This is exactly the site Patriots don't want to see Saturday, as the Ravens have won two of the last three playoff games at Gillette Stadium.
Week 19: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
DIVISIONAL ROUND EDITION
DIVISIONAL ROUND RESULTS: 3-1 wins (.750); 3-1 v. spread (.750)
Baltimore Ravens 11-6 (+7) @ New England Patriots 12-3 (47.5): Patriots 27-24 Patriots 35-31
Saturday, 4:35 PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: Sunny, low 20s)
Reasons: The one match up the Patriots didn’t want; the Ravens come into Foxborough having won two of the last three playoff games at Gillette Stadium, all since 2009. Not only are the Ravens a historically tough match up, they’re a literal tough match up Saturday. The Patriots and Ravens are relatively evenly matched in most yardage, points, and situational statistics; about the only place the two teams divert is with offensive Red Zone efficiency, offensive 3rd-down conversions, and turnovers. The real difference this year, and the reason for the seven-point spread, that that the Patriots have never had all of their wide receivers and tight ends, specifically Rob Gronkowski, available to them against the Ravens. The Patriots also didn’t have Darrell Revis and Brandon Browner. Those former Ravens teams were playing with much more spirit (Ray Lewis) and this current Patriots team is far too talented.
The Patriots came back from down 14 points twice in this game and picked off Joe Flacco’s last gasp effort in the end zone to seal the win after a wild, evenly matched Divisional game between two evenly matched teams. Flacco looked brilliant in the first half, but two costly INTs did Flacco and the Ravens in. The Patriots pulled brilliant tricks out of their offensive bag, including a 51-yard TD pass from WR Julian Edleman and a legal formation new to professional football, prompting Ravens head coach John Harbaugh to embarrass himself by suggesting the Patriots were calling illegal plays, and then once finding out they were legal, suggesting the Patriots were pulling cheap shot moves. Tom Brady responded by saying Harbaugh should study the playbook more; I say people that live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Considering the level of integrity the Ravens’ organization has in the face of all their many horrific domestic violence issues, forcing victims to apologize for their roles, and championing players who both went to prison for drugs, and who were acquitted of homicide but convicted of obstruction of justice, perhaps the last thing the Ravens’ should be doing is accusing model organizations of everything under the Sun in pathetic, desperate attempts to bring them to their level. New England only rushed for seven yards on three carries to Baltimore’s 135 yards on 28 carries (Justin Forsett ran for 129 on 24 carries), but Brady threw for 367 yards and 3 TDs in addition to Edleman’s 51-yard TD. The Patriots committed one fewer turnover – the key to the victory. The Patriots now play in their 4th straight AFC Championship, and 9th in the 14 years of the Belichick-Brady duo.
Carolina Panthers 8-8-1 (+11) @ Seattle Seahawks 12-4 (39.5): Seahawks 24-20 Seahawks 31-17
Saturday, 8:15 PM, CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA (Weather: 20% rain, high 40s)
Reasons: The Carolina Panthers defense has only allowed 14.4 ppg over the last five weeks including the playoffs, and Jonathan Stewart had more rushing yards than any other running back in the league over the last four weeks of the season. The only problem with that is their opponent only allowed 15.9 ppg over the entire season, and their running back Marshawn Lynch is the league’s premier running back and finished fourth among all backs. Despite the ride the Panthers have been on going from disappointment to NFC South title, Carolina might be running into the hottest team in the NFL. The Seahawks have the league’s top-ranked rushing offense, passing defense, scoring defense, and are tied with New England for the largest point differential per game (+9). Considering the game is at CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks are 16-2 the last two seasons, including the playoffs, the Panthers stand little chance. The Panthers fought the Seahawks hard Week 8, losing 13-9, but the Panthers hadn’t hit their low mark yet at that point, while the Seahawks were just ascending from their early season funk. The spread may seem ridiculous, but the Sharps don’t ride the emotional rollercoaster like the fans do.
If you didn’t watch this game you would have no any idea how close it was. The Seahawks only led 17-10 with just under 11 minutes left in the 4th quarter, and Seattle closed the game with fewer first downs, fewer offensive yards, fewer rushing yards, a lower rushing average, and more penalties in eight fewer minutes of possession; the defense even had the same number of sacks (2). The problem was, the Seahawks beat the Panthers soundly in the two categories that matter most: turnovers (3 – 2 INTs; 1 fumble) and the final score (31-17). The Seahawks would be the first to admit the Panthers played a smash-mouth style akin to their own, and were probably stunned the Panthers hung around so long on the shoulders of a rookie wide receiver and by their 132 rushing yards (30 carries). Kelvin Benjamin, the clear case ROY if he weren’t part of the greatest rookie wide receiving class in recent memory, gave the Seahawk’s secondary fits at times, gaining 75 yards and 2 TDs on seven receptions (10 targets) –there could have been far more if not for a few near misses. The game belonged to the Seahawks, however, as Russell Wilson outplayed Cam Newton and the defense, specifically Kam Chancellor, outplayed the Panthers. We won’t even get into Chancellor leaping the line to block a FG twice and returning an INT for a TD. The Seahawks are one step closer to becoming the first team since the ’03-’04 New England Patriots to repeat as Champions and face a hobbled Aaron Rodgers at home to get there.
