The Divisional Round
Well, I didn’t go 0-4 in the Wild Card Round as predicted, so 1-3 will have to do. But that one correct pick was the Seahawks, so I feel vindicated (would’ve gone 2-2 if I went with my gut). On a related note, fuck everybody. Speaking of vindication, I experienced a measure of that in the Eagles/Packers game on Sunday, albeit in the most depressing way possible. You see, the Eagles neglected to follow the offensive game plan that I proposed. You know which team did? The fucking Packers. It’s not surprising who won. I’m so far beyond being bitter and disappointed… at this point I just feel numbness when it comes to the Eagles’ annual failures. God only knows how I’m going to react if these dicks ever manage to pull their heads out of their asses long enough to win a Super Bowl. One thing is for sure: I’ll be blacking out. Anyway, as for this weekend’s Divisional Round matchups, can you remember a more entertaining week leading up to a pair of playoff games? The AFC is in prime form right now. That reminds me, does the NFC even have any teams playing this weekend? Where’s the shit-talking, guys? The senior conference couldn’t be any lamer right now. Someone call out Jay Cutler for not having a chin and being an overrated doucher/jackass. Something, anything. Come on. Alright, on to the picks…
Saturday, 4:30 PM ET: Ravens @ Steelers (-3)
We’re a few hours away from round three of the league’s most captivating and intense rivalry. These teams really, really hate each other. And it’s not just the recent sort of hate that exists between the Patriots and Jets. The hate between the Ravens and Steelers has been building and festering for a decade. Players come and go, but the mutual loathing remains. It’s awesome — this is what a rivalry is supposed to be. For my money, hockey has the best rivalries, but the consistent Ravens/Steelers bloodbaths are on that level.
So, aside from playing at least two times a year and always being involved in close, hotly contested games, there’s a simple reason why these teams hate one another so much. It’s because they remind the other of themselves. Both teams have built their reputations on defense and running the football — they’re going beat you by being more physical, more violent. You know, more manly. Shit, Ray Lewis got away with murder (happy 11-year anniversary!). Unfortunately, he gets points off for manliness for flipping on his two accomplices. For shame, Ray. I have to give you credit, disposing of the white suit (which was definitely bloodstained) in a place where the cops never found it was genius (or was it just plan old dumb luck?). Oh, and that reminds me, who knows how many people Terrell Suggs has killed — probably at least three or four by this point. So, in that regard, the Steelers are a bunch of pussies. The only criminal they have is James Harrison, and he’s such a bitch that he had to resort to beating up his girlfriend. Color me unimpressed. Minus infinity man points for that.
Anyway, I think I’m getting off track here. Back to the topic at hand. The only thing I really know about this game is that it will be decided by three points. Other than that, it really could go either way. No other two teams in the playoffs — in the league, actually — are this evenly matched. In my opinion, the game will come down to which defense is more opportunistic. Just like when Troy Polamalu blew up Joe Flacco and forced the fumble that led to the deciding touchdown in the second tilt between the Ravens and Steelers this season, which player on which defense will come up with the play that turns the game this time around? Well, since I’m such a big believer in karma, let’s go with Polamalu’s counterpart at safety, future Hall of Famer Ed Reed (who is also playing to honor his assumed-to-be-deceased brother; don’t discount the kind of motivation he’ll be drawing from that). By the way, that second tilt against the Steelers is the last game Baltimore lost. As poor as the Ravens defense was throughout the season at forcing turnovers, the unit seems to have recently reverted to its previous form. In the last five games, the defense has forced a remarkable 18 turnovers. You know how many turnovers that same unit forced through the first 12 games of the season? 15. Looks like that vaunted Ravens defense is rediscovering its swagger at precisely the perfect time.
Still, the Steelers have the intangible Roethlisberger factor on their side, and going against him in the playoffs is actually a riskier bet than picking against Tom Brady… if you go by winning percentage, that is (80% to 78%). Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t pick against Big Ben, but he’s playing on a foot that’s probably broken and behind a line that would have trouble blocking me from getting into the backfield. The only player worth a damn up front for Pittsburgh is Maurkice Pouncey — but he can’t play all five line positions simultaneously. I like Baltimore’s front seven to make it absolute hell for the Steelers offensive line — Ravens defenders just have to find a way to actually bring Roethlisberger to the ground once they get to him (no easy task). I’ll tell you one thing: If Ben (and that mischievous penis of his) has a chance to lead the offense down the field to win the game, he’s going to rip the hearts out of Baltimoreans everywhere. It doesn’t matter how awful the offensive line is, when it comes to winning time Roethlisberger is at his best — and it’ll be up to Joe Flacco to outplay him for the Ravens to emerge victorious.
