With the New England Patriots on a bye this week before their matchup next Sunday night (4:30 EST, CBS), this preview will focus on the other four matchups being played this weekend. Let’s start with the Saturday games:
Saints at Seahawks (4:30 EST, NBC): Everyone thinks this game is going to be a blowout and rightfully so. The Seattle Seahawks come into this game as the NFC West champions, but with the worst record of a division winner in NFL history. In order for Seattle to have a chance in this game, Matt Hasselbeck has to get the start. In a 34-19 loss to the Saints in Week 12, Hasselbeck threw for 366 yards and one touchdown. He has been to a Super Bowl, while Charlie Whitehurst has not started many regular season games, much less a playoff game.
The key in this game is going to be in the running game. For Seattle, they have a decent running back in Marshawn Lynch that can take some pressure off of the passing game and keep Drew Brees on the sideline. The running game was atrocious in the first meeting, so Seattle needs to run and control the clock.
As for the Saints, they need to find some resemblance of a running game, because they don’t have many healthy running backs left. Christopher Ivory and Pierre Thomas are now on injured reserve, so Reggie Bush and Julius Jones will need to provide some sort of balance to help Drew Brees avoid pressure. Seattle is 13th in sacks in the NFL and did get after Sam Bradford at times on Sunday.
Prediction: Seahawks hang around for a half, but Drew Brees is too much for Seattle. Saints 31 Seahawks 13
Jets at Colts (8:00 EST, NBC): This is the matchup that, if you are a Patriots fan, you can’t win either way because one of your hated rivals is going to move on no matter what. This is also a rematch of the AFC Championship game a year ago when Indy dominated the second half in a 30-17 win.
This is going to come down to whether or not the Jets can get pressure on Peyton Manning. New York’s pass rush has not been effective as of late against spread QB’s like Tom Brady or a Jay Cutler. New York is also one of the worst teams in forcing turnovers. This is a Colts’ offense that has averaged 29.3 ppg over its last four games as it has found a balance at running back with the return of Joseph Addai and even Dominic Rhodes. They also have stopped the likes of Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden, and Maurice Jones-Drew on the ground over the last couple of weeks with the return of linebacker Gary Brackett.
Rex Ryan needs to find the ground and pound offense he had in the beginning of the season. Shonn Greene needs to get the bulk of the carries because LaDanian Tomlinson has a bad history in playoff games and Mark Sanchez is dealing with the sore shoulder despite putting up 34 on a good Bears’ offense in week 16.
Prediction: Sanchez will have a good game, but I think it comes down to the 4th quarter and Peyton Manning is one of the best QB’s in the clutch and Adam Vinatieri will make another big kick. Rex will lose to Peyton again.
Colts 24 Jets 21
Ravens at Chiefs (1:00 EST, CBS): The battle of the defensive force against the best running tandem, statistically, in the NFL. Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones have had an outstanding year running the football for a Todd Haley coached team, but can they run the ball on this vaunted Ravens’ defense of Haloti Ngata, Ed Reed, and Ray Lewis?
Also, can Kansas City pass the ball efficiently? Matt Cassel should be given many cheers from Patriots’ fans for succeeding in Kansas City, but we have seen in the past how he handles defenses who can get after the passer. He has been sacked 26 times this season and Baltimore can rush the passer. This is where he needs tight end Tony Moeaki to be his check down to help him move the football. There is also a question at quarterback for Baltimore. Despite a 3-2 road playoff record, Flacco has one touchdown and six interceptions in those games.
Prediction: In the end, I think Kansas City does not achieve enough in the passing game to get the job done. Ed Reed makes a big INT to lead to a trip to Foxboro for the Ravens next week. Look for Ray Rice to do what the Raiders did in Week 17 and run for 100 yards in this game.
Ravens 20 Chiefs 10
Packers at Eagles (4:30 EST, FOX): In Week One, the Packers beat the Eagles in Philly 27-20, but Kevin Kolb was the starting quarterback for Philly in that game. Michael Vick had his coming out party in that game, but can he do it a second time against the Green Bay Packers’ pass rush?
The key for offensive coordinator Marty Morhinweg is going to be to include running back LeSean McCoy in the offense. McCoy is a 1000 yard rusher, but the Eagles’ offensive line needs to protect Vick, who has seen a lot of cornerback blitzes the last few weeks. Charles Woodson, on the Packers’ side, can take advantage of that as well as well as one of the frontrunners for defensive player of the year in linebacker Clay Mathews.
On Green Bay’s side of the ball, Aaron Rodgers needs to pick up where he left off in that epic performance against the Giants in Week 16. Rodgers had four touchdowns in that game, but he needs help from running backs Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn in order to throw the deep fade to Greg Jennings. Philly has 23 INT’s this year, with seven from former Patriot great Asante Samuel.
Prediction: This game will stay close, but Philly gives up 24 points per game on defense. That is not exactly the best stat going for you against Aaron Rodgers. Vick can change a game, but he has to stay upright, and I don’t think he will. This Packers’ team reminds me of the 2007 Giants and that is not something New England would want to see in Dallas
Packers 31 Eagles 23