Posts Tagged ‘NFL Playoffs’

Gronk wont be playing in the Super Bowl regardless if the Pats win on Sunday

Gronk wont be playing in the Super Bowl regardless if the Pats win on Sunday

Five Super Bowl performances in the last eleven seasons is pretty remarkable, all led by the same quarterback and head coach combination is mind-bending.

Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots franchise stand on the verge of a sixth Super Bowl berth in the last dozen seasons, which if they do succeed means they have represented their conference in 50% of Super Bowls since 2002.

They face a Baltimore Ravens team this weekend in  a rematch of last years AFC Championship, a game the Patriots triumphed 23-20.

The Ravens are now in their third conference championship in five years, hoping that it’s third time lucky.

There are many many storylines and matchups to look out for:

– Can Ray Lewis fire up his team enough or will his final NFL game be a heartbreaking defeat?

– Can the Patriots live without the man-beast Rob Gronkowski?

– Can the Ravens pull-off a third playoff win in a row against a fresher team who will have a huge home field advantage?

– Can the Patriots secondary live with the speed of Torrey Smith – will it be Aqib Talib marking Smith to leave Anquan Boldin to have a big game?

– Will there be a Ravens player do a ‘Lee Evans’ and drop a game winning touchdown?

I have to say I love the way the Pats have taken the two tight-end set into a different stratosphere, which is why it’s such a shame that Rob Gronkowski re-broke his arm last weekend and will next suit up in anger in about six-months. I do expect a big game from the ‘other’ tight-end Aaron Hernandez.

Regardless of Hernandez’s stat-line, or the lack of the Gronk, the Patriots are 60 minutes away from their eighth Super Bowl, and for me a seventh time watching those silver helmets take on an NFC opponent.

When you are a supporter of such a dominant team then you are hoping the Super Bowl performances are never-ending, but when you are a fan of one of the other 31 NFL teams you just hope that there are some new teams losing their Super Bowl virginity.

As a neutral it has been a lot of fun seeing the likes of the New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals reach (and in the first two cases win) a Super Bowl.

It’s not so much fun watching the same teams keep going back. The irony is not lost that we have the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL Championship as I grew up watching Joe Montana and Steve Young win three Super Bowls over a seven year stretch.

I do have very clear memories of the Ravens winning their only previous Super Bowl appearance, and likewise the Falcons somewhat flat performance against the John Elway led Denver Broncos in 1999.

As long as the Patriots are held out of this Super Bowl I really don’t mind who wins out of the 49ers and the Falcons. You have to love the dynamism of Colin Kaepernick and then the emotional high that would be experienced if Tony Gonzales the future Hall of Fame tight-end would get if he could somehow play his last game in the Super Bowl.

Just don’t think I can stomach another two-weeks of hype led by Tom Brady’s face and the grey face of Bill ‘the Emperor’ Belichick.

Come on Ray & Ray you wouldn’t want to let down your international admirers would you?

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JJ Watt will be one eager beaver (well badger maybe) this weekend

JJ Watt will be one eager beaver (well badger maybe) this weekend

Eight to four this weekend, simple maths but the likelihood I predict all four NFL Divisional Playoff games correctly is the same as me solving a Rubix Cube in 3.98 seconds.

This weekend is the equivalent of   a Shakespeare Festival, full of comedy and tragedy, different acts, highlights and lowlights, but above all chock-a-block with awe-inspiring drama.

On the surface the eight remaining teams cannot look beyond this weekend, but the likes of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Ray Lewis will be thinking two more wins and we are back in the final, the big dance, the Super Bowl.

Four contests and four mini previews below…

Texans @ Patriots

Fact #1 – the last time the New England Patriots won a Super Bowl was eight years ago. It doesn’t sound right but it is fact. For all their dominance the last time they picked up a Vince Lombardi Trophy was against Donovan McNabb’s Philadelphia Eagles in 2005. Fact #2 the Houston Texans have never played in a conference championship. The time is right for the Texans to cause a major upset in New England and this time around the Texans have a veteran starting quarterback and a fit number one wideout in Andre Johnson. The Pats have done what they always d0 – blow out the water about half the teams they play. They have also lost to the Cardinals, barely topped the Jaguars and were beaten by two current  NFC playoff teams (49ers and Seahawks). JJ Watt the Texans defensive end has been playing like a man possessed all season long, and will be after Tom Brady all day long. This game will come down to the team that can best run the ball. Both teams have quality passing games and lots of targets, but without a running game, any of the play action will be ineffective. Tight-ends will play a big part in this game, and I would not be surprised to see three tight-ends score Sunday (Hernandez, Gronkowski and Owen Daniels).

