Here's to hoping this week's picks go much better than last week's...
Baltimore at Pittsburgh
It's weird to think just how tantalizing the two AFC matchups are compared to the games in the other conference. The hype starts Saturday in Pittsburgh, though, where the Steelers and Ravens resume their great rivalry. In the regular season, both teams picked up a win, with both teams stealing a victory on the road. That tidbit could instill some more confidence in the Ravens, but honestly, I don't think they need too much more praise.
Baltimore comes into this game winners of five straight, including a victory Kansas City a week ago. Ray Rice has picked up steam and Joe Flacco was masterful in the Wild Card win against the Chiefs. Speaking of masterful, the Ravens' defense forced five turnovers against Kansas City's offense and Ray Lewis and Co. seem to be just as fierce in 2011.
That being said, don't expect the defense to force five turnovers from Pittsburgh's offense this weekend. Ben Roethlisberger's numbers might take a dip historically against the Ravens, but the wins certainly don't. In his career, Big Ben is an impressive 7-3 against Baltimore, including wins in his last six starts (remember the last two Ravens wins came against Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch).
On the defensive side of things, safety Troy Polamalu is listed as probable with an ankle injury, but there's no way he won't be ready for this one. To be honest, I think the Steelers are the better team in this one, but the bias in me can't help but think Flacco pulls off the upset here.
Green Bay at Atlanta
The trendy pick this weekend seems to be the Packers, who held off a late comeback attempt by the Eagles last week. Aaron Rodgers finally earned his first playoff win, but now has to travel to Atlanta where quarterback Matt Ryan is nearly unbeatable.
Against Philadelphia, Packers fans caught a glimpse of rookie running back James Starks (who?), but I'm not quite sold on him as a sure thing for this weekend.
What I am sold on, however, is Green Bay's defense, led by sack-master Clay Matthews. Matthews returned to form last week and defensive tackle B.J. Raji found himself in the opponent's backfield several times.
It won't be easy, though, adjusting to a completely different style of quarterback. While Michael Vick could beat you with his mobility, Ryan is a pure pocket passer and could give Green Bay fits all game. That's my plan of thinking here, and I'll take Atlanta to win, comfortably actually.
Seattle at Chicago
Here we have an interesting setup. From a team perspective, the Seahawks are the surprise squad to still be alive in the playoffs, while the Bears coasted through the NFC North, leading most to think this will be an easy win for Chicago. But at the quarterback spot, Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck is the much more experienced arm, while Jay Cutler is making his postseason debut.
Against any other team, I would think Cutler, who is prone to cough the ball up on any given day, playing in his first-ever playoff game would spell doom for the Bears. But against the Seahawks, I say he gets it done. Marshawn Lynch had a memorable playoff run of his own against the Saints and wide receiver Mike Williams is flourishing in the offense.
I have to give coach Pete Carroll his due here. He's done a lot with this team, more than most thought he could in his first year back in the pros. But the Hawks' magical season ends here. It's a shame, too. They were one win away from .500.
New York Jets at New England
Ugh, the game isn't for another few days and already I'm sick of it. This week has been nothing but stupid smack talk from both teams, most recently a foot-filled press conference from Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker, taking a few shots at the fact that Jets coach Rex Ryan's wife was caught posting pictures online on a foot fetish site.
Still, for all of the talk these teams do, Sunday will be here soon and both teams will have to put up or shut up. Tom Brady is a slam dunk for MVP and I think he'll show the last few non-believers out there why this weekend.
The last time these two teams played, it was a 45-3 blowout. But Andrew "McLovin'" Perloff made a good point this morning on the Dan Patrick Show. During his famous "Against the Grain" segment, McLovin' reminded us how the last meeting between these two teams was just after Jets safety Jim Leonard was lost for the season with a broken leg, and since then the Jets' defense has had time to adjust to the loss.
They haven't adjusted enough to pull the upset, however. I like the Patriots in this one.