My gut told me to go with the Ravens last week — in fact, I thought they’d win easily. That’s what made it so difficult to go through with the whole go-against-my-gut strategy for picking games. I admittedly picked the Chiefs based on absolutely no rational analysis whatsoever. Whoops. I gotta be honest, I wasn’t so sure about this game at the outset, but I’ve become more and more seduced by the Ravens as the week’s progressed. Plus, I’ve never seen my roommate, a Pittsburgh native and avid Steelers fan (and original guest poster — the one, the only, Kenjamin Beegan), so nervous about a game (direct quote: “I don’t know, man, you can just see it in their eyes”). Being on the road doesn’t phase the Ravenous ones, and home field advantage hasn’t mattered much in this series as of late (home team is 3-3 over the last six games). Yeah, I’m going with the Ravens to finally get over that Steelers hump, 5-2, in a slugfest that would make the old-timers proud. Ok, ok, fine, 16-13.
Over/under on cumulative number of serious injuries resulting from this game: 3.5
Saturday, 8 PM ET: Packers @ Falcons (-2.5)
People are riding the Packers just as much as they’re shitting all over the Falcons. Has a 13-3 team ever been this disrespected, especially when you consider how well it plays at home? I can’t think of another instance. So, with that, allow me to announce that I too will be taking a hearty dump on that 13-3 record. I’ve been saying it all season, the Falcons just don’t really do anything for me. They’ve had exactly two impressive wins — against the Ravens and Packers at home — and any Falcons fan who points to the 27-24 overtime win against the Saints in New Orleans should be punched in the face. You assholes realize that Garrett Hartley missed a 29-yard chip shot that would’ve won it for the Saints (after making a 32-yarder to tie it up with :04 left in regulation), right? Anyway, it’s now time for the second round of Falcons/Packers in the Georgia Dome. Looking at things objectively, I honestly think the Packers have the more talented roster, even with all their injuries. Now to go a little more in depth.
I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but Matt Ryan is 20-2 at home as a starter. Falcons fans jerk off to that statistic on a regular basis. Anyway, if the coon birds (Falcons fans’ nickname, not mine) manage to win this game, it won’t be because of Matty Ice. Enter Michael Turner, who probably had the quietest ~1400 rushing yard, 12 touchdown season in league history. He’s gotta be the guy on Saturday for the Falcons to advance. In the first matchup between these two teams, Turner (the Burner) carried the call 23 times for 110 yards and one touchdown. Expect more of the same this time around. In fact, look for him to get the ball closer to 30 times. The Falcons have more common sense than the Eagles, so there’s a real chance of them actually running the ball against a Packers defense that struggled to stop the ground game all season. Don’t let the 54/46 pass/run ration fool you, the dirty birds have never been shy about pounding the ball. In fact, it’s been their identity on offense ever since Mike Smith took over as head coach and Turner signed as a free agent. The only way the Falcons have a chance in this game is if their offensive game plan goes through Turner, so as to lessen the number of times Ryan has to be subjected to that relentless Packers pass rush. Still, I like Dom Capers (Packers’ defense coordinator) to make the necessary adjustments now that he’s already had a look at the Falcons offense. They’ll find a way to get after Matt Ryan, but will it come at the expense of stopping Michael Turner?
As for the Packers offense against the Falcons defense, I like the way things are set up for Aaron Rodgers and company. Quick, name two players on the Falcons defense. Yeah, thought so. I bet the only player you came up with was John Abraham (who needs to be in Rodgers’ face all game long), if you even managed that. One other guy whose name you should know, however, is that of cornerback Brent Grimes. He has quietly become one of the league’s best corners, and you can be sure he’ll be matched up on Greg Jennings all game. Rodgers will need to look to his other receivers to carry the load; I’m calling a big game for James Jones, despite his shitty performance against the Eagles (remember the egregious drop at the end of the first half that would’ve made it 21-3 Packers?). So, what about James Starks? What’s he going to do for an encore performance tomorrow? You can bet the Packers will try to establish the run again, but I wouldn’t count on Starks having the same kind of success as he did when he surprised the Eagles. The Falcons rank tenth in the league against the run, and they’ll be anticipating the Packers to come out with a game plan similar to last week. As such, I think Green Bay will do the exact opposite at the start and use the pass to set up the run — watch Rodgers chuck the ball all over the field against Atlanta’s 22nd ranked pass defense. He’s going to be the star of this game.
