PFF Pick'em: Divisional Round
On to the divisional round after three of our team, Khaled, Nathan and Sam, posted perfect 4-0’s for the wild cards last week.
In what may have been an expected sweep for the home teams with consensus picks all around, we’ve only got one game that came down that way this week as a smattering of road-team hope cropped up in three of the contests.
Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots
Ben – The Ravens have done well in playoff visits to New England in recent seasons but this is a much better all-around Patriots team that they face this time. Eugene Monroe’s return shores up the offensive line for the Ravens, but I just think the Patriots have the edge to sneak what should be another intense playoff encounter between these two.
Gordon – On paper the Ravens actually match up much better against the Patriots than they did against the Pittsburgh Steelers a week ago, with the interior defensive line a big mismatch against the interior of the New England offensive line. Still, the threat of Rob Gronkowski looms large and his battle with the Ravens defensive backs, with Will Hill a likely candidate to try to cover him, will be the key matchup in this one. I think it will be close, but the Patriots will win it late.
Khaled – Call me crazy but things in this game never go to script. As is I think the Ravens can win this in the trenches, with a running game that will get movement and a pass rush that will rattle Tom Brady up the middle.
Nathan – While Tom Brady has been great most of the season, he has just been average in recent weeks. Outside of Sebastian Vollmer the offensive line hasn’t done him any favors. He is going up against the best pass rush in the league, and that should be enough to limit the Patriots’ offensive firepower. The Patriots’ defense will also help keep things low scoring, but I think the Ravens can attack the Patriots’ weakness better than the other way around.
Neil – They may have struggled against the Ravens at this level in the recent past but don’t expect the same again. This is a far better New England defense than we’ve seen in recent years (although their lack of a pass rush is still a concern) and they should have just about enough firepower to see off a very good Ravens team. The secondary held up against the Steelers but I feel the Patriots will find different ways to exploit what is still a real weakness.
Rick – Had New England going to the Super Bowl in my preseason picks and their improved defensive play this season has me holding my ground. Might be a different story against another opponent, but I can’t see Baltimore being the team that takes them down; not this week.
Sam – I want to pick the Ravens here, but I just can’t. I’ve been quietly confident in their ability to make noise in the post season for a while, but they’ve been shaky enough that I just can’t be confident in it. They are set up to have success with a strong run defense, good O-line, devastating trio of pass-rushers, but they have enough holes that I suspect the Patriots find a way to beat them.
Steve – While the Ravens appear to have a strong matchup with their pass rush going up against the Patriots’ offensive line, I think New England is a better all-around team and their defense has them in good shape for the playoffs. New England’s offense will likely spread the field to try to slow down the rush so it’s on their passing game to win it in this one, while Joe Flacco and Baltimore need a more balanced attack. It will come down to Flacco making plays against New England’s secondary and I think the Patriots will match up well and make it difficult for the Baltimore passing game.
Carolina Panthers @ Seattle Seahawks
Ben – The Panthers’ defense has come alive late in the season and the recent encounters between these two teams would suggest that this is going to be a knock-down drag-out fight that could be decided by one big play one way or the other. I think the Seahawks are setup better to make those plays and if the Panthers repeat the errors they made against Arizona they will fall into a position that they can’t recover from.
Gordon – The 7-9 division winning Carolina Panthers heading into Seattle to take on the defending champions, it just seems likely to be a dominant win by the Seahawks, doesn’t it? But the Panthers finished the season strong and the Seahawks haven’t looked overly dominant for much of the season. There’s a big part of me that thinks they might spring the upset, but in the end I think a close win by Seattle, with a couple of big plays turning the game in their favor will be the way it shakes out.
Khaled – Losing Star Lotulelei is a huge blow to a team that need their defense to win. Even so, this one should be close given how the teams have played this year, and any big play either team can pick up might decide what you’d expect to be a defensive affair. Ultimately, the Seahawks have more talent which be the deciding factor.
Nathan – Both teams have a pass rush going up against a below average pass blocking line which will make passing the ball difficult in this game. The difference will be the run game, where I think the Seahawks with Marshawn Lynch has an edge over Jonathan Stewart, and the Seattle run defense has the edge over the Panthers’ run defense. Advantage, home team.
Neil – They’ve done brilliantly to get here but Seattle at home is definitely a bridge too far for the plucky Panthers. The defense should hold up well but I can’t see what is still a dysfunctional offense generating much other than turnovers against the Seahawks D. I hope it doesn’t get ugly – because that would not be fair reward for a solid season – but I fear it might.
Rick – Don’t see it turning out to be the tight fight many are looking forward to. Seattle gets up, pulls away, and starts planning for Green Bay.
Sam – I suspect this will be a universal pick, but I don’t think it will be a blowout win. I think Carolina can keep this close and are actually better set up than most to limit Seattle. The loss of Star Lotuleilei is a huge one, though, and should make up anybody’s mind that was on the fence.
Steve – Though these two teams have played some close games, I like Seattle at home to control the action. It would take a career performance from Panthers QB Cam Newton who seemed to make all of the hard throws last week while leaving the easy ones on the table, but he’ll need to be close to perfect to move the ball on Seattle’s defense. The Seahawks will ride Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson to victory with a nice blend of the run and pass.