Texans to win 31-28 on a come-from-behind Arian Foster rushing touchdown.

Ravens @ Broncos

Fact #1 If I had a £1 for every column inch written about Peyton Manning’s neck I would have enough to buy one expensive scarf. Fact #2 this could be the last professional football game that Ray Lewis ever plays in. There is a distinctly eerie feeling that we could see a Manning Brothers consecutive Super Bowl win streak like we did in 2007-2008. Peyton has been Peyton all season – leading the Broncos from the front with accurate swift passing and a low number of turnovers. The Ravens are riding on the emotional wave that is Ray Lewis and his peacock display dance. Baltimore’s team has itself been peacock like, spending most of the season quietly winning where it needed to and then on occasion making big noise. Thing is a peacock is not a bird of prey, it uses its feathers to make a grand gesture that ultimately flatters to deceive. Too many times I have seen Ray Lewis amped up at the start of a big game only for his rallying cry magic to last about a quarter of football. Second chances may be the theme for this game, but the team to take home the bacon will be Denver. Knowshon Moreno has taken his second chance by the horns and will have a big game pounding the rock in between Manning dismantling a Baltimore secondary that simply is not a stud unit (Ed Reed is of course a legend but he cannot defend an offense on his own).

Broncos to win 33-19 on the back of Manning throwing three touchdowns.

Packers @ 49ers

We have a Super Bowl winning quarterback against a second year passer, who for all concerned is playing in his first real NFL season. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has already got a ring. San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick has never played in the NFL playoffs before. This game is a case of momentum, and that belongs to the team from Wisconsin. The Packers have all of their wide receivers fit (Jennings, Jones, Nelson and Cobb) and even their tight-end Jermichael Finley is coming up with big plays after a sub-par regular season. The Niners can run the ball and play solid football behind the ever-reliable Frank Gore, and in the last few weeks we have seen glimpses of the rookie tailback LaMichael James who can return kicks and be a spark on offense. 49ers defense will play hard but without a fully fit defensive tackle Justin Smith the team will not be able to cope with a razor-sharp Aaron Rodgers. I expect this to be low scoring, and to some extent a scrappy game.

Packers 24-19 with James Jones getting two touchdown catches and Randall Cobb tormenting the Niners linebackers all game.

Seahawks @ Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons finished the regular season with the best record in the NFC, and have had a week to rest weary limbs, but due to their disappointing playoff pedigree in recent years they are listed as the upset special by many prediction prognosticators. The Seahawks are already playoff winners this season, but they fought against a Redskins team that had an injured quarterback and a very average defense. Atlanta have the rather huge monkey, well gorilla, to shake off their backs that equates to the fact their future Hall of Fame tight-end Tony Gonzales has never won a playoff game in his illustrious NFL playing career. It’s one of those statistics that seems completely bonkers, but is true. It is also a statistic I believe that will finally vanish on Sunday afternoon. The Falcons know what they have in front of them, a possible two home wins leading to a Super Bowl appearance. Big ol’ Michael Turner has slowed to a crawl but he still manages to collect six point bonuses (10 this season).  Roddy White and Julio Jones will be the difference in this game as they may be able to be man marked if one is on the field, but having both on the field has been near enough impossible to stop, even for the hulk like cornerbacks in Seattle. It will take a superhero effort from Matt Ryan and a relatively low-key Falcons defense but it will be possible.

Falcons to win 30-20 with Matt Bryant kicking three field goals – all when the mattered.

So I have a Texans @ Broncos and Packers @ Falcons conference championship round next week. Back before the season started I predicted the Packers and the Texans to be in the last four. Lets see if my ball gazing is any good……..(crystal variety only mind you!)

The road to Super Bowl XLV gets extremely interesting this weekend as we will be whittling down from eight to a fantastic four – with no Thing or man with rubber arms in sight.

Gone are the current AFC and NFC champions, both knocked out in the Wild Card round last week.

Ready to make their 2011 playoff debut are the Patriots, Steelers, Falcons and Bears – the top four seeds in the NFL this season.

Joining them are the survivors from last week, the Packers, the miracle 8-9 Seahawks (still with a losing record despite a playoff win), the J-E-T-S and the Baltimore Ravens.

