Oh man, the playoffs are cold and heartless. I laid an absolute stinking, rotting egg of awfulness. 1-3. I got Baltimore right. But Seattle? I figured I was 2-2 at worst. I had a feeling that Colts/Jets and Eagles/Packers could go either way. So here we are in the “Divisional Round”. Teams with byes get to suit up and play at home. What’s better? Rest or Momentum?

For those of us Knights of this Round Table, we get no rest. We go week to week and strive on valiantly… as valiantly as one sitting at a keyboard can be! Some of my cohorts probably want to continue their momentum from last week. Me? I’m all about reversing it.

JMB:  I’m coming into to this one 1-3, (I did pick GB) although I really should have picked Seattle given my feelings that the NO running game would be less than stellar.

So far in the playoffs the usual mantra’s are holding true.

1)  Turnovers are huge re:  KC vs. Baltimore – the Jamal Charles fumble during a great drive was huge killer, and let’s not forget Cassel’s 3 picks.)

2)  The running game is still your friend or enemy re:  Jets, Seattle, GB, Ravens all had great days running.  Indy (still sub 100 yds), NO, and Philly did not.  Also as a side note, come on Philly, you have to try more than 12 carries with McCoy!

3)  Clock management is huge – Jim Cadwell’s time out was a huge blunder, but so was Indy spiking the ball when in Jets’ territory. You have a money kicker indoors, take your time and run the clock
down, or at least force NY to use time outs.

Mindcricket:  3-1 last week, missing only the New Orleans-Seattle game.  I rightfully thought it would be a tough spot for the Saints, but surely did not expect their defense to implode so badly.  That pass defense gave up 13 touchdown passes in 64 quarters of regular season play but then 4 TD passes in less than 3 quarters last weekend!  What a joke.  The Lynch run was inexcusable – 8 missed tackles on a guy that can’t outrun his o-linemen??  One of the most despicable defensive performances I’ve ever seen.  All you had to do was grab the man’s feet because you know your offense was going to score another touchdown (which they did) to win the game.  Unbelievable.  Yeah, I’m a Saints fan.

On to this week.  I find it strange the NFL is making Baltimore and Green Bay play on Saturday after they had Sunday games, essentially giving Seattle and New York two extra days off.  But whatever.
Rob:  So… 1-3 is terrible, but I AM happy that my pick to win the NFC – Green Bay – is still alive (along with the Patriots and Steelers).  This week, I’m sensing a 4-0 streak.  Am I delusional?  Probably.  As for the GuysNation readers:
77% of you correctly picked the Ravens to win in Kansas City,
71% of you were wrong in picking the Saints to beat the Seahawks,
72% of you were wrong to pick the Colts as they hosted the Jets,
slightly more than half of you got the Eagles / Packers game wrong,
27% of you no longer have your pick to win the NFC still alive in the post season,
the AFC picks are a little stronger with only 11% of the folks without their pick,
and 21% of you no longer have your predicted Super Bowl winners even involved in the brackets anymore.

#5 Baltimore (12-4, wildcard) @ #2 Pittsburgh (12-4 AFC North Champion)

This is the best, most evenly match rivalry in the NFL. These two teams are incredibly familiar with one another. Divisional rivals. Similar styles. If you want high powered flashy offense? You’re gonna be disappointed by what this game resembles… two heavyweights standing toe to toe. Its gonna be violent. I expect the new NFL crackdown on hitting to line their pockets at the expense of this game. These teams are so evenly matched the cliche’ “big play” will, like it has in so many of their meetings, decide this game.

How Baltimore wins: establish Ray Rice (easier said than done). Running the ball successfully would got a long way to opening up the field. But at the very least get Rice the ball with screens. Defensively they need to stay strong through 4 quarters. Luckily the defense wasn’t on the field all that much last week so they should be rested and ready to go.