These are two very evenly matched teams, and this game is going to come down to whichever has the ball last, just as it did in the first meeting. However, instead of Matty Ice leading the game-winning drive this time, it’ll be Aaron Rodgers’ turn. I’m going with my gut again… Packers win 24-21 on a Mason Crosby field goal in the waning seconds.
Sunday, 1 PM ET: Seahawks @ Bears (-10)
The Seahawks were my surprise pick last week, and basically everyone said they didn’t have a chance in hell against the defending champion Saints. Now that they’ve become the fourth consecutive team without a winning record to win its first round playoff matchup, everyone is hopping on the bandwagon. Classic mistake. Yeah, I know Seattle beat Chicago, 23-20, at Soldier Field when the teams clashed in Week 6. This isn’t Week 6, it’s the Divisional Round of the playoffs, and the outcome will be different this time around. It seems like people are forgetting that the Seahawks simply aren’t a good football team, and no longer will they have the luxury of playing in front of a raucous and earthquake-inducing crowd at Qwest Field. Don’t underestimate just how important those frenzied fans are to the Seattle’s success. I’m pretty sure the crowd at Soldier Field isn’t going to be as enthusiastic about backing the Seahawks.
I’ll admit, my Seahawks prediction last week had a lot to do with Matt Hasselbeck’s impressive performance against the Saints’ defense when the teams met earlier in the season. He rewarded my faith, and as a sign of my gratitude I’ll be picking against him this round. The Seahawks are not winning this game, and they aren’t even going to cover the spread. The Bears have a better defense than the Saints and should be able to get pressure on Hasselbeck with their front four. Unlike New Orleans, Chicago is not a blitz-heavy unit, and that could spell trouble for the Seahawks’ quarterback, who excels against teams that bring extra pass rushers (i.e. the Saints). The Bears’ front four is as good as any in the league at getting to the quarterback, with Julius Peppers and Tommie Harris leading the way. Still, the name to remember on the Bears’ defensive line is Israel Idonije, the underrated and virtually unknown starter at defensive end opposite Peppers. A first-time starter after spending his first seven years in the league as a special teams ace and rotational end, the 30-year-old Idonije (FROM… the University of Manitoba, home of the Bison and a breeding ground for NFL talent) has flourished in his new role. He stands at an imposing 6-6, 270 lbs, and boasts athleticism that should be illegal for someone his size. I watched him make Eagles’ right tackle Winston Justice his bitch (although this isn’t much of a challenge) when Philly lost to Chicago at Soldier Field over Thanksgiving weekend. Seattle’s impressive rookie left tackle Russell Okung will be charged with blocking Peppers, so it will be up to Idonije to pick up the slack and generate pressure from his side. If the Bears’ front four can wreak havoc in the backfield like it normally does, it’s going to be a long day for Matt Hasselbeck and the Seattle offense.
Believe it or not, this is Jay Cutler’s first playoff game. Yeah, he has done a much better job of taking care of the football lately, but everyone knows he’s just one pick away from totally unraveling and throwing four more. So, what do you do when your quarterback, even though he has all the talent in the world, has a history of playing sloppy football? That’s right, let your running back handle the load on offense. Luckily for the Bears, they happen to have a damn good back in Matt Forte, who’s enjoying a bounce-back year after a disappointing sophomore season. Now, if Andy Reid is reading this piece, which he’s not, I want him to pay very close attention to what I write next. After the seventh game of the season, the Bears sat at 4-3 and looked like a total shit show on offense. Cutler was throwing more passes to the defense than his own receivers, and Mike Martz had a perpetual look on his face that intimated he longed for the days when he used to ride Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk’s coattails to victory. So, what did the Bears do in an attempt to get things on track? THEY RAN THE FUCKING FOOTBALL. Novel concept, I know. And do you know what happened to the Bears once they started running the offense through Matt Forte? They went over 100 yards rushing in eight of the final nine games and finished the season with a 7-2 record. Not only that, but Cutler started making better decisions and basically played lights out from that point forward. Isn’t it amazing how one phase of the game helps contribute to the success of another? So, Andy, still reading? There’s something to be learned here.
