Sunday, January 9, 2011

NFL playoff picks: Wild-card round (Sunday)

Wow, what a great way to begin the NFL playoffs. First the Seahawks shocked the Saints, 41-36, in a high-scoring, exciting game, and then the Jets survived a last-minute field goal by Adam Vinatieri and won on a last-second field goal of their own (by Nick Folk) to get a 17-16 win over the Colts. Today's games probably can't top those two, but they should still be entertaining.

I sided with the Saints and Jets, so I went 1-1 with my first two playoff picks. Here are my next two (which won't be as in-depth).

CHIEFS (+3.5) over Ravens

Did you know that the Chiefs (10-6) are 7-1 at home this season? They only beat one team above .500 (the 9-7 Chargers), but that's rather impressive. Still, they didn't face a lot of great teams this season; it's not a knock on them, it's just a fact. The 12-4 Ravens, on the other hand, played a much tougher schedule that included games against the Jets, Patriots, Falcons, Saints, Buccaneers, and Steelers (twice). They seem like the much more battle-tested team, but they'll still have their hands full with the resurgent Chiefs, especially in Kansas City.

On offense, the two teams are pretty similar: The Chiefs score 22.9 points per game, and the Ravens score 22.3 points per game. Defensively, the Ravens are better, allowing 16.9 points per game, while the Chiefs give up 20.4 points per game.

Matchup to watch: Chiefs rushing attack vs. Ravens rush defense. The Chiefs rush for an NFL-best 164.2 yards per game; the fifth-ranked Ravens rush defense allows 93.9 yards per game. Something has to give.

It's worth noting that Joe Flacco (93.6) and Matt Cassel (93.0) were ranked Nos. 7 and 8, respectively, in quarterback rating this season. Cassel had two more touchdowns and three fewer interceptions, but Flacco threw for more yards (3,622-3,116).

I think the Ravens have a great shot at winning this game; they are favored, after all. But the Chiefs do have the advantage of being home, which actually means something at Arrowhead Stadium. I think the Ravens will win, but it'll be a close game. I wouldn't be all that surprised to see this game turn out to be like the Jets-Colts game.

EAGLES (-3) over Packers

Aaron Rodgers is an outstanding quarterback. This season, he had the third-best quarterback rating (101.2), which was just behind Tom Brady and Philip Rivers. If given time, he has the ability to pick apart just about any defense. Unfortunately, similar to Peyton Manning, his team's offense rests mostly on his arm. The Packers just are not very good at running the ball -- they average just over 100 yards per game on the ground. Although the Eagles aren't that great at stopping the run (110.4 yards per game -- 15th best), they should be able to focus on Rodgers instead of being forced to keep a ton of defenders in the box.

The Eagles do scare me a bit, though. After their enormous come-from-behind victory over the Giants in Week 15, they fell flat and lost to the Vikings in Week 16 before resting some players and basically conceding defeat to the Cowboys in the season's final week. Did they pack things up a little early to gear up for the playoffs? Will some of that rust prove costly against the Packers?

I don't think so. The Packers defense is solid, allowing only 15 points per game, but with Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin, the Eagles can put plenty of points on the board against any defense. The real key, to me, is going to be Rodgers against the Eagles defense. He's going to be under pressure, and just a few mistakes could prove costly.

The lack of a run game will hurt the Packers dearly, and the Eagles will win this game by at least a touchdown.

Regular season: 114-136-6
Playoffs: 1-1
Overall: 115-137-6

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