How Pittsburgh wins: Establish Rashard Mendenhall (see: Ray Rice comments). Keep Big Ben upright (insert crude bathroom stall joke here). Troy Polomalu is a little dinged up going into this game, but he should play, but how much. If he misses significant time? The Steelers could be in trouble.

MY PICK: Pittsburgh 24-21. Home Team. Bye Week. Roethlisberger is 6-0 in his last 6 starts against Baltimore. (Baltimore won earlier this year while Ben was suspended)

JMB:  I have to go with Pittsburgh over Baltimore.  This is as Suggs suggested “World War III”.  We know that no one will run the ball well, so this game will come down to special teams, big defensive
plays, and something unbelievable, and the way it shakes out to this obviously biased Pittsburgh fans is as follows:   I’ll take Big Ben over Joe Flacco any day.  Somehow, someway Ben finds a way to make a play to win it.  Look at prior meetings, and even the biggest stage re:  the Super Bowl.  With the game on the line and it likely will be in the 4th quarter, I trust him.  Plus, he’s 8-2 against the Ravens having won 6 straight and one of the losses was his first NFL game.  Finally, Pittsburgh has Troy Polamalu, the Ravens do not.  You can have Ed Reed as fantastic as he is, but how many times, has Polamalu had an unbelievable athletic play that has changed the entire dynamic of a game.  He’s done it all year long re:  the massive strip sack against Flacco, and with the week rest, I think he has another one in him this week.  Pittsburgh 20 – Baltimore 17

Mindcricket:  This should be a treat.  They split the season series, each winning on the road.  It’s really hard to pick against a rested Steelers squad at home, especially with their playoff pedigree.  However, I have a tingle.  Joe Flacco has been very efficient and Ray Rice has been coming on strong while the defense is playing lights out.  The last time these teams met, the Ravens defense held the Steelers to their second lowest yardage total since Big Ben returned (lowest was against the Saints.. go figure).  Admittedly I’m not giving the Steelers enough credit, but this Ravens team seems ready to get over the hump.  Ravens 20, Steelers 17.

Rob:  Pittsburgh.  Not only do they have home field advantage (which didn’t actually help during the regular season against Baltimore) and the bye week, but the Ravens’ biggest threat (IMO) is Ray Rice, and he doesn’t do well against Pittsburgh… not that he was stellar against the Chiefs.  Steelers will win 27 to 19.

#6 Green Bay (10-6, wildcard) @ #1 Atlanta (13-3, NFC South Champion)

Green Bay looked very good defensively against the Eagles last week. People are loving them right now (this table included). Some like them for the Super Bowl. No NFC team has ever gone on the road and won 3 straight. Green Bay was 3-5 on the road this year, and their potent offense was held to 21 points by a suspect defense. Atlanta is nearly unstoppable at home. Matt Ryan has lost 2 total home games in his career as a starter.

How Green Bay Wins: Keep running the ball. Seems they found something, and if they can hand off 20-25 times it will be a great sign for the Packers. On the defensive side? Stop Michael Turner and Roddy White. Yeah… way easier for me to type that, than they do that. Packers are gonna neen great work from their D-Line (BJ Raji we’re looking at you) and they certainly have the corners to shut down Roddy. That’s definitely a matchup to watch!

How Atlanta Wins: Long, sustained drives. Keep the ball away from Aaron Rodgers. Get the ball to Roddy White. Packers have talented corners, and fast linebackers that they love to blitz with. White will be 1 on 1. Matt Ryan has to find him and take advantage.

MY PICK: Atlanta, 27-17

So far I am a fan of the home favorites… Probably gonna continue with this next game.