I like the Bears to win relatively easily, 28-10, and move on to the NFC Championship Game.
Sunday, 4:30 PM ET: Jets @ Patriots (-9)
Ahhh, finally, I get to write about this game, something I’ve been looking forward to all week. Have you ever heard a team that’s accomplished less talk as much trash as the Jets? And then they have the audacity to bitch and moan about Tom Brady pointing at their sideline after scoring a touchdown? Holy shit, shut up, you fucking losers. Let’s start with the head coach, Rex Ryan. Yeah, he talks a lot of shit because he’s confident and likes to show off this bravado. I’m not buying it. People who talk that much shit are normally insecure about something else in their lives. Maybe it’s his fat, ugly, sailboat feet? Maybe, secretly, all those times watching a line of black dudes run train on his wife has finally gotten to him? Or, maybe, just maybe, he’s simply not as good a football coach as he desires. Now for Antonio Cromartie. This is a guy who needed the Jets to front him half of his salary so he could pay alimony for the infinite number of kids he’s sired with an infinite number of women. Then, he further made an ass out of himself when he couldn’t remember all of his kids’ names or ages during an interview on HBO’s Hard Knocks. And now he’s calling out Tom Brady? Ask Anthony Smith, formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers, what happened when he called out the Patriots during their perfect regular season in 2007. He’s fallen off the face of the earth, so I’ll give you the run down: In the second quarter, Brady went deep to Randy Moss for a long touchdown. You know who got burned on the play? Yeah, Anthony Smith. I’m pretty sure he was out of the league the very next season. Is there any doubt that Brady makes Cromartie look like a fool on more than one occasion Sunday? None whatsoever. In the words of Terrence Newman, the Jets’ collective mouth is writing a check that its ass can’t cash (he may be a despicable Cowboy, but fuck if that’s not one of the best lines I’ve ever heard).
Who’s ready for more revenge of the Woodhead? Danny’s going to make the Jets regret cutting him even more than he did the last time these two teams played. Aside from the Super Bowls, it wouldn’t surprise me if this is the game Tom Brady has wanted to win most in his career. He lives to shut the haters up and prove the doubters wrong. I don’t see any way he doesn’t give a virtuoso performance and make the Jets pay dearly for ever opening their face holes. My dream scenario is as follows: Tom Brady scores a touchdown on a quarterback sneak from the one-yard line (after setting up the play by burning Cromartie), subsequently runs over to the Jets’ sideline, spikes the ball in Rex Ryan’s face, and then pulls out a picture of Michelle Ryan’s feet as he simulates her giving him a foot job. Boom. Best celebration of any sort in the history of humankind. Brady would instantly become my favorite non-Philadelphia athlete.
The Jets will probably be able to run the ball, but at some point the game will come down to Mark Sanchez having to make a play. That’s unfortunate for the Jets and their fans, because he’s terrible. If it were me, I’d put the over/under on picks Sanchez throws in this game at 2.5 — and lay down cash on the over. What I will bet on is Brady bringing it and reminding everyone why those yeah-the-three-Super-Bowls-are-nice-but-Manning-is-a-super-computer-and-you-couldn’t-go-19-0 arguments are juvenile, uneducated, and do a great disservice to his remarkable accomplishments as a quarterback (which, by the way, are among the most impressive in league history). There are four quarters in a football game for a reason; it’s a marathon that tests both physical and mental stamina and the will to deliver in the clutch. That’s what Brady’s always been about, adept preparation so he knows what to anticipate and how to attack whatever the defense throws at him. So he gets a haircut that makes him look like an 80’s movie vampire; it’s because he was waiting to sink his teeth into the Jets and shit all over their hollow talk. Also, I haven’t mentioned this yet because it goes without saying, but Bill Belichick is easily superior as a coach than Rex Ryan (and Rex knows it) — and he’ll win the battle of wits between the two. The results on the field speak for themselves, so much so that the Patriots never actually have to engage in a war of words through the media. The Jets are fucked.