NFL divisional playoffs: We meet again.
Chargers (+6) at Steelers: The Steelers needed a last second field goal to defeat the Chargers 11-10 in week 11. Despite the tight finish, Pittsburgh totally dominated that game in terms of total yardage (410-218) and time of possession (36 ½ minutes to 23 ½ minutes). However, the Steelers continually shot themselves in the foot with 13 penalties.
While the Chargers defense did a fair job of handling Colts quarterback Peyton Manning last week, they can thank punter Mike Scifres for that. Scifres had a net 51.7 yard per punt average, pinning the Colts inside their 20 yard line six times. But he would be fortunate to do half that well on Sunday in blustery Pittsburgh. And even if the Chargers 31st ranked pass defense can contain Ben Roethlisberger they still have to contend with a solid running game which the Colts couldn’t muster. Willie Parker ran for 115 yards against San Diego in their regular season matchup and seems to be relatively healthy after missing five games in the middle of the season.
Offensively, the Chargers will not be able to dent the top ranked defense in the NFL, with or without running back LaDanian Tomlinson, who has a torn tendon in his groin area.
Steelers win and cover, 24-10.
Ravens (+3) at Titans: When you think of the Tennessee Titans offense, you usually think of the running tandem of LenDale White and Chris Johnson. Combined, they rushed for 2,001 yards in 2008. However, they could only tally 48 in a 13-10 win over Baltimore in Week 5. Given what the Ravens did to the Dolphins rushing attack last week, I don’t anticipate the Titans being able to effectively run the ball in this rematch. Combine that with Tennessee center Kevin Mawae battling injuries, it seems like a great matchup for the vaunted Ravens D. Quarterback Kerry Collins will also have his work cut out for him against the NFL’s second ranked pass defense.
Meanwhile, the Titans defense looks to regain the services of defensive linemen Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch. The timing is perfect considering Ravens QB Joe Flacco hardly looks like the skittish rookie Tennessee saw in the regular season.
It’s no overstatement to say that defense will decide this game given the Ravens and Titans are ranked second and seventh, respectively, in total defense. And this year’s Ravens remind me an awful lot of the 2000 Super Bowl champs. That season included a 24-10 divisional round victory in Tennessee.
Baltimore springs the upset, 17-14.
Eagles (+4 ½) at Giants: These division rivals split their regular season meetings with the road team prevailing in both games. The Eagles needed a small miracle to get in the playoffs but they’re here and definitely battle tested. The Giants, however, enter the postseason having lost three of four, including the 20-14 home loss to Philly in week 14.
Look for the Eagles to get the ball to running back Brian Westbrook as much as possible. Westbrook singlehandedly torched the Giants last month with 203 total yards (131 rushing, 72 receiving) and two touchdowns.
In their first matchup, the Giants rushed for over 200 yards. In fact, injured running back Brandon Jacobs has been able to practice all week and has declared himself ready to go. The Giants’ other 1,000 yard rusher, Derrick Ward, filled in for Jacobs quite nicely down the stretch, including a 215 yard performance against Carolina in week 16 which sealed home field throughout the NFC playoffs.
I believe the Giants will win but not cover. John Carney kicks a last second field goal, giving his club a 20-17 victory over the Eagles.
Cardinals (+9 ½) at Panthers: In Week 8 the visiting Cards held a 17-3 lead early in the third quarter only to wind up losing to Carolina 27-23.
Arizona did a nice job containing the NFL’s second leading rusher (Atlanta’s Michael Tuner) last week and now must duplicate that effort against the NFL’s third leading rusher in DeAngelo Williams. In their regular season matchup, Williams ran for 108 yards and a TD. And even if the Cardinals manage to slow down Williams, they still have to contend with superstar wide receiver Steve Smith, he of the 1,421 yards receiving in 2008.
Despite lighting up the Panthers’ defense for 381 yards passing, QB Kurt Warner will again need support from his running game due to star wide receiver Anquan Boldin being limited with a strained hamstring. Running back Edgerrin James had a solid game last week against Atlanta and may have ample opportunity for another good game this week. The Panthers run defense is ranked 23rd in terms of yards per carry, allowing 4.4.
Panthers win, but don’t quite cover. Carolina defeats Arizona 27-20.
Straight up: 1-3-0
Against the point spread: 1-3-0