JMB:  I have to go with GB over Atlanta.  GB has the “mojo” clicking on both sides of the ball, and now with Starks as a running threat, I think they just might be potentially the best team left in the
playoffs (blasphemy eh New England fans?).  GB is in a position to shutdown the Atlanta running game, and force “Matty Ice” to throw the ball downfield and make a play, and frankly stats show he’s not at that level yet – just 6.49 yds/attempt even the “dink and dunk” Patriots pick up 7.93.  Plus, this is the second GB trip to the dome.  They’ll be ready.  GB 27 – Atlanta 17

Mindcricket:  When the playoffs first began, I thought Green Bay would make it past Atlanta.  After last week, I’m not so sure.  The Packers inability to put the game away in Philadelphia is concerning and coach Mike McCarthy continues to exhibit poor clock management.  That may seem trivial, but making that extra play to seal game and sound coaching decisions often make the difference between two strong teams.  On the other side, the Falcons have been incredibly smart and consistent in all phases of the game the entire season and are deserving of the #1 seed.  These teams played a rather even game in week 12 with Atlanta winning 20-17 on a late field goal.  I expect the Packers to struggle on the ground again, regardless of their success last week against a soft Eagles defense, leaving the full burden on Aaron Rodgers.  The Packers’ signal caller is going to be a star for many years to come, but I don’t think he can overcome the Falcons juggernaut on his own.  Atlanta 24, Green Bay 17

Rob:  Green Bay.  Some folks (not to name any names) are a bit wary on the Packers, but I’m not.  Sure, they could’ve done better in stomping down on the Eagles last week, but I think they’re going to overcome a partial “stumble” in the Wild Card round and find a way to rebound strong against Atlanta.  The Falcons have regressed a bit late in the season, and while they match up very strongly against Green Bay, I just don’t see it working out well for them.  I really like the Packers in all facets of the game (aside from Special Teams, I have no idea how they do on Special Teams), and while I have the Falcons ranked really high, something in my gut tells me to pick Green Bay for this one.

#4 Seattle (7-9, NFC West Champions) @ #2 Chicago (11-5, NFC North Champions)

Seattle went to Chicago and beat them in week 6, where they harassed Cutler all game long and sacked him 6 times. Chicago hadn’t really found an offensive identity yet, and were a much more balanced offense the back half of the 2010 campaign. Seattle has momentum. They looked amazing in their upset win over the Saints, and Matt Hasselbeck hasn’t looked THAT good in years. Throw in the adventure that Jay Cutler can be… and could Seattle stun hte world, again?!

How Seattle Wins: No turnovers. Marshawn Lynch comes out in “Beast Mode” and, like that amazing 60+ yard game icing TD run, runs over and through defenders. Matt Hasselbeck’s game stays near that level of awesome.

How Chicago Wins: Don’t panic if you go down. Seattle will no doubt come out with lots of energy and may very well jump out to a 6-0 or 10-0 lead… wouldn’t surprise me in the least. They have to just play their game. give Forte the ball. Don’t get pass happy, and Cutler CAN’T turn the ball over. Keep the ball score a couple points, and their defense can handle the rest.

MY PICK: Chicago 31-20 Clock strikes 12 for Cinderella.

JMB:  I have to go with Chicago over Seattle.  I guess I haven’t learned my lesson yet picking against Seattle, but referencing the mantra’s above.  Matt Forte has become hugely effective part of the Bears offense since Mike Martz rebalanced, getting at least 16 carries a game, and almost 5.8 yds/carry in the last six weeks, and he’s a big threat as a receiver.  Also, the Bears D which couldn’t force a turnover the first meeting, is third in the league at forcing turnovers – I just don’t see Hasselbach and Lynch having the games of their lives a second consecutive week without the 12th man crowd and against this D.  Jay Cutler is still a wild card here, but he’d better protected and with a solid running effort, he’s inline for fewer turnovers.  Chicago 24 – Seattle 13.

Mindcricket:  The Bears have always certainly seemed a bit overrated at times this season, particularly after dropping two in a row at home to Washington and Seattle.  After those games Chicago won 7 of 8 to clinch a first round bye.  Looking over those 8 games, they were not dominating by any stretch of the imagination and benefited greatly from turnovers.  As such, I’m really not sure what to think of this game, especially considering Seattle’s performance last week and earlier this year in Chicago.  I’m going to have to tap out on this one and just side with the rested home team.  Chicago 31, Seattle 20.

