Last Week: 3-1
New England at Denver
This game is the perfect fit for prime time Saturday night. It is highly likely that this will be the best game of the weekend and we may see something historic (Tom Brady's first playoff loss). Since their Week 12 loss to Kansas City, the Patriots have played like the Patriots of old, losing only to Miami in a meaningless regular season finale. However, this is the first time in their playoff run that they have had to play on the road in the Divisional Round. They also happen to be playing in one of the toughest environments in the NFL. The cold weather should not bother the Patriots who are used to playing in snow in early January, but the altitude should serve as a significant advantage for the Broncos. Even without the thin air, the Broncos are a formidable team. Since their opening day shocker to Miami, the Broncos have lost twice, at the New York Giants by a single point, and at the Kansas City Chiefs by 4 points. Don't buy into the New England playoff mystique and aura. As Curt Schilling famously opined, "Mystique and Aura are dancers at a club." Go with the home team.
Pittsburgh at Indianapolis
For the Steelers to win this game, Ben Roethlisberger will have to air it out. The Colts will be bringing an extra man to the line of scrimmage to stop the run. Roethlisberger will have to make them pay with deep throws in order to make the Colts defense ease up on the run. Of course, the Steelers must also hinder the Colts offense when they have the ball. Much easier said than done. Edgerrin James, who was slowing down as the season wore on (56 carries for 159 yards, a 2.8 yards per rush average in his last 3 games) has had 2 weeks off to rest up for the playoff run. The receivers are healthy, the Colts are playing at home, and lest we forget, the Colts have the best quarterback in the NFL, Peyton Manning. Don't be fooled by the 'he's not a playoff/clutch quarterback' talk. Remember, people said the same thing about Barry Bonds not being a 'postseason hitter' before the 2002 playoffs. A few bad games early in his career have sullied Manning's reputation, but he'll start to change some minds this week.
Washington at Seattle
Of all the games on the board this week, this one is a mortal lock. If Washington wins this game, go ahead and enshrine Joe Gibbs in the Hall of Fame. Oh, nevermind. But seriously, Seattle is rested, Washington is hurting (Clinton Portis, Mark Brunell, Renaldo Wynn, Shawn Springs, Chris Samuels are all injured, though all but Wynn and Springs will play), and the 'Hawks are playing at home. Seattle hasn't won a playoff game in 21 years, but that will all change tomorrow afternoon.
Carolina at Chicago
My dad's thoughts on the game per an email I received earlier in the week:
The latest forecast for Chicago on Sunday is partly cloundy and a high of42. That's more like Charlotte weather than Chicago. Bad news Bears. Carolina will shut down the run. Bad news Bears. The game will be in the hands of Rex Grossman. Bad news Bears. Jake Delhomme's QB rating for 5 playoff games is 104. Bad news Bears. Carolina has outscored its last 2opponents 67 - 11, both on the road. I'd say they're hitting theirstride. Bad news Bears.
Well, he's convinced me. If any road team is going to win this week, it will be the Panthers. This will be a defensive struggle that Carolina will win in the end thanks to their superior field goal kicking.