Athlon's editors debate the four Divisional playoff games.
By: Braden Gall | 1/14/11, 7:00 AM EST
Big Ben will have his hands full this weekend.
Athlon's Steven Lassan, Nathan Rush and Braden Gall discuss the matchups for Divisional Weekend in the NFL:
1. Baltimore at Pittsburgh (4:30 PM EST, Sat.)
Steven Lassan: This matchup is easily one of the best divisional rivalries in the NFL and with each of the last four games decided by three points, I’m expecting another contest that goes down to the wire. The Ravens have some momentum after last week’s win in Kansas City, but are only 3-9 in Pittsburgh in their last 12 games. The Steelers are difficult to beat following a bye week in the playoffs, going 5-0 since 1994. Anything can happen with these two teams evenly matched, but I’ll take the Steelers to win by a touchdown.
Nathan Rush: Baltimore has already won on the road at Pittsburgh this season, with a 17–14 victory in Week 4. But Charlie Batch — not Big Ben Roethlisberger — was the Steelers quarterback that week. Blitz-burgh lived up to its name with a 13–10 win over the Ravens in Week 13, as Troy Polamalu blindsided Joe Flacco to force a late fourth-quarter fumble and even up the score, literally. The Ravens and Steelers are tied at 1–1 apiece with a 27–27 season tally entering this Divisional Round rubber match. This game has been hyped as “World War 3” by Terrell Suggs, while Big Ben has flat out said he “hates playing the Ravens.” This AFC North Division showdown should be the hardest-hitting game of the playoffs. I’ll go with Baltimore in a tight fight.
Braden Gall: The road team has won both of these games this year and I am taking the road team in this one too. Certainly, Big Ben will be a tougher test than Charlie Batch was back in Week 4; however, if not for a late miracle by one of the game's best Troy Polamalu, the Ravens would have swept the season series. These are two battle tested, Hall of Fame defenses, so points will be at a premium. Playing on the road does not phase a Ravens team that has won seven of its last ten road playoff games. Two of those three losses, however, came against the Steelers. Give me Baltimore in a flip of the coin.
2. Green Bay at Atlanta (8:00 PM EST, Sat.)
Steven: The Packers are on a roll after last week’s win in Philadelphia and get a shot at revenge against the Falcons. Green Bay fell to Atlanta earlier this season, and winning in the Georgia Dome has been difficult for opposing teams. The Falcons have lost only one game this year at home, a 17-14 game against New Orleans. Even if you have no rooting interest in this game, it’s a must-see matchup due to the quarterback battle between Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan, two players entering the prime of their careers and likely Super Bowl winners down the road. If the Packers can get the same kind of production out of James Starks as they did last week, I like Green Bay to win and advance to the NFC Championship.
Nathan: Green Bay escaped Philadelphia with a 21–16 Wild Card win, thanks in large part to a pair of missed field goals (from 34 and 41 yards) by Pro Bowl kicker David Akers. The Packers may need a little more good fortune in order to pull off an upset over the Falcons. Matt Ryan is 20–2 all-time at the Georgia Dome and 2–0 against Green Bay — with a 20–17 win in Week 12 and a 27–24 victory at Lambeau Field as a rookie. I’ll take “Matty Ice” and the split stats to advance to the NFC title game.
Braden: Aaron Rodgers collected his first career playoff win last week in Philadelphia. Matt Ryan is trying to do the same this weekend in Atlanta. The fans would be the biggest winners if this game even sligthly resembled the 20-17 instant classic back in Week 12. Ryan and Rodgers went back and forth, with Ryan holding the ball last — and driving his team for the game-winning field goal with less than a minute left to play. Michael Turner and the Falcon running game is the difference as Ryan will improve to 21-2 in his Georgia Dome career.
Cutler and the Bears are heavy favorites.
3. Seattle at Chicago (1:00 PM EST, Sun.)
Steven: Nobody gave Seattle a chance last weekend, and the Seahawks pulled off a stunner against the Saints. The Seahawks already beat the Bears once this season, and a performance like last Saturday’s should give them plenty of confidence they can win in Chicago once again. Although the Seahawks are a nice story and pulled off the stunner, I can’t see Chicago losing at home after a bye. The Bears are rested, and Seattle won’t have the same success on offense against the stingy Chicago defense.
Nathan: The Seahawks carried a 2–6 road record this season. But one of those wins was a 23–20 victory over the Bears at Soldier Field in Week 6. In that game, Jay Cutler was sacked six times, while Chicago’s offense went 0-for-12 on third down and posted 61 rushing yards. I do think the Bears will take care of business in the rematch. But if Matt Hasselbeck keeps putting on a passing clinic (272 yards, 4 TDs vs. Saints) and Marshawn Lynch goes “Beast Mode” again (67-yard YouTube instant classic TD run), the Hawks could shock the Windy City. And keep in mind, if Seattle and Green Bay both win, the first sub-.500 team to ever make the playoffs would host the NFC title game in front of the “12th Man” at Qwest Field.
Braden: I used a season-low 18 words to pick the Saints last week and look how that turned out. But the clock has struck midnight; give me Da' Bears. (That was 28.)
4. New York at New England (4:30 PM EST, Sun.)
Steven: Can anybody stop New England? The Patriots are on a roll with eight straight wins, including a 45-3 dismantling of the Jets in early December. Jets coach Rex Ryan needs to find some of the magic his defense used to hold the Colts to 16 points last week. If the Jets can keep this one in the 20s, they have a chance to win. The offensive line and rushing attack needs to control the clock for New York and keep Tom Brady and the Patriots offense on the sidelines. The Jets were embarrassed the last time these two teams played and should play much better this time around. Although I think the Jets find a way to keep it close in the fourth, Tom Brady and the Patriots offense will make enough plays to win and advance to the AFC Championship.
Nathan: These AFC East Division rivals are tied at 51–51–1 all-time since 1960, 2–2 since Rex Ryan took over in New York last year and 1–1 this season — with a 28–14 Jets win in Week 2 and a 45–3 Patriots statement in Week 13. All things being even, however, I’ll take Tom Brady and his 14–4 career postseason record, 8–1 career record at home in the playoffs and unbeaten 8–0 record at home this season. Plus, if this really is a Ryan vs. Bill Belichick coaching battle of wits, as Buddy Ryan’s son says it is, there’s no betting against the hoody, especially at home.
Braden: Another rematch. Another rubber match between two great rivals. Since the two embarrassing offensive showings against New England and Miami, Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense have averaged nearly 28 points and 170 yards rushing per game — including two road wins over the Colts and Steelers. However, New England does not beat itself — see its NFL record low 10 turnovers this season — and I do not think the offense can score enough. So what if Darrelle Revis shuts down Deion Branch or Wes Welker? Tom Brady has eight other guys to throw it to. Pats by 10.
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