Rob:  The Bears.  While the Seahawks benefited from having the Saints travel all the way up to the Pacific Northwest for last weekend’s game, they won’t be that lucky this week, as they travel to Chicago.  I realize that the Seahawks beat the Bears in Chicago once already this season, but that won’t happen twice in one year.  Marshawn Lynch isn’t going to have the same luck this time around, and neither is Matt Hasselbeck.  Turnovers will be the name of this game.

#6 New York Jets (11-5, wildcard) @ New England (14-2, AFC East Champions)

New England was a perfect 8-0 at home this season. While the Jets were an impressive 6-2 on the road, one of those losses was an absolute curb stomping taken in Foxborough. Rex Ryan has been… well… Rex Ryan, running his mouth saying this game is personal, and is about him versus Bill Belichick. Jets CB, Antonio Cromartie called Tom Brady an A-hole, who ended the season with an amazing 36 TDs and 4 Int ratio. Can the bluster and all the talking help the Jets, or is this just fuel for the Patriots who are definition of “let your play do the talking”.

How the Jets Win: Shut up and Play. Okay… they need to keep the ball out of Brady’s hands. They need to run and run and run, and then if they HAVE to? Let Sanchez pass. Their defense needs to be aggressive and physical, and they need to win the turnover war, specifically a Brady interception would be huge.

How the Patriots Win: Stop the run and make the Jets a 1 dimensional, passing team. MAKE Mark Sanchez beat you. If you can jump out to a 14-20 point lead early? Jets aren’t going to be able to lean on running the ball.

My Pick: New England. They’re great at home. Their QB doens’t turn the ball over. They have the best coach in the game.

JMB:  I have to go with the Patriots over the Jets.  This one will be close however.  The Jets won’t get down early, and they will be able to run the ball.  The Jets D will also be massively improved this time around and fired up.  They will hit Brady and this will come down to the 4th quarter.  However, the Jets don’t have an answer for the Patriots TE’s, especially with the safety weakness – and again I’ll
take Brady over Sanchez in the playoffs any day (or any other time for that matter).  New England 24 – NYJ  – 20.

Mindcricket:  Many will point to the Patriots systematic dismantling of the Jets in week 13 as evidence the New York team is overmatched, but I say not so fast.  Anyone who actually watched that game could tell a few plays in the first quarter put the Jets behind 17-0 right off the bat, forcing them out of their run-first gameplan.  Further, these Jets did take care of the Patriots rather soundly in week 2.  As for recent history, both teams are coming in playing great football with the Jets coming off solid wins in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis and the Patriots firing on all cylinders with an average margin of victory of 27 in their last 5 outings.  If the Jets defense can weather the early storm, I think this game has the potential to be an all-time classic.  If Tom Brady continues his excellence with early strikes, it’ll be over quick just like week 13.  Unfortunately for fans of close games (like me), I think this one will get away from the Jets at some point near halftime.  New England 31, New York 17

Rob:  Patriots.  In addition to the Jets getting blown out last time around, another factor which is making it easy for me to pick against the Jets this time around is because they lost one of the most important players on their offensive line, Damien Woody.  Sure, the Jets could make it a good game if they can control the clock with their run game and find a way to stop the Patriots early in the game to keep things close, but I just don’t see that happening unless there’s a fluke occurrence which sets back New England… and I don’t bet on things like that happening.

There are the week 2, Playoff Picks. Enjoy the games!

Special note from Rob:  If you respond to this article and the rest of the articles for the remainder of the playoffs and can correctly predict each of the remaining games correctly, you can win a free GuysNation tshirt!  If no one correctly predicts each of the remaining games, the predictor with the highest number of wins (assuming they pick at least 4 games correctly) will get a free shirt!  Predictions must be made prior to noon on the day of any day containing a playoff game.