Last week I went 3-1 with my straight picks, and split against the spread. I hope to do better this week. Here are my straight picks this week:
Denver over Baltimore
San Francisco over Green Bay
Atlanta over Seattle
New England over Houston
Yep, no real surprises, taking all of the favorites. The odds are against me that all the favorites and home teams will win. But I feel like 2012 will be an aberration from previous years where home teams/favorite generally split in the wildcard and divisional rounds. Click on after the jump to read the more detailed breakdowns of my picks.
Baltimore Ravens (11-6) at Denver Broncos (13-3)
Saturday January 12, 2013 at 4:30 pm ET on CBS
*Line: Broncos (-10)
This is going to be an interesting game because it’s a rematch of a Week 15 blowout in which Denver blew out Baltimore 34-17.
But what I’m interesting in is the fact that the Ravens have undergone several changes since then. Kelechi Osemele is no longer the right tackle, as Von Miller abused him for 2 hits and 6 hurries in that game (per Pro Football Focus). Michael Oher has moved back to his natural right tackle spot, with Osemele moving inside to left guard, and Bryant McKinnie now manning left tackle. Will this shuffle make a difference against Miller? I don’t know, but it’s one of those things that could be the deciding factor in a Ravens upset.
The other factor is Ray Lewis and the inspirational upgrade it might bring to the Ravens defense. Is Lewis going to be a major factor? Probably not. But if his presence can inspire Paul Kruger, Haloti Ngata, Ed Reed, and Cary Williams to play at a high level, then it could tip things in the favor of the Ravens. Maybe they get a couple of turnovers and that could make the difference in the game.
But the problem the Ravens face mainly is their struggles on the outside. Without Lardarius Webb, can they handle Denver’s big receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker? Jimmy Smith has struggled this year, and if he gets extended reps that could spell trouble for Baltimore (he only played 2 snaps against the Colts).
Basically if Denver’s good players on offense and defense play their normal, excellent games, then the Ravens really won’t win. Those players are Thomas, Decker, Peyton Manning, Miller, and Champ Bailey. The Ravens need some of those guys to have a bad week and I don’t know if it will happen. But because of the bye week, it’s possible Denver could come out rusty early, and Baltimore takes advantage.
They will need Flacco to play well, something he has rarely done on the road this year. Torrey Smith really needs to go off, and Ray Rice needs to protect the ball and be able to move it consistently on the ground. As I noted last week, I’m going to be rooting for the Ravens for personal reasons to pull the upset. But it’s probably not going to happen.
I’m not writing off the Ravens as I won’t be shocked if they win. But if they do, it’ll be another instance of a team rising to the occasion and playing inspired so that they exceed their overall ability. It’s possible, but things like that don’t happen very often in the playoffs. Most of the times when a team upsets another, it’s usually because the underdog matched up better than probably most people assumed. The Ravens have some weapons (Rice, Flacco, and Reed), but they will need great games from them this week to pull off the improbable upset.
I want to pick the Ravens, just because I’m rooting for them. But my desire to see them win is trumped by my conceited desire to be perfect on my picks.
Spread Pick: Ravens
Straight Pick: Broncos
Green Bay Packers (12-5) at San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1)
Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 8:00 pm ET on FOX
*Line: 49ers (-2.5)
This is also a rematch of a regular season game, but this one dates back to Week 1. And similarly, teams have changed. Most notably, Colin Kaepernick is under center for the San Francisco 49ers.
I barely even recall that season opening game. I just remember thinking that the Packers would make a valiant second half comeback, but that did not happen.
The 49ers are the better team and match up fairly well with the Packers. But they are still the Green Bay Packers. And if Aaron Rodgers is hot, then they are tough to beat. Getting Charles Woodson back should be a boost to their team.
The big concern with the 49ers is the health of Justin Smith, but he’s expected to suit up on Saturday. But how effective will he be? I’m not sure. Smith hasn’t had a great season, but the tandem of Smith up front and Aldon Smith behind him is very scary for any team, especially for the Packers given how inconsistent the play of left tackle Marshall Newhouse and left guard T.J. Lang has been this season. But the real scary aspect of Green Bay’s front is right tackle Don Barclay, their weakest link, who will be facing a combination of Ray McDonald and Ahmad Brooks. Pressure will make a difference in this game. If the 49ers can get pressure on Rodgers as they did in Week 1 and most teams have done throughout this season, it spells trouble for the Packers.
But on the flipside, if Clay Matthews and the Packers can get pressure on Kaepernick, good things can happen. If you’re betting which QB is likely to face the most heat, the smart money is on Rodgers.
