall vs Baltimore. The media would have you believe that the Patriots are the #6 seed.
As for the game, the Patriots offensive line is going to have to have a stellar day against that Ravens pass rush to protect Tom Brady . Fortunately, the team earned the bye week, and it sounds like the Patriots will have Sebastian Vollmer and Dan Connelly back. The Patriots need to spread the Ravens out, something the Steelers failed to do. The Patriots have to use some uptempo offense to keep Baltimore honest . One difference for the Patriots offense is the presence of TE Rob Gronkowski. The weak Ravens is going to have to account for him. The Patriots needs to be patient with their running game also.
The Ravens are going to depend on their defense to try to limit the Patriots from scoring. QB Joe Flacco is very effective with the deep ball. His main target, Torry Smith, has drawn 17 DPI calls, so the Patriots secondary needs to be careful. Flacco is also great at drawing DPI calls with his other receivers. RB Justin Forsett will be a factor, so DT Vince Wilfork and the Patriots defensive line have their work cut out.
Prediction : This should be a great game. I am expecting a fairly physical game. Even though many folks in the media have treated Baltimore as if THEY were the #1 seed, I think their playoff run ends here. Winner : Patriots 27-17
NFC Playoff Game
#1 Seattle Seahawks vs #4 Carolina Panthers
Network : Fox
Kickoff : 8:15PM EST
Analysis : This game is going to be a defensive struggle. I don’t expect to see a lot of scoring in this game. I expect the audience to be loud, being that they are the 12th Man. I wish all fan bases were that enthusiastic. Anyway, these two teams have met three times, with the Seahawks winning all three. What’s interesting is that the Panthers had lead all three into the fourth quarter.
The Carolina Panthers are on a hot streak. QB Cam Newton and the offense have been doing well in the past few weeks. So has the Carolina defense. The defense suffered a huge blow when one of their top defensive players, DT Star Lotulelei broke his foot this week in practice. That won’t help in trying to contain either Seattle QB Russell Wilson or RB Marshawn Lynch.
As for the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, they’re getting players back from injury. That will only help them. This is a dangerous team, especially at home. The Seahawks have the #1 ranked offense. Wilson and Lynch will be lethal weapons by themselves.
Prediction: I do expect the Panthers to put up a fight in the early part of the game. The two teams are very familiar with one another. However, I think this game is a very easy call. I think the Seahawks will win this game rather easily. Winner: Seahawks 24-10.
NFC Divisional Playoff Game
#2 Green Bay Packers vs #3 Dallas Cowboys
Network : FOX
Kickoff : 1:05PM EST
Analysis : This is a battle of two teams where something has to give. The Green Bay Packers are 8-0 at home. Their opponents, the Dallas Cowboys, are 8-0 on the road. There is one thing that could be the deciding factor. No, I am not talking about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) and that ugly sweater either. I am talking about the calf injury to Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers.
The Green Bay Packers have been lights out at home. They are undefeated at home this season. To be fair, the team nearly lost to the hapless New York Jets, and the mediocre Minnesota Vikings, and the eventual #1 seed in the AFC New England Patriots. However, they hung on and won. One of the main reasons is Aaron Rodgers. No one can underestimate his value. That’s why his calf injury is troublesome. He can play from the pocket, but what makes Rodgers awesome is his mobility. Sure, LB Clay Matthews, RB Eddie Lacey will have an impact on this game, but not like Rodgers.
As for the Cowboys, Tony Romo doesn’t have great performances when the weather is under 40 degrees. As the Packers run defense is not all that great, I suspect that RB Demarco Murray will be used quite a bit. The Cowboys may be down several defenders as well, as a couple of them are in the concussion protocol.
Prediction : I would pick the Packers outright if Rodgers were 100 percent. I am not sure how this game will go. I’m on the fence, to be honest. Winner : I am going with the Packers, because Rodgers is just that good. Packers 30-27
AFC Divisional Playoff Game
#2 Denver Broncos vs #4 Indianapolis Colts
Network : CBS
Kickoff : 4:25PM EST
[adinserter block=”2″]Analysis: This should be a good game. The two QBs , Peyton Manning (Broncos) and Andrew Luck (Colts) will be forever linked. Peyton Manning was drafted by the Colts in 1998, and then released by the Colts in 2012 over injury/contract concerns. In the 2012 NFL Draft, the Colts drafted QB Andrew Luck. Now, the two face each other in the playoffs. The two are 1-1.
Denver has looked just alright going into the playoffs. It sounds like the bye week helped lots of banged up players, including Manning (thigh) recover. I’m expecting this team to come out looking a lot better. They’re the #3 defense. DB Aqib Talib has been doing well as of late. It will be interesting to see if pass rusher DeMarcus Ware will show up in the playoffs . I think the Denver offense will be much better, especially with a more balanced offense.
The Indianapolis Colts need to protect Andrew Luck if they want any chance of winning the game. They played well against the Bengals, but this time, they’re not at home, and this Broncos team is way better than the Bengals. The Colts defense must challenge the Denver receivers. They must do what the Patriots, the Rams, and other teams have done. Don’t be so afraid of the Broncos.
Prediction : I think that the Colts are over matched in this game. Playing at Denver is also difficult with that crowd noise. The Broncos are significantly better than the Colts, and I am thinking that the Broncos will win this comfortably. Winner : Denver 35-17.