January 11, 2013 by shivusharma
Last week I went 3 for 4 with my picks. I incorrectly predicted that the Seahawks would lose to the Redskins on the road. Perhaps if RG3 never re-injures his knee, the Redskins win the game. Or maybe if Mike Shanahan replaces a one-legged RG3 with Kirk Cousins, the Redskins end up winning. You can read about my frustration with Mike Shanahan here. In any case, the Seahawks move on, and now it’s time to evaluate the matchups for the divisional round of the playoffs. Just like last week, I’ve broken down each game below and offered up my prediction. As always, the majority of offense, defense, and unit rankings I reference are from FootballOutsiders.com.
Broncos Offense vs. Ravens Defense: Last week was the first time all year that Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and Ed Reed all played together. To me, there was a clear improvement in the play-to-play consistency of the Ravens Defense.
However, they were matching up against an extremely porous Colts O-Line. Andrew Luck was buying time in the pocket with his feet and started to find receivers down field in the 4th quarter. Unfortunately for him, his receivers dropped some easy passes, helping the Ravens win the game. This week, the Ravens face Peyton Manning and his 3rd ranked offense. Manning’s velocity and timing have been improving all year, and behind the 2nd best pass-blocking unit, I expect the Ravens to struggle to get consistent pressure. This means that Manning should be able to locate his receivers and play like the MVP candidate he has been this year.
Ravens Offense vs. Broncos Defense: Joe Flacco played a solid game against the Indianapolis, last week. But again, the Colts have the worst defense in football. Denver ranks 4th against
the pass and 5th against the run, presenting a far more formidable challenge. The Broncos Defense has received tremendous play from their pass rushers, Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, but the real surprise has been how well CB Chris Harris has played in Tracy Porter’s stead. Even though the Ravens O-Line made some adjustments last week that seemed to improve their overall play, I expect the Broncos pass rush to fluster Joe Flacco. Flacco’s best option may be to get Ray Rice the ball in check-downs and let him make plays in the open field.
Prediction: The Broncos are a top three team in the league, going up against a Ravens team that has been inconsistent all year. In order to win this game, the Ravens will have to pressure Peyton Manning. However, the Broncos O-Line has played phenomenally all year, so I just don’t see that happening. Manning will have the kind of time he needs to pick apart the Ravens defense, leading the Broncos to the Conference Championship round of the playoffs. Broncos 24 Ravens 13
49ers Offense vs. Packers Defense: Jim Harbaugh’s offense is all about power, balance, and versatility. Their offensive line ranks 1st in run blocking and does an amazing job opening up holes
for Frank Gore. They are one of the few teams in the league who can run the ball at will. Gore’s production has tailed off as the season has wound down though, so it will be important for backups Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James to keep him fresh. The key for the Niners will be how Colin Kaepernick functions in the passing game. For all their greatness in the running game, the 49ers offensive line has been sub-standard in pass blocking. They are going to need to give Colin Kaepernick time to throw from a clean pocket. Kaepernick’s worst games came against teams like the Seahawks and Rams who could generate a consistent pass rush. Green Bay’s pass rush is of the same caliber, so Kaepernick may be in for another tough game. It will be interesting to see if Coach Harbaugh mixes in some more designed QB runs to keep the Green Bay defense on its toes. The Niners will try to create one-on-one matchups deep with the play-action pass, while getting Michael Crabtree involved in the short to intermediate levels. Green Bay’s defensive backs have been playing very well though, and wily veteran, Charles Woodson, will be pulling out all the stops to trick the young 49ers quarterback.
Packers Offense vs. 49ers Defense: According to football outsiders, this is an equal battle, pitting the 4th ranked offense against the 4th ranked defense. Aaron Rodgers finally had all four of his receivers last week, and it did wonders for the
offense. The Packers are too smart to try and out-physical the 49ers. Instead, they will look to spread them out with their four WRs and keep them in sub packages (i.e. Nickel and Dime). The big question for the 49ers defense will be the health and effectiveness of Justin Smith. Smith is the key cog in the 49ers defensive attack. He is able to pin down two linemen and free up Aldon Smith to rush the passer. This was a big reason why Aldon Smith was able to approach Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record. After Justin Smith injured his triceps against the Patriots in week 15, Aldon Smith has not recorded a sack. This is a big red flag for the Niners, as Rodgers is the most dangerous quarterback in the league. Unless you are able to generate suffocating pressure on Rodgers, he will burn you. A-Rod has too much talent and too many weapons to be given any sense of comfort in the pocket.
