Even though there are no local teams in the playoffs, the Journal sports team decided to tackle this weekend’s playoff games. There are grudge matches and seemingly lopsided contests today and Sunday, but you may be surprised by some of the picks made by Frankie Tovar and Eddie Ruiz. Do your predictions line up with ours? Read through the matchups and find out.
New England vs. Baltimore
F: This is the game I’m most looking forward to this weekend, mainly because I’m looking forward to watching Tom Brady and the Patriots be foiled by the Ravens once again. These two teams have a lot of history with each other, especially the last two years with New England being eliminated by Baltimore. Those losses were like sweet music to my ears and I expect a symphony this afternoon when Joe Flacco and co. travel to New England for the AFC Divisional game. Sure, Brady is Brady and Gronk is a beast, but the Ravens are no slouches and I can’t help but root for Steve Smith Sr. I expect Baltimore’s defensive line to harass Brady on a regular basis and I think Flacco will continue his streak of exceptional post season performances.
E: I also expect Baltimore’s defense to wreak havoc against New England’s offensive line that is basically the same as last year’s. The big difference this time around is Baltimore’s pass defense which is the worst it’s been in a long time, allowing the 23rd most passing yards per game in the league. But while they allow a lot of yards their ability to limit touchdowns has been a recipe for their success. I see Gronkowski being the biggest mismatch and playmaker of the game, and with a legendary quarterback and head coach combo with Brady and Bill Bellicheck the Patriots always have a good chance to win. I think this is the year the Patriots beat the Ravens. Either way, I think the winner of this game will make it all the way to the Super Bowl.
Seattle vs. Carolina
E: Seattle’s defense has been impenetrable in the final month of the regular season. The entire defense is healthy with Kam Chancellor back in with the Legion of Boom as well as Bobby Wagner’s return to the linebacker corp. This has been a proven fact: A healthy Seahawks defense is a dangerous one. Seattle is without a doubt the favorites in this matchup considering the Panthers have only won seven games all season, but Carolina’s defense has looked like a mirror image of Seattle’s in recent weeks. I’m going with the upset and picking the Panthers to win in dramatic fashion and by a slim margin, but they must contain Russell Wilson to win.
F: It’s easy to write off the Panthers, the only team to make it into the post season with a losing record at 7-8-1. Pitted against the defending Super Bowl champions, Carolina is undoubtedly the underdog — but that might work to their advantage. Everybody knows how well Wilson can play as he’s been elevated as the prototype for the modern quarterback — elusive, agile and able to make “magic” happen on the field — but Cam Newton was originally supposed to be in Wilson’s shoes when he came out of the draft in 2011. I see today as the ideal stage for Newton to make a mark for himself and elevate his image along with his play. Carolina’s success will hinge on Newton’s performance, but in the end I don’t think the Carolina quarterback will be able to overcome Seattle’s crushing defense. I also predict a close game but I think Seattle will move on to the NFC championship game, not the Panthers, and compete for a chance to win back-to-back Super Bowls.
Packers vs. Cowboys
F: If Green Bay was entering Sunday’s game with a healthy Aaron Rodgers my pick would be a no brainer— Packers all the way. But Rodgers is suffering through a calf injury that will without a doubt limit his mobility, which in turn will limit his ability to perform at the level we all expect from him. The Dallas defense will have a much easier time containing the Packers’ offense with a limited Rodgers as they will be able to focus its resources on other areas of the game, like stopping Eddie Lacy and the run game. On the flip side, Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense have uncharacteristically been on fire in December and into the playoffs. If Romo, Dez Bryant and Demarco Murray can get on a roll and put up at least four touchdowns I see Dallas moving on to face the Seahawks. I’d love to see the Cowboys lose and be eliminated, but with an injured Rodgers I don’t see it happening.
E: Two words: Cortisone shots. This is the only way Rodgers will be able to play effectively on Sunday. I expect him to take one shot before the game, one shot during halftime, and to rise to the occasion and earn the win—then take another shot afterwards. Winners don’t make mistakes and they play through adversity, whether it’s an injury or otherwise. Dallas is the 26th ranked pass defense and have given up a lot of points through the season. I think Rodgers, injured or not, playing from shotgun will cause problems for Dallas’ secondary, especially with all the weapons at Green Bay’s disposal — Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Richard Rodgers and Lacy. I think that’s too much firepower for Dallas to handle. Although I expect the Cowboys’ offense to put up a lot of points, Green Bay will score more and take the win.
Denver vs. Indianapolis
E: Andrew Luck. He’s the reason why Indianapolis will win, it’s as simple as that. The former number one pick out of Stanford has been to the post season every year he’s been a pro and I think this is the season he finally makes a run deep into the playoffs. With his experienced receivers and two standout tight ends, Colby Fleener and Dwight Allen, Luck is going to spread the ball around and score on a consistent basis. I see the Colts redeeming their week one loss to Denver by picking up where they left off last week against Cincinnati. Although the Colts have little to no running game, they will only need a limited number of rushing yards to open up the passing game for Luck. The Broncos have unfinished business of their own after being embarrassed in last year’s Super Bowl, but with Manning playing so poorly in the final month of the regular season I am not convinced Denver can pull out the win. The NFL is all about momentum and the Colts have it, so it’s an easy pick for me — Manning loses and Luck wins.
F: This matchup has the best storyline of all the playoff games. Peyton Manning and the resurgent Broncos against Manning’s former team, the Colts, and his heir in Indianapolis Andrew Luck. It’s the past vs. the future, and in my book the future wins every time. Sure, Manning is a legend and lock in for the Hall of Fame, but he’s also old and injury prone. Denver was crushed by the Bengals late in the regular season and I see Sunday’s game playing out in similar fashion. Manning is known for his playoff let downs and I see the trend continuing. Denver has a solid team around Manning but I still don’t think it will be enough to walk away from Sunday’s game with a win, even if it has the Mile High home field advantage. As a Raiders fan I will take great pleasure in watching the Broncos toil in defeat, which is exactly what will happen.