NFL playoff picks: Divisional Round

After an exciting Wildcard Weekend, the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs is next up. In the AFC, we will see both divisional-round games within the same conference featuring matchups of division rivals for the first time in NFL history. In the NFC, we will see two re-matches from this season, with the stakes much higher this time around. Here is a look ahead to this weekend’s games.

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Ravens vs. Steelers is one of the greatest rivalries in today’s NFL. Both teams are centered around punishing defences as well as a strong reliance on the running game. The Ravens beat the Steelers 17-14 back in Week 4, which was the Steelers final game without suspended QB Ben Roethlisberger but the Steelers got their revenge in a 13-10 victory on Dec. 5th. This game will no doubt be down to the wire once again. The Ravens should be able to contain Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall which will leave it to Roethlisberger to assault the Ravens’ secondary. If Roethlisberger is able to scramble out of the pocket and make plays without making many mistakes (only five INT’s all season) and Troy Polamalu and James Harrison are able to get to Flacco early, the Steelers and their home crowd will be too much to handle.

Prediction: Steelers 21, Ravens 20

New York Jets @ New England Patriots

While this may be the matchup outspoken New York Jets coach Rex Ryan wanted, I’m not sure all Jets fans would agree with him. New England finished the season at 14-2 and looked dominant while doing it. The Patriots have not scored fewer than 31 points since Nov. 7 and torched the Jets 45-3 just over a month ago. The Jets defence is one of the best in the league but will be in tough trying to stop Brady who threw 36 TD’s this year with a mere 4 INT’s, with the last one coming two weeks prior to Halloween. In order for the Jets to pull off the upset, the defence will have to be outstanding and QB Mark Sanchez will have to be better. Expect the Jets to keep this one close but the fact is that the Jets offence will not be able to keep up with that of the mighty Patriots.

Patriots 24, Jets 17

Green Bay Packers @ Atlanta Falcons

The Green Bay Packers are on their way to Atlanta following a huge road win in Philadelphia. These two teams faced off back in Nov. with Atlanta winning 20-17 on a last second field goal, even though the Packers amassed 418 yards of offense. The problem for the Packers that day was their run game. Green Bay’s leading rusher that day was Aaron Rodgers with a measly 51 yards. This has all changed with the emergence of Green Bay RB James Starks. Starks had 123 yards on the ground over the Eagles which significantly balanced the Green Bay offence. If the Packers are able to establish a balanced offensive attack as well as get at Falcons’ QB Matt Ryan using Dom Capers’ defensive blitz schemes similar to what they did against Michael Vick, they will be in the NFC Championship game.

Packers 28, Falcons 21

Seattle Seahawks @ Chicago Bears

In the most surprising game of the weekend, the upstart Seattle Seahawks visit the NFC North Champs, the Chicago Bears. The Seahawks shocked the world last week beating the defending Superbowl Champs at home. The teams played back in Oct. with the Seahawks beating the Bears, 20-17. The Seahawks will not have the advantage of the “12th man” at Qwest Field to push them like last week and because of an early start time and the time difference, the game will be played at 10am Seattle time. The Bears should be able to stuff the run effectively, leaving much of the offensive pressure on a beat up Matt Hasselbeck. Seattle’s offense and defence were ranked at virtually the bottom of the league and it is improbable that the Seahawks can pick up a win on the road, against a very tough Bears team, in what could be terrible weather conditions.

Bears 24, Seahawks 13