NFL Playoffs Divisional Round – Saturday Picks

Steelers -3, Packers +2.5 are my picks for the divisional round, see why below.

Ravens @ Steelers -3 - On the surface this game is a tossup.  These teams have had seemingly every game between them come down to a field, which this line is.  All week I was leaning Ravens with the major concern obviously being the mismatch at quarterback.  After more research, and a change in my gut, I now have to go with Pittsburgh.

  • Both teams have veteran teams, especially on defense but only Pittsburgh got to take a week off to rest.
  • Troy Polomula and Ed Reed are extremely important players in this game, Troy is rested while Reed has been dealing withhis brother’s death all week.  I think that mental fatigue will weigh on him.
  • Pittsburgh has the edge in both Yards Per Play offense and defense.  Yards Per Point are essentially a push.
  • Pittsburgh has the edge in offense and defensive 3rd down %.
  • Pittsburgh has a huge edge in Explosive Plays(20+ yards) gained and allowed.  This could be the difference in the game and was ultimately what swayed me.  The Steelers actually have a large edge in Explosive Plays over every team in the playoffs, including New England.

Both teams will show up and give us a great game.  I argue that when each team lost to the other in the regular season they actually outplayed the opponent.  The Ravens needed a last second touchdown pass to win with Big Ben sitting out.  The Steelers needed a huge strip sack on Flacco to get their winning touchdown.  In this game I think the Steelers will be able to get the one or two big plays needed to get control of the game and watch for those plays to go to Mike Wallace.  The running games for these teams cancel each other out and the Ravens have nobody close to the big play ability of Mike Wallace nor a quarterback the quality of Big Ben to pull that trigger.

Packers@ Falcons -2.5 – The first mathcup of these teams was an extremely close game that came down to a last second field goal, Atlanta won 20-17.  There were several factors that allowed Atlanta to win, or even stay in the game considering the Packers out-gained Atlanta by over 100 yards.

  • The Packers fumbled at the one yard line which potentially took away seven points, at worst took away three.
  • On the ensuing drive to end the half the Falcons caught a huge break in a non-replay of a fourth down drop by Tony Gonzalez.  The Packers had no time to review, the play stood, and the Falcons converted that drive into a touchdown.
  • Those two plays above resulted in a 10-14 point swing, which is quite large if you consider the Packers received the ball starting the 3rd quarter and could have been looking at building to a 17-3 lead.  This could have taken away the running game/play action game that is so effective for Atlanta and forced them to play into the Packers strength which is pass defense.
  • The Packers have an edge in Yards Per Play, but Atlanta is extremely efficient so the Yards Per Point is a push.
  • 3rd down % is also a push.
  • Atlanta has an edge on Special Teams, specifically the kick return game.  This edge can be minimized due to this being a playoff game and the Packers will likely put more starters on the coverage teams to neutralize the advantage.

This game is tough to call.  The Packers are slightly better on offense and defense but the Falcons do not make mistakes, are very good at moving the sticks, and are a tough out at home.  For me the clinching piece of evidence came from the Falcon loss to the Saints.  The Falcons played not to lose, choosing to punt late in the game on a 4th and short near midfield.  This resulted in a couple first downs and the game was iced by the Saints. 

That is who the Falcons are, they play it safe.  They are very similar to the Marty Shottenheimer teams in Kansas City and San Diego.  They run the ball, do not turn it over, do not commit penalties and have strong special teams.  These traits win in the regular season but these traits also develop a safe mindset.  That is who the Falcons are, they play it safe.  You cannot play it safe and win in the post-season.

On the other hand the Packers do not play it safe.  Against Detroit, with their backup quarterback in, on a 4th and 1 in the closing minutes the Packers went deep for the win but it fell incomplete.  The Packers continuously, to the dismay of many of us fans, will throw deep bombs on 3rd and 1.  This is frustrating as hell but it is who the Packers are.  If one team is going to hit a big play or two to swing this game it is much more likely to be Green Bay, because that is who they are.

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