Without further ado it’s prediction time……

Jets @ Patriots – Following the absolute slaughter of the Jets by the Bellicheck machine known simply as the Pats this should be deemed as a New England walkover. Brady is fresh from a week off, spent combing his hair and applying expensive Hollywood folicle product. Sanchez on the other hand tried his best to lose the game last week according to many NFL hacks, and he was rescued from oblivion by a late Antonio Cromartie kickoff return and some kicking heroics. This game will, I have no doubt, see the Jets madder than hell because they wont take it anymore, and despite all the smoke being blow up the Patriots asses, I have this as a Jets win. Why you may ask? Well firstly the Jets have a quality running game blending the shifty Shonn Greene and the veteran, but so far Super Bowl ring-less Ladanian Tomlinson. IN one of the Pats losses this season Peyton Hillis ran for a devastating 184 yards as the Browns cruised to an upset win. Sanchez has a 3-1 record in the playoffs in only his second NFL season – a remarkable achievement considering he is perceived as inaccurate and lacking big play dynamism. Brady has a lot of weapons, more than the host of a terrorist gun amnesty convention, but he can be rattled. The Pats may have a quality team but I just feel that this is not their time, and for the Jets this is part of the stars aligning. I also cant help but see a vision of Brad Smith, the modern day slash (not the Guns ‘n’ Roses guitarist), doing something special.

Prediction – Jets 23-20 Patriots – MVP the Jets offensive line helping the team rush for 180 yards.

Ravens @ Steelers – If this was a few thousand years ago it would be a prize gladiatorial fight between Spartapolamalu and Spartalewis in the amphitheatre of your nightmares. As it is the 2011 version wont be much different, with blood, sweat, tears and likely some body parts being left on the field at the end of this battle. The Steelers have the experience and the QB with two hand-crafted rings full of Pittsburgh shaped jewels. The Ravens have a mixture of youth (QB Joe Flacco and RB Ray Rice) along with some grizzled veteran wideouts and TE in Anquan Boldin (who faced the Steelers in the Super Bowl two seasons ago) TJ Houshmananzadddehhhahahahaaaahahahahah and the second coming of Todd Heap. The Steelers have in my humble opinion the most underrated starting running back in the NFL Rashard Mendenhall, and possibly the best deep threat wide receiver to play in the league in the last 5 years in the form of Mike Wallace. It’s not rocket science but this game will come down to turnovers – if any team makes three they will not make it past this weekend. Yes I expect a close game, and this time I’ll go with the Ravens in the second AFC upset of the weekend. Providing Ray Rice can chew up the clock, Willis McGahee can vulture two red zone scores and Baltimore can end up with a ground shaking win and a matchup for Rex Ryan’s former team versus his current team in the AFC Championship.

Prediction – Ravens 24-19 Steelers – MVP Willis McGahee two short scores – one late to seal the win.

Packers @ Falcons – There is a lot of love out there for the Green Bay Packers, and a distinct lack of respect for the 13-3 Falcons, who boast a 7-1 home record. Matty Ice has shown he can lead a team to a division crown and the best record in the NFC conference, but still they seem to be underestimated. The Pack have lost 5 games already away from the chilly tundra of Wisconsin, and whilst the Georgia Dome turf may suit them as a pass first team, they will be playing the house of the Clean Birds with no facility to Lambeau Leap. Packers RB James Starks came from nowhere to post gaudy figures against the Eagles, but a repeat performance will be much harder. This will be a big game for Falcons DE John Abraham, who will be sniffing out Aaron Rodgers like a fox after some chicken bones in a bin bag. This will also be time for former Chargers #2 rb to show the world why he is a #1 RB and a quality one at that. The Falcons have the ability to stretch the field with future Canton enshrinee TE Tony Gonzales, and the league’s top wideout Roddy White, but it will be Turner’s ability to keep the Packers honest that will be the biggest factor in this game. The Packers love to use defensive back blitz packages, but the towering Matt Ryan should be able to see them coming and use Gonzales as a perfect outlet en-route to a second consecutive home playoff game next week.

Prediction – Falcons 31-27 Packers – MVP Matt Ryan 255 yards and three touchdown passes.

