Divisional playoff weekend


January is not my favourite time of year so the NFL playoffs are a little ray of sunshine in what would otherwise be a pretty depressing time of the year. As a UK NFL fan, the fact that there are games on Saturdays too is an even bigger bonus, as staying up till the early hours isn’t quite so bad when there is no work the next day.

Last week’s Wildcard post shows that predicting games is not one of my strengths (0-4 and a fiver lost). I can’t stray away from who I want to win rather than who I think will. Whatever the stats, or sometimes logical reason, I like to cling to the idea of a good story; especially if I have no personal bias towards the game. So this week, before I jump into a quick look at each of the games, I’m going to make two sets of predictions, what I’d like to happen and what I think probably will!

Wishlist Most likely
Baltimore @ New England Baltimore New England
Carolina @ Seattle Seattle Seattle
Dallas @ Green Bay Dallas Green Bay
Indianapolis @ Denver Indianapolis Denver

Saturday – Baltimore @ New England – 9.35pm GMT

As a Jets fan its unsurprising that I am holding onto the hope that Joe Flacco has once again found his unstoppable playoff form and will completely wipe the floor with the Pats at Foxborough. I have to admit (and this isn’t easy), that after watching Bill Belichick’s ‘A Football Life’ I slightly warmed to him, but his grumpy  press conferences this week just remind me why I dislike the Patriots.  Just answer the question about the weather Bill! Anyway, in reality, looking at the bigger picture it seems that the Patriots may put a stop to the Raven’s post-season run this year as Tom Brady has the best at home, cold weather stats in the league. Although this is likely to be a close game, with Flacco coming out all guns blazing as he always done in the playoffs, the strength of the Patriot secondary is likely to be a much larger test for Baltimore than Pittsburgh’s last week.

Sunday morning – Carolina @ Seattle – 1.05am GMT

This is the one game where my wish matches what I think will actually happen. Seattle are just too strong for Carolina, despite them making a lot of changes recently making them pretty different to the team which started out the year in poor form.  Its not just on D that Seattle are powerful, they have a top 5 rushing offense and Russell Wilson continues to make great plays, despite limited options at wide out. Once again Seattle seem to have peaked at the right time.  With Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvine on fire on the defense in the last few weeks, Cam Newton is going to be under much more pressure this week and although they have  great weapons such as Jonathan Stewart, the ‘12s’ factor is sure to compound this already  difficult task for the Panthers. Whether or not it will be a shut out remains to be seen but I can’t see there being an upset in Seattle in the early hours of tomorrow, which is good, as it probably means I won’t need to stay up until 4!

Sunday – Dallas @ Green Bay – 6.05pm GMT

Now THIS is the one I’m looking forward to; ‘The IceBowl’. Lambeau Field is looking chilly this week on NFL network although unlike some of the other frozen tundra in the NFL such as Chicago, the field is heated. This should mean little difference to the play on the field (it won’t be hard as a rock) but a difficult one for those on the sidelines, especially those with recurring back problems….or healing leg injuries….

Out of all the games this weekend this is the one I really want to go to the underdog. It will be hard for Dallas though. Aside from the home advantage for Green Bay  and the fact their quarterback is the likely league MVP,  Dallas are facing more strong offensive weapons in Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson. Their secondary did manage to mainly neutralise Megatron and Golden Tate in  last week’s game against Detroit and may look to do something similar with  Nelson and Cobb this week, however Aaron Rodgers does have a wider arsenal of plays which may cause more of a problem for the Cowboys safeties and backs. On the other side, the Green Bay secondary is not water tight and will have to cope with both Dez Bryant and Jason Witten (who had a big game last week). If DeMarco Murray can get moving this week, it may be a close call.  Most commentators are going with Green Bay on this, although Rodgers is untested since his injury. Whatever happens, it’ll be a good watch.

Indianapolis @ Denver – 9.35pm GMT

The best analogy for this game I’ve heard all week is the comparison to Star Wars; Peyton ‘Obi-Wan’ Manning, vs Andrew ‘Anakin Skywalker’ Luck. However, I think Peyton is more like Qui-Gon  – a little old but still got it, and Luck is Obi-Wan – skilful and wise before his years. I also don’t think Luck is likely to turn out evil! Whichever, this could be the weekend that the apprentice schools the Master, and I hope he does. The problem is that Peyton is not out yet, yes, people have been starting to notice a dip in his arm strength but the Broncos were still dominant on both sides of the ball across the season. If Julius Thomas is back, he will cause difficulties for the Colts as when they met earlier in the year.  I’m hoping that Luck will have a repeat of his play against the Bengals last week and that Chuck Pagano  will see fit to use Moncrief and ‘Boom’ Heron (great name) in a similar way. The defensive challenge which the Colts face this week will be greater than last week and the Mile High home advantage could also play into Peyton’s hands. This is a ‘Hollywood’ style match up which hopefully will live up to its billing with plenty of spectacular QB play.

You can watch all the playoff games in the UK on Sky Sports. Grab a beer (or a G&T like me and enjoy!

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