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Divisional round playoff preview

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I posted some interesting statistical indicators a little bit earlier this morning, but of course there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. Let's look at the games in order:

1) Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers:
We've seen all the Peter King stats on how close this rivalry is, and this season was no different. Of course, we've also heard that Ben Roethlisberger has consistently beaten the Ravens when he was the starting QB, including two years ago when the Steelers beat Baltimore three times on the road to the Super Bowl. We've seen the statistical indicator that gives Baltimore the best chance of pulling the upset this weekend, based on their margin of victory the previous week. When you compare the seasons of the two teams, Baltimore looks ever so slightly better. Baltimore beat the Jets on the road (granted, Week 1), while Pittsburgh lost to the Jets at home. Baltimore lost by a field goal at New England, while Pittsburgh got blown out by the Patriots at home. Baltimore beat the Saints, while Pittsburgh lost to the Saints. On the flip side, Baltimore lost a close game at Atlanta, while Pittsburgh beat Atlanta in overtime at home (in Week 1, bonus points for doing it without Big Ben).

The only thing that gives me pause in picking Baltimore is the QB matchup - you have a lot more confidence in Roethlisberger than you have in Joe Flacco. Pittsburgh also has the most dynamic receiver on the field in Mike Wallace. But, the Pittsburgh offensive line is a major liability and Ben isn't immune from making a mistake. Last time around, it was Troy Polamalu making the big play to steal the game from Baltimore. This time around, I think it's Ed Reed's turn. I'll take the Ravens in a tight one.

2) Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons:
The Green Bay bandwagon continues to grow, as evidenced by the fact that the #1 seed is favored by less than a field goal at home. It seems like Las Vegas is begging for people to bet on the Falcons so they don't get killed if Green Bay pulls the upset. The first time around, Green Bay had every opportunity to win the game, but shot themselves in the foot with the all too familiar flaws: special teams miscues (gave up the big return to Weems, plus the facemask), failures on short yardage (highlighted by the Rodgers fumble on the goalline), and game management (failure to challenge a key Gonzalez non-catch on 4th down). Rodgers did lead a remarkable 90-yard drive to tie the game late, which of course was erased by the big return by Weems. I was a believer in the Falcons from the beginning of the season, and I picked them to win the NFC. They are balanced on offense - a young superstar QB in Matt Ryan, a stud RB in Michael Turner, a stud WR in Roddy White, and a Hall of Fame TE in Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez was the major X-factor in Atlanta's victory earlier in the season, and Green Bay will have to find a better answer for him this time around. The big question surrounding Green Bay, of course, is whether James Starks' performance was a mirage or for real. The Packers' offense is at its best when it can run the ball, which it was for the most part unable or unwilling to do last time around in the Georgia Dome.

The statistical indicators aren't kind to the Packers, and picking against them worked well for me last week. I don't think they'll get blown out, but Atlanta is just the kind of disciplined team with superior special teams that is capable of giving the Packers another stomach punch loss. I'll take the Falcons.

3) Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears:
The charmed life continues for the Chicago Bears. Most Bears fans were preparing for the arrival of Mike Vick or Drew Brees this week into Soldier Field, and instead they get the 8-9 Seattle Seahawks. Granted, the Seahawks did win in Soldier Field earlier this season, but are the Bears really going to lose to this team twice at home? I thought the Seahawks had a legitimate shot to win last week at home, but that really feels like the cherry on top of their 2010 NFL season. The Marshawn Lynch run will go down in the league annals and we'll see it for years and years to come on NFL Films, but I don't see him doing that to Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. There are things that Seattle can hang its hat on: The Bears had no answer for Mike Williams in the first game, the Seahawks were able to exploit the Bear offensive line and get a pass rush, and then there's Jay Cutler. Since 2003, QBs making their playoff debut are only 5-19, and Cutler is certainly capable of a meltdown.

The statistical indicators that I posted earlier would point to a Bear blowout victory, as do the Vegas oddsmakers. I'll go with both, and think the Bears win comfortably.

4) New York Jets at New England Patriots:
45-3. The last time these two teams met, the Patriots blew the doors off the Jets, but that hasn't stopped the Jets from running their mouths. The Jet/Colt game last week followed the script I was expecting, with one minor exception - the Jets had 55 second left on the clock, got a big kick return from Cromartie, got a gift timeout from Jim Caldwell, got a big pass from Mark Sanchez, and got in field goal range that even Nick Folk couldn't screw up. This week, the Jets will have to have a similar game plan - run the ball, protect the ball, keep Brady off the field, and hope for the best.

This Patriot team is not a juggernaught and they are certainly vulnerable, particularly on defense. The offense hasn't turned the ball over, but that streak is bound to end at some point.

All week, I was thinking the Pats would win the game comfortably. The statistical indicator on margin of victory gave me a little bit of pause that the Jets could keep this game closer than Vegas expects, but one way or the other, the Patriots will survive and advance to host the AFC Championship.

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Comments

  1. iwatt's Avatar
    Stop trying to reverse jynx my Bears!!!

  2. Pruitt's Avatar
    Good analysis right through.

    One thing that keeps flaring in my mind is how thoroughly the Patriots dismantled the Jets a few weeks ago. That wasn't a loss that set up a rematch - that was an "F You" game. The Pats are a reflection of their coach, they usually go about their business quietly, but they are competitive and remember all slights.

    I think the Welker press conference the other day spoke of the disdain that his team has for the Jets. I smell a blowout.
  3. Swami's Avatar
    Tough weekend when even GBPKS stinks up the joint!
  4. DannyMilk's Avatar
    Bears DID win by a blowout, just not on paper, which is all that matters in the papers haha