Seahawks @ Bears – Two division winners facing each other for the second time this season in the Windy City, one with a quarterback who has played in a Super Bowl, and one who’s gun-slinger looks like he has a man’s body with a petulant child’s head on top. The Seahawks are capable of going back to Chicago and taking away a victory, but I am predicting a grizzly bear mauling by Peppers Idonoje and Urlacher come the weekend match-up. This could finally be the game Devin Hester shows up as a starting wide receiver, but we are more likely to see Charlie Whitehurst get a military buzz cut first. The key to the Bears moving up and down the field will be the big play capability of Johnny Knox and the ability for Mike Martz to swallow his pride and give the rock to Matt Forte. The Seahawks will be able to match the Bears offensively, but they will not be able to prevent the Bears D from menacing Hasslebeck all day long. I predicted a Hawks win last week, but this time they will come unstuck, the Bears will be ready with a honey trap. Kick to Hester at your own peril.

Prediction – Bears 27 – 10 Seahawks – MVP Matt Forte – 160 combined yards and 2 touchdowns.

Your thoughts…………………………………….

 

Big Mike is due a big day - why not in the playoffs!

Some say Christmas begins 25 December, not true if you ask me, the real winter festivities begin today with the NFL 2011 Wild Card playoff games.

Having the two Super Bowl finalists from last season playing this weekend simply adds to the fun, and a 7-9 team in the mix makes this 4 games full of intrigue, mystery and intensity.

Saturday 8 Jan 2011

Saints @ Seahawks – This should simply be a no contest, a 7-9 team with two underwhelming quarterbacks against the current Super Bowl holders. Only problem is once you reach the NFL playoffs everyone is equal. That’s right the Seattle Seahawks must be respected and for some godforsaken reason I cant shake the idea that the Saints will come into this one thinking they have to do no more than turn up to take away the prize known as victory. For that reason I am going to test my own sanity and call a Seahawks win, on the back of some miracle catches from Mike Williams. After being out of the NFL in 2008 and 2009 Big Mike has had a great season, with 65 catches for 751 yards. Almost 2 in 3 of his catches have resulted in First Downs. With the Saints heading into the contest without their two best running backs (no I’m not forgetting Reggie Bush but I see him as a wide-back and not a running back) and with a lack of form, this could be an upset for the ages. The ‘Hawks are at home and whilst that means little for some games it is damm noisy in the chilly quarters of Washington State.

NFL Fan in England prediction – Seahawks 23-20 Saints – Game MVP Matt Hasselbeck 235 yards and 2 tds

Jets @ Colts – I don’t think ill make it much past the kickoff in term of watching this live (thanks Sky+ for rescucing my playoff experience) but this looks like a mouthwatering game between two bitter rivals. The Jets and the Colts have been divisional rivals in the past, and they met in the AFC championship game just over a year ago. The form books have shown that Peyton Manning looks like he is finally slowing down, finishing the 2010 season with his lowest rating in 8 seasons. Not that finishing with a 91.9 rating is acceptable for any mortal – but Peyton is no human being, he is a human CPU with a helluva arm. The Jets thought they were Super Bowl champions before the opening kickoff this season, but after their humiliating loss to the Pats they have proven they are not ready to be a champion yet.

NFL Fan in England prediction – Colts 33-16 Jets – Game MVP Jospeh Addai 101 rushing yards and 2 tds

 

My hat is off to the running prowess of the Ravens Ray Rice

Few occasions give me more pleasure than watching NFL teams leaving it all on the field during the playoffs.

This season (2009-2010) has seen some amazing individual and team performances, from Chris Johnson’s all time yards from scrimmage record to the Colts and the Saints starting their seasons 13-0.

It’s now time to pack away the regular season, head for the loft and find the big old box marked ‘Playoffs’.

Wild Card weekend often lives up to its name with some crazy games and the odd huge blowout.

NFL FAN IN ENGLAND is proud to make his Wild Card predictions………

AFC – Ravens @ Patriots

The Ravens sneaked into the playoffs rather last minute, whilst the Patriots are keeping under the radar despite winning their division.  Tom Brady will miss the NFL’s top receiver (by catches) Mr Wes Welker, and will instead look for tight ends Chris Baker and Ben Watson to step up. Baltimore will continue to rely on a ground game that has a superb combo of the lightning in a bottle Ray Rice and the touchdown terror Willis McGahee, not forgetting Pro Bowl fullback Leron McClain. I see this game as the Ray Rice playoff party as he torches the Patriots for 130 yards rushing and a score. The rookie CBs for the Pats will be tested by the wily veteran Derek Mason, and TE Todd Heap will be hoping to outmuscle the Pats LBs for some big chain moving first downs. The biggest factor will be the young Ravens offensive line facing the grizzled Pats D line. I say one for the kids in what will be reported on as an upset.