Prediction: If you read Bill Barnwell’s column on Grantland, he threw out a shocking statistic: In games where the Packers failed to generate at least on turnover, they were 1 – 4. When they were able to generate at least one turnover, the Packers were 10 – 1. I believe the Packers will bring lots of pressure in the form of blitzes and stunts to fluster Colin Kaepernick. The defense will look to disguise coverages and bait him into mistakes. Furthermore, I believe the Justin Smith loss will be huge for the 49ers. The triceps injury will seriously compromise his effectiveness, and enable Rodgers to drop enough dimes on the Niners secondary to lead them to a victory. Packers 27 49ers 24
Falcons Offense vs. Seahawks Defense: The Seahawks will be missing Chris Clemons at defensive end, who tore his ACL last week. Rookie Bruce Irvin, who has played well in a limited role,
will take over for him full time. It will be interesting to see if the Falcons look to run the ball to his side more. This would be an effective strategy, if the Falcons could actually run the ball with any potency. They key matchup here will be how Falcons WRs, Julio Jones and Roddy White, fair against Seattle’s physical CBs, Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. Jones specifically, is used to facing much smaller CBs, against whom he can catch the ball over. Matt Ryan will have smaller windows to throw into against the Seahawks cornerbacking tandem. It will be key for the Falcons to attack the middle of the field with Tony Gonzalez, and pick up yards in the short passing game. The Seahawks linebackers can be taken advantage of if forced to cover. Keep an eye on Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas as well. He has slowly become one of the best in the league, and will be looking to nab any errant throws from Matt Ryan.
Seahawks Offense vs. Falcons Defense: Russell Wilson wasn’t spectacular last week, but he made the right plays at the right
time, and helped his team to victory. Marshawn Lynch has been the foundation of the Seattle offense though, and taken a lot of playmaking pressure off of Wilson. Lynch should have no trouble torching the Falcons’ run defense. The Falcons will need to get creative with their blitz packages, in order to get pressure on Russell Wilson. Defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan, has a done a good job of disguising blitzes and coverages, so hopefully they can force Wilson into some bad throws.
Prediction: The Falcons cannot run the ball and they cannot stop the run. To beat the Seahawks, you have to be able to limit Marshawn Lynch. I don’t see the Falcons succeeding in that objective. Wilson should have decent time to throw against a mediocre Falcons pass rush. I think Matt Ryan will play decently well against the Seahawks though. Bruce Irvin won’t fully make up for Clemons’ absence, giving Ryan time to take some deep shots to his receivers. I know the Seahawks aren’t great on the road, but they did win in Washington last week; Vegas has them as only a +2.5 dog, meaning they would be favored on neutral field. I agree with Vegas. The Seahawks are the better team, and should win this game. Seahawks 24 Falcons 20
Patriots Offense vs. Texans Defense: The Patriots are the paradigm of something I love talking about, “scheme versatility”. Their offense has the personnel and depth-of-playbook to adapt to any circumstance. The only way you can
slow this offense down is by hitting Tom Brady. That has been a tough task for defenses to do this year, as the Patriots offensive line ranks 5th in pass protection. This was the biggest problem for the Texans defense in their previous meeting. The Texans were able to register only one sack against Brady, and he ended up throwing for 4 TDs. Mind you, this performance was without Rob Gronkowski. The Texans defense must get creative with their line stunts and blitzes. Even then, Brady is so adept at recognizing blitzes and audibling to a better play. The Texans will come out playing more physical, but they are still in for an uphill battle.
Texans Offense vs. Patriots Defense: The story for the Texans Offense hasn’t changed much. They rely on their running game to set up their passing attack. The Texans offensive line must
win the battle in the trenches if they are going to create gaps and cutback lanes for Arian Foster. This will be a tough task to accomplish, as the Patriots have been stout against the run the entire year. A lot of pressure will be on Matt Schaub to make plays via the passing game. The Patriots have been inconsistent in terms of generating pressure on the opposing QB. Aqib Talib will do a good job limiting Schaub’s best weapon, Andre Johnson, so it will be imperative that Schaub find his other receivers.
Prediction: The last time these two teams played, the Patriots won 41 – 14 at home. This was without Rob Gronkowski, who is undoubtedly the Patriots most dangerous offensive weapon. The Texans were embarrassed by the Pats back in week 14, so I expect they will come out with more fire. JJ Watt and company will sack Brady a few times, but it won’t be enough to rattle him. Brady will sit back and spread the ball around, while Gronkowski dominates for the Pats in the red zone. Patriots 31 Texans 17
That will do it for my Divisional Round predictions. Check back next week for my conference championship picks. Let me know what you think of my predictions in the comments section.