Dallas Cowboys @ Green Bay Packers
Ben – From what looked like another disappointing home playoff defeat, the Cowboys came back grasping every opportunity they were given to turn the Lions over. This should be a great game but I just give the edge to the Cowboys’ ability to dictate the pace, the best thing they can do in this game to protect their defense is to lean on their offensive line and DeMarco Murray and in spite of Aaron Rodgers’ threat, I think the Cowboys are well set up to control the tempo of this game and march on.
Gordon – I thought Dallas was the home team most susceptible to a loss last weekend, despite picking them to win, and while I think they can keep it close in Green Bay, I don’t see them beating the Packers. With Aaron Rodgers at the helm I think the Packers win a shoot out on Sunday afternoon, with plenty of big plays on either side to keep everyone entertained.
Khaled – I just don’t see how the Dallas defense can slow the Packers down. That will put a kind of pressure on Tony Romo I don’t think he’ll be able to cope with and leave Green Bay one game from a Super Bowl.
Nathan – The Packers’ biggest strength is their pass offense while the Cowboys’ biggest weakness is their run defense. On the other hand the Cowboys’ biggest strength is their run game while the Packers’ biggest weakness is their run defense. In a game like that, even in the cold, I think passing wins.
Neil – But for the officials botching it badly, Dallas should have gone down last week but, to some degree, that wrong will be righted here. The Cowboys have got good weapons but to a large extent some are overrated; Romo played poorly last week and the win at the end doesn’t obviate that. Murray is looking more and more a function of his o-line. Clearly they can win, but that means Romo playing good football and Murray getting back to breaking tackles.
Rick – The improved D in Dallas won’t be enough to contain Rodgers & Co. and having to chase the game will take Murray out of it. The efficient Green Bay offense marches on.
Sam – This might be the best game of the weekend on paper. Green Bay and Dallas are both strong teams with a lot to like. We have to assume Rodgers will be OK given he came back into the game hurt, but at the very least he’s going to be fragile in freezing conditions with muscles liable to tweak at any point. If he stays healthy all game I think the Packers win.
Steve – Sticking to my preseason pick of the Packers going to the Super Bowl, that offense has too many weapons for most defenses to handle. The Cowboys will give it a good shot with their underrated group of pass rushers that could make things interesting for the Packers. Throw in the league’s best offensive line and this looks like it should be a classic matchup. I’ll still take Aaron Rodgers making more plays and winning the game, but this could end up as the weekend’s best game.
Indianapolis Colts @ Denver Broncos
Ben – As impressive as Andrew Luck and the likes of Erik Walden were last week I still can’t help but think we saw the same from the Colts back in Week 7 and they came out soon after with heavy defeats to the Steelers and the Patriots. On current form, Andrew Luck gives the Colts the edge at quarterback which could be decisive but the rest of the team around the two players the edge goes to the Broncos and I think John Elway’s’ diligent roster building around Peyton Manning will just pay dividends in this one.
Gordon – Another Peyton Manning playoff appearance means that the pressure is on the Broncos to win to avoid more talk of the signal-caller not being able to get it done in the postseason. His heir in Indianapolis heads to Denver on the back of one of his best performances of the year to try and pick apart a Denver secondary featuring Chris Harris Jr., who’s playing at a level that wouldn’t have been considered possible after a serious knee injury a year ago. In the end, I think the Broncos more balanced attack with C.J. Anderson running the ball compared with previous seasons will be enough to see them onto the AFC Championship game again.
Khaled – Time to find out a few things. Is Peyton Manning done as an elite quarterback? Is Andrew Luck ready to become one. I’ll say no to both as the Denver defense asks too much out of Luck, and the Denver running game provides the perfect complement to an efficient Manning.
Nathan – In most areas Denver has more talent than Indianapolis does. The biggest thing that could prevent a home win is if Andrew Luck catches fire which he has been known to do. Even if he is on fire, he would need to do more than he typically does with how many quality players Denver has on offense and defense. I think the odds are against him there, so, more likely that Denver wins.
Neil – My one weekend shock is predicated on the best game I have seen Luck play for some time – he cut back drastically on the bone-headed errors – and Manning’s form going off a cliff this year. The numbers may say different but if he’s been one of the Top 10 QBs this year it’s not been by much. I just fancy an upset and this is the game.
Rick – Despite focus being on the two QBs, the Denver run game supplies the edge here, giving the Broncos what they need to move on for one more Manning-Brady Championship Game matchup.
Sam – There’s a good chance all four home teams win, but if there’s a road upset I think this is it. Andrew Luck was excellent last week and if he plays like that against the Broncos he’ll be the better of the two quarterbacks out there and it might be enough to pull off a shock.
Steve – The Colts were impressive last week and they’ll have to be on point to pick up the win in Denver. Despite Peyton Manning having his ups and downs this season, the Broncos have shown that they can win in multiple ways, so their new-found running attack will likely be a focal point. Andrew Luck is coming off perhaps the best game of his career and he’ll need to match it against a stout Denver defense that has talent up front and in the secondary. The Colts’ defense is inconsistent, but capable, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they pulled the upset, but it would take a near-perfect performance and Denver has too many ways to win, so I think they come out on top.