Score Prediction – Ravens 23-19 Patriots

Game MVP Prediction – Ray Rice Ravens RB, 130 yards rushing, 61 yards receiving 1 total td

AFC – Jets @ Bengals

The first of three Week 17 rematches makes for a fantastic game for the neutral fan. I’m not quite neutral as I have always had a soft spot for the Bengals (must be the uniform). After the Jets just flat out embarrassed the Bengals in New York I’m sure Marvin Lewis will have instructed his team to just erase any memories of the game. With Cedric Benson back and Carson Palmer actually playing at 100% then this game will look nothing like last Sunday night. Benson is the key to this game as he needs to churn the butter and keep both Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene off the field for the Jets. New York’s rookie QB Mark Sanchez will not be asked to pass the way to victory and if he passes over 220 yards I will be shocked. The Jets offensive line is going to help the Jets win this game as Coach Rex Ryan will turn Sanchez into a handoff monkey.

Score Prediction – Jets 21 – 17 Bengals

Game MVP Prediction – Thomas Jones – 127 yards rushing 2 tds

NFC – Eagles @ Cowboys

So much for the December/Jan Cowboys curse, after ripping apart the Redskins and the Eagles over two weeks this is a Cowboys team that is now able to win in winter. Miles Austin has come form nowhere to become the ‘Boys #1 weapon, even above Pro Bowl colleague TE Jason Witten. Austin can score from anywhere and this leaves Witten covered by the linebackers, and guys like Patrick Crayton and Kevin Ogletree man marked by the #2 or #3 Eagles CBs. Philadelphia are a true Jeckyl and Hyde team, one week world beaters one week losing to the inept Oakland Raiders. Brian Westbrook is a shell of the player he was two or three years ago and Lesean McCoy is in my opinion a season or two from becoming a top 10 back. The Eagles will be mad as a bee in a matchbox and this is where I think Andy Reid’s playoff experience will shine through. A real barnburner of a game, will see Jeremy Maclin score the winning touchdown in the last 5 minutes of the game.

Score Prediction – Eagles 28-24 Cowboys

Game MVP Prediction – Donovan McNabb – 277 yards passing three tds passing

NFC – Packers @ Cardinals

Again a rematch and again one team will be spitting feathers after being humiliated last week. If I have learnt one thing in life it is to NEVER underestimate Kurt Warner when its playoff time. Warner has taken his troops to the Superbowl three times in his career, and the 2009 Cardinals can only be described as better than the team that almost lifted the Lombardi Trophy in 2009. The Pack are looking good with Aaron Rodgers at the helm and his supporting cast have stepped up in recent weeks, with RB Ryan Grant and TE Jermichael Finley both looking like show stoppers. Unlike the other Wild Card games where the running games will be the key, this is a battle of pure passing and Warner will show why he deserves his place in Canton by 2020 with an impressive win.

Score Prediction – Cardinals 35 -24 Packers

Game MVP Prediction – Kurt Warner Cardinals QB 311 yards passing 3 tds

What DO YOU GUYS AND GIRLS think?

This weekend belings to Ray Lewis and the Ravens - my upset special against an 'on paper' better team.

This weekend belongs to Ray Lewis and the Ravens - my upset special against an 'on paper' better team.

After two rounds of hitting and high fives I have managed to get six out of eight playoff winners correct, and this means I did predict the Ravens, Eagles and the Steelers to reach the final four.

Where I messed up and where I suspect the rest of the world messed up was not giving enough respect to the Arizona Cardinals. Yes the Arizona Cardinals – a team historically so inept they can talk long into the night with the Detroit Lions and still feel bad.

Say it in your head, or say it out loud – the Arizona Cardinals are JUST ONE game away from the Superbowl. It sounds like some sort of joke, or maybe something that you can only witness when playing John Madden on your console, but no this is real, and in about 30 hours the Cards HOST the NFC Championship game against the wily Philadelphia Eagles, so that is where my prediction will start.

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP – PHILADELPHIA EAGLES @ ARIZONA CARDINALS

On the surface this is a battle between Donovan McNabb (one Superbowl played one loss) and Kurt Warner(two Superbowls played one won one loss) to show which veteran quarterback has the intestinal fortitude to lead their team to the promised land, but this game will come down to the brute strength and blocking power of the offensive and defensive lines – as they will be the guys pressurising or protecting Mc Nabb and Warner, and the ones making the gaps or shutting down the run.