Dallas Cowboys 13-4 (+6) @ Green Bay Packers 12-4 (52.5): Packers 28-27 Packers 26-21
Sunday, 1:05 PM, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI (Weather: Mostly cloudy, high teens)
Reasons: The Cowboys are 8-0 on the road this season, and the Packers are 8-0 at home; this is the first such match up in playoff history. The game comes down to two juggernaut offenses with similar styles and mediocre defense clashing in Lambeau for only the second time in history since the Ice Bowl in 1967. These teams are evenly matched; these teams “win” their games 30-22 (Packers) and 29-22 (Cowboys). The Packers have one of the better passing offenses in the league (8th) and the Cowboys and DeMarco Murray have the league’s second-ranked rushing offense. The same can be said for the defenses – the Cowboys have the 8th-ranked rush defense and the Packers have the league’s 10th-ranked pass defense. Clearly it helps to play against these guys all week in practice. The game really comes down to Aaron Rodgers’ health and the Cowboys nerves. Dallas has gone from the “accident waiting to happen” to the “Super Bowl Champ waiting to happen”, and hopes run high through the Texas plains. If Rodgers is 75% of himself the Cowboys defense could be in for a long day, but if Rodgers can’t be Rodgers, and Tony Romo can avoid living up to his playoff name, then the Cowboys stand a real chance.
It shall be forever known as “The [no] Catch”. In a play that will be debated for years, and could spark a changing of the rule, Dez Bryant was ruled to have not maintained control throughout the entire process of the reception, although to me, and at least 75% of the live and aftermath viewers, not only did Bryant maintain control, he arguably scored a TD on the play considering he officially gained final control in the end zone. Regardless, no game can ever be reduced to one play, and the Cowboys had their chances. DeMarco Murray rushed for 123 yards and a TD on 25 carries, but had a costly fumble; Romo played well, but was sacked four times and was under pressure all day. The Packers missed a two-point conversion, committed 10 penalties for 87 yards and lost a fumble themselves (Aaron Rodgers), but the play of Rodgers (316 passing yards and 3 TDs), Eddie Lacy (100 rushing yards), and rookie Davante Adams (117 receiving yards and 1 TD) overcame the mistakes – and the controversial call – to survive the Divisional round and win a trip to soggy Seattle for the NFC Championship against a freshly sharpened buzzsaw.
Indianapolis Colts 12-5 (+7) @ Denver Broncos 12-4 (54): Broncos 28-24 Colts 24-13
Sunday, 4:40 PM, Mile High Stadium, Denver, CO (Weather: Sunny, high 40s)
Reasons: Unfortunately for the Indianapolis Colts they’re only good at one thing, throwing the ball. The Denver Broncos just happen to be led by the guy who wrote the book on passing. Also unfortunate for the Colts is that the Broncos happen to have a respectable defense, and CJ Anderson has been one of the best running backs in the NFL the second half of the season. The Colts don’t give up many yards, but they give up points and turn the ball over, something the Broncos don’t do, but take advantage of. The Colts are also worst in the league defending the Red Zone, which will prove to be trouble on the road against the Broncos, who rank 4th in offensive Red Zone efficiency. Andrew Luck is the future of the NFL, but he’s no Peyton Manning yet, and even Manning could never put the entire team on his shoulders and beat the best teams in the AFC, just ask the Patriots. Manning proves he’s been playing possum lately and springs back to life in time to represent the Broncos in their third AFC Championship in Manning’s three years there.
Peyton Manning looked so bad at times in this game that post game analysts started wondering if he should retire; then it was reported Manning had a torn quadriceps the last four week of the season into the playoffs. I find that hard to believe as we clearly saw him throw off of his plant leg, the leg in question, but Manning is clearly not 100% - no kidding, he’s 38 years old and in his 18th season. Considering he's played in 24 playoff games, he's technically played 19 ½ season. Besides a TD pass on the opening drive, Manning and the Broncos looked abysmal. The running game, the heart of this team the past month of the regular season, was held to 88 rushing yards on only 20 carries, and Manning completed 56% of his passes for only 211 passing yards, 25% of which came in garbage time. Andrew Luck threw two INTs, but they either served as punts or the Broncos weren’t able to do anything with the turnover anyway, so they weren’t costly. Luck also threw two TDs and helped strengthen Jim Irsay’s ego regarding his decision to let Manning go and draft Luck. Talk about luck. Just as the Packers now have to travel to Seattle and face an animal, so now do the Colts, who haven’t played so well in New England. Some people will tell you the Colts defense caught fire against the Broncos and held them to 13 points. I’m here to tell you the Broncos offense was just that bad and that the Colts will have their hands full with Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots in the AFC Championship, Luck’s first.
Check back Wednesday to see how we did in Tuesday’s Gone: Week 19 #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) DIVISIONAL ROUND EDITION at ProFootballMedia.com!