Oct 7, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) shakes hands with Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) following the game at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Broncos 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
It is time for the best round of playoffs in the NFL. Why is this round better than the other 3 you might ask? It’s simple, there are no severe upsets at this point because all 8 teams probably belong here and also there are still 4 games to watch versus 2 next week.
It appears on the surface right now that the AFC games have already been won. If you listen to most national and local experts (unless you live in the Texas or Baltimore area), then Denver and New England are already gearing up for the AFC Conference game next weekend in Denver. Hopefully both games are more competitive then they are being credited with.
Baltimore @ Denver Saturday 4:30 PM EST
Line: Denver -9.5
Denver is the assumed winner for this game based solely on history. They have now won 11 games straight and look like a true Superbowl contender. It is not necessarily wrong to assume that the Broncos will win this game, but once a team enters the playoffs their regular season games tend to mean far less. What we know is that Peyton Manning is not always a playoff superstar. He has had some instances in the past that put him closer to Alex Rodriguez than Reggie Jackson. He does have a Superbowl ring and is surrounded by an arguably better cast this season. The Broncos have a powerful defense that could make Joe Flacco’s day extremely uncomfortable, and they also have a number of offensive weapons including the rebirth of Knowshon Moreno.
Baltimore had an easy game last week against the Colts, but it was not a great game. They did what was needed and won without a ton of effort. Joe Flacco played like you would expect a true playoff QB to play and Anquan Boldin was sensational. The question is can the do it again, this time against a far better defense. What the Ravens did have some trouble with was getting Ray Rice going. Rice finished the day with 15 carries for 68 yards, not what you’d expect from a generally elite RB. On the other hand Bernard Pierce (who?) had a great game for the Ravens rushing 103 yards on 13 carries.
The key to this game is going to be as simple as buying Real Estate- Location, Location, Location. The Ravens are a great home team, which they were last week. This week they get to play in the thinned out air of Denver. With an aging defense, that oxygen could be difficult to suck in. If the Ravens are good at home then the Broncos are great. They have suffered 1 loss this season in Denver week 3 against what was then a powerhouse Houston Texans team.
a 9.5 point spread seems a little excessive at this point in the season, however I do believe Denver will control this game and win decidedly. They can then sit back Sunday afternoon and watch to see who is coming into town next weekend.
Houston @ New England 4:30 PM EST
Line: N.E. -9.0
Now this is a game where the line may be accurate. The Patriots have had an extra week to sit by, heal up, and get ready to host this game against a team that looks like they don’t belong in the playoffs. Much has been said this week including an article written by Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe which announced that the “Patriots had become the 1st team ever with back-to-back byes before advancing to the conference championship game.” (You can read that whole article here). Texans RB Arian Foster responded by placing the article as his avatar picture on Twitter.
Shaughnessy may have gone slightly overboard in his article, but was he wrong? Everyone who watched last weeks game against the Bengals must think the Texans are treading water. They were literally a couple feet away from losing to the Bengals if A.J. Green catches that pass in the end zone.Matt Schaub did not look like a QB who is in the fist year of a 5 year $66 million dollar contract. The Texans still have some weapons with J.J. Watt, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster. If they don’t fall behind, Foster can control the pace of the game.
The Patriots have entered the playoffs looking pretty much like they always do. Week 17 we watched them shutout a team we won’t mention here and roll to an easy win. Tom Brady is Tom Brady, the chances that he will come in an throw 4 interceptions and no touchdowns are probably slim. He has Wes Welker (wish the Dolphins could get players like that), Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Lloyd to throw to. The Patriots running game has come back to life this year as long as Steven Ridley holds onto the ball.
What is slightly different about the Patriots now versus earlier in the year, is that they can depend a little more on their defense to help control their games. Aqib Talib has been a surprisingly nice pick up for them with the work he has done, and also freeing up Devin McCourty to play safety. One person who could be the true MVP for the Patriots this season has been Vince Wilfork. this guy is everywhere on defense and gets involved every day. The Texans O-line has a tough challenge this weekend.
One thing we can say is that this game will most likely be a blow out. Maybe it won’t be the blowout people assume it will be, but this most likely will not be a 17-14 finish. The Texans could come in a with a huge chip on their shoulder and go off on the Pats. It is always a possibility, remember the beginning of the season Houston was a powerhouse. On the other side Tom Brady wants back in the Superbowl and who could blame him.
This weekend could line the NFL up with their dream AFC conference championship game of Manning vs. Brady. It would be a fun match-up and Denver wants a little redemption from earlier this season, but that will have to wait until after this weekend.
We could always end up with a Houston vs. Baltimore game. Anyone buying that?