Both McNabb and Warner were sacked an average of less than twice a game, so both offensive lines are solid but are able to be exploited.

The real key is that McNabb is more likely to take a sack and keep possession of the ball. Cardinals have looked awful at points this season when Warner has spilled the ball, and I think the Eagles will dial up the pressure throughout the game.

NFL FAN IN ENGLAND gives his KEYS to the game

1) The Cardinals need to get 120 yards rushing to stand any hope of winning this game, and this does not necessarily mean 100 from Edge – it could be 65 for Edge and 55 for Tim Hightower who looks to be swimming in shark infested water at the moment.

2) The Eagles WRs need to make a statement early that they can be difference makers. Kevin Curtis and DeSean Jackson can both have huge games but someone like Reggie Brown or Jason Avant could be the player to break the game open as they will get single coverage.

3) Neil Rackers needs to be there and come through in the clutch. He has gone from fantasy gold to an after thought, and this game could come down to a kick. David Akers has the NFL post season consecutive completed fg record. Rackers has never been to a championship game – will it overawe him or will he become a hero.

 4) Brian Westbrook . He has had a rather quiet post season, so is this the game he busts out of his funk? YES in my opinion it is. Westbrook has more talent than Edgarrin James but has so far not been the multi dimensional weapon that he has been in the regular season. Providing he has 15 touches each half this could decide the game.

5) This game comes down to the Eagles secondary beating up on the Cardinals wideouts, and despite the hype surrounding Fitzgeral and Boldin this is where I think the game will be won for the Eagles, who will pick off Warner three times.

Prediction – Philadelphia 27-17 Arizona – MVP Donovan McNabb 2 passing tds

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP – BALTIMORE RAVENS @ PITTSBURGH STEELERS

The Ravens have shown that the formula of Defense Defense Defense is enough to mask any offensive deficiences. Only one problem its exactly what the Steelers have in their very own test tubes also.

On paper he Steelers have the all round talent and also are the most recent of the final four to win a Superbowl, and the last time they did it they had Ben Roethlisberger who will again be under center for this bruising affair.

The 2008 season will be remembered as the Wild Card winners Superbowl as I think the Ravens will get revenge against a Steelers team that is going to be thinking it is the better team right now. I expect this game to be as ugly as the Titans v Ravens game last week – but for the defensive purist this will be a thing of beauty.

 NFL FAN IN ENGLAND gives his KEYS to the game

 1) Flacco has to be a handoff robot. If Joe Flacco wants to be the first rookie qb to start in a Superbowl then he needs to be disciplined and listen to his coaches instructions. This is what has got him this far, and despite a pass rush that will be scarier than being stuck in a lift with Plaxico Burress and an AK-47, if Flacco stays disciplined this could be his ticket to immortality.

2) The emotional impact of Hines Ward. Whilst the linebackers of the Steelers have been the highlight reel champions the Steelers go as far as Hines Ward’s catches. He is destined to go to the Hall of Fame (and I am no terrible towel waver) and he can ignite Heinz Field with a crucial 3rd down conversion or a touchdown. Take him out early – no – take him out late. When the game is on the line that’s when the Ravens need to cover every blade of grass that Ward does.

3) The Steelers offensive line protecting Big Ben. Its all very well saying Willie Parker is gonna have another huge game – but you cannot get the running game going unless the pass is successful early. Look for Big Ben to try and pass the Steelers out of the blocks with some screens and te hitches. I think the Ravens D will be ready for this and an early pickoff will get Big Ben nervous.

4) Can Mark Clayton please show up. Derek Mason is a stud and deserves respect (I said last week he would be huge and he was) but he cannot win the game by himself as a WR. Fans will have Clayton as an afterthought but he does have the talent to change a game, and this in my humble opinion is where he will do it.

5) Todd Heap. It seems the real Todd Heap hasnt shown up for about 2 seasons, but when it counts Heap can be dangerous. He may not be the Todd Heap of old – but he can get 5 catches this game. If he does the Ravens win.

Prediction –  Baltimore 21-20 Pittsburgh – MVP – Ray Lewis 12 tackles and 1 INT.

That leaves me with a Baltimore v Philadelphia Superbowl – Any thoughts ?????