Another question will be whether Kaepernick gets the “deer in the headlights” look from playing in his first playoff game. He might start sluggish, but given the home crowd, I’d be surprised if Kaerpernick struggles for all four quarters. I wasn’t too high on Kaepernick’s NFL prospects when he came out two years ago, but he’s played well this year. And if he has a strong game on Saturday, I’ll be willing to concede that I was off on my assessment. And if you know anything about me and my ability to admit wrongness, you know that’s a big step.
I think Green Bay can win, if they can slow down Frank Gore and their deep secondary can create some turnovers. That coupled with a good game by Rodgers against a weak 49ers secondary, Green Bay could pull the road upset. That’s the biggest weakness of the 49ers, on the back-end. And if they cannot get pressure due to the ailing status of Justin Smith, the Packers could really do damage.
But in all honesty, I don’t see a ton of difference between that 2010 Packers team that won it all and this year’s team, at least on paper. That was a team that wasn’t all that great during the regular season either and really turned it on for the playoffs, where there offense and pass defense was lights out. Can this year’s team do the same? Perhaps. All of the pieces are there. The only major difference is the offensive line with Chad Clifton and Bryan Bulaga in 2010, with Newhouse and Barclay now in 2012.
Spread Pick: 49ers
Straight Pick: 49ers
Seattle Seahawks (12-5) at Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
Sunday, January 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm ET on FOX
*Line: Falcons (-1)
It’s time the Falcons rose up. They’ve been kicked around in the playoffs and all of the conditions are ripe for them to finally change their fortunes. Seattle is a good team that has been hot over the past two months, but they aren’t a great team. The Seahawks will have the utmost confidence that they can travel to Atlanta and beat a Falcon team that has never won a playoff game under Mike Smith.
I think they will be sorely mistaken.
I expect this to be a close ballgame that comes down the final possessions in the fourth quarter. Neither team is significantly better than the other to expect any sort of blowout. I’m fully aware of Seattle’s ability to win this game by running the ball effectively with Marshawn Lynch coupled with Russell Wilson’s playmaking abilities causing fits for the Falcons’ lackluster pass rush and run defense. I also know that Seattle has a good defense with a pair of corners that many feel are the best in the league, and can match up with who those same people feel are the best tandem of receivers in the league.
But I think all of that won’t come to fruition. I think Roddy and Julio will prove they are indeed the best pair of receivers in the league and showcase that Browner and Sherman are overrated. I think the Falcons defense and Mike Nolan will play a very good game against Wilson and Lynch, keeping them contained and showing the same patented ability to create their own big plays and turnovers they’ve shown throughout this season at home.
I just really feel that this team is not too shy for the spotlight this year. Unlike previous years, I don’t expect them to come out with flawed game plans or tentative play. They know they have to win this game, but I don’t think they are going to get too tight for it. I think Mike Smith & Co. will have them prepped and ready to go. And the Falcons will shock the football-watching world, very little of which believes they are going to win this game.
Spread Pick: Falcons
Straight Pick: Falcons
Houston Texans (13-4) at New England Patriots (12-4)
Sunday, January 13, 2013 at 4:30 pm ET on CBS
*Line: Patriots (-9.5)
The third regular season rematch of this round. The Patriots worked the Texans late in the year, beating them 42-14 in Week 14. That game came at the end a three-game road stand against arguably the best team in the NFL (definitely in the Top 4), a tough situation for any team, even a team as good as the Texans. They rebounded the following week working over a Colts team at home. But then after that point, the Texans looked more like the team that got waxed by New England, and thus it’s harder to argue that game was a one-game aberration. They will have to go back to New England coming off a lackluster opening round win against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Houston has the ingredients to beat the Patriots, but they need to play their best possible game. The key figures in this game will be J.J. Watt and Arian Foster. No big surprise there. If the Texans defense can get heat on Brady, he has a tendency to struggle. That will be mainly on Watt, who had a good game previously against the Pats, but not enough to thwart them alone. The Texans gave up some big pass plays in that game, and can’t afford to do so again. They’ll need Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson to play up their abilities and contain the likes of Welker, Hernandez, Lloyd, and Gronkowski. Worth noting that Gronk did not play in that game, which certainly favors New England this time around.
Offensively, Houston needs to pound the rock with Foster and keep the Patriots explosive offense off the field. This is a recipe for success as many will point out the 2010 playoffs, where the Patriots waxed a Jets team in Week 13 and then played them following a first round bye in the playoffs and got handly beat.
Will that happen to this year’s Patriots team? No, probably not. It’s hard to bet against J.J. Watt wreaking havoc, but the Texans team looks like one that is waiting to be put out of its misery unless Kubiak can rally the troops this week. Given that Kubiak hasn’t really rallied them at any point in their month-long slide, there’s no reason to think he’ll do so this week.
Spread Pick: Texans
Straight Pick: Patriots
* Lines come from ESPN.com.