My upset special McNabb to lead the Eagles to an NFC Championship

My upset special McNabb to lead the Eagles to an NFC Championship

I went 3 out of 4 in the Wild Card weekend and even got an exact score (Falcons 24) so I have a bit of pressure on for the divisional playoff round.

There are usually less upsets this round than in the Wild Card week but I have a feeling that the home teams will take a bit of a battering this Sat and Sun, so here goes, time to put my money where my mouth is……..

Sat., Jan. 10, 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Baltimore (11-5, 1-0) at Tennessee (13-3)
Kevin Mawae is out and that is huge.  The veteran Titans C is the rock that has led the way for Lendale ‘who ate all the pies’ White and Chris Johnson to dominate 13 teams this season. No one needs to read here how good the Ravens defense is – but people do need to finally pay respect to Baltimore WR Derek Mason who has shown that he is one of the most reliable wideouts in the entire NFL. Can Ed ‘ball magnet’ Reed get another INT – most likely !
Key 1) Baltimore getting a big run early as opposed to a big run late
Key 2) Albert Haynesworth pressuring rookie Joe Flacco
Key 3) Joe Flacco staying the hell away from Cortland Finnegan
Key 4) Kerry Collins not being forced to pass if Titans go down
Prediction – Baltimore 23-17 Tennessee – Game MVP – LeRon McClain (2tds)
Sun., Jan. 11, 4:45 p.m. ET, CBS
San Diego (8-8, 1-0) at Pittsburgh (12-4)
The Chargers are living the dream, and after using the pocket rocket Darren Sproles to kill the Colts. This time around the Sprolesmeister will have been on the Steelers radar. The Steelers D line is a lightyear above the Colts D line so Rivers will be forced to pass the Chargers up and down the field. Big Ben Roethlisberger has shown that he can guide a team through the playoffs, and I have a feeling that Pitt WR Nate Washington will come up with a huge catch that turns the game. I don’t expect a quality 1st half, but the Steelers have enough class to hang in there.
Key 1) Hines Ward getting 4 catches in the first half
Key 2) Can LT be any sort of factor in the game?
Key 3) Big Ben not fumbling the ball
Key 4) Santonio Holmes drawing double teams to free up Nate Washington
Prediction – San Diego 10-20 Pittsburgh – MVP Ben Roethlisberger (1 td and 250 yards passing)
Sat., Jan. 10, 8:15 p.m. ET, FOX
Arizona (9-7, 1-0) at Carolina (12-4)
Wouldn’t it be fun to see the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship against a former NFC East division foe? Well I really want to write this will be a Cardinals win, but I just can’t. The hype given to Edgarrin James last week was nonsense. He got 73 rushing yards in a Wild Card game – so freaking what. If he got 173 then I would be saing wow. The Panthers have the all round quality to win this without going into 5th gear, but I am sure they will make a bit of a meal of it and Jake Delhomme will get intercepted at least once. Look to DeAngelo Williams to show his class on a national stage but Jonathan Stewart to get the fanatsy tds.
Key 1) Cardinals DBs not getting called for pass inteference in the first half
Key 2) Jake Delhomme sticking to the plan and not trying to be a hero early on
Key 3) Steve Breaston showing up and getting some 1st quarter catches
Key 4) Panthers safeties not being exposed by the long ball
Prediction – Arizona 21-28 Carolina – MVP DeAngelo Williams (120 all purpose yards)
Sun., Jan. 11, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Philadelphia (9-6-1, 1-0) at N.Y. Giants (12-4)
There has to be one upset special each week and I’ll call it here. I do not think the New York Giants are a dynasty and despite their good record they will finally sucumb to a Donovan McNabb led team that will win a nailbiter. Brian Westbrook will get more involved early in this game, and Eli Manning will make a huge mistake in the 2nd quarter that will turn the momentum. Giants pressure will again be relentless, but the Eagles will gameplan against it, using short passing to neautralise the agression on Kiwanuka and Tuck. Expect it to be close, but expect the Eagles to leave Giants stadium with their playoff dreams intact.
Key 1) The Eagles run d adapting to the difering styles of Brandon Jacbs and Derrick Ward
Key 2) McNabb finding TEs and RBs for short passes to set up a big ol bomb
Key 3) DeSean Jackson getting one big return
Key 4) Kevin Boss living up to his name
Prediction – Philadelphia 31-30 NY Giants – MVP Donovan Mc Nabb (3 tds 240 yards passing)
What do you all think?