Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots
1:00 pm ET
Last season, the Ravens began their playoff journey as a wild card by upsetting the AFC East champion Dolphins, and then upsetting the top seeded Tennessee Titans, before losing to the eventual champion Steelers in the AFC championship game. This season the Ravens went 10-6 and eked into the playoffs in Week 17, but their losses have mostly been close games, including a 27-21 defeat in New England in Week 4. The Ravens’ fifth ranked rushing attack is led by RB Ray Rice, and they will once again use their stout defense (ranked third overall) to try and stop Tom Brady, Randy Moss and company. The Patriots will try to run the ball to control the clock and keep it away from Rice, and also try to use said running game to allow Brady and his receivers to stretch the field. Of course, everyone knows that Wes Welker is out for the season after jamming his knee into the Reliant Stadium turf last Sunday. But did anyone expect rookie WR (and 7th round draft pick) Julian Edelman to catch 10 passes for 103 yards and run up and down the field looking like a Welker clone doing it? Not really. Still, Brady didn’t have guys named Lewis, Suggs and Reed lining up on the other side last week, and those guys in purple jerseys could force him into making a few mistakes. The bottom line, however, is that the Patriots are 8-0 at home this season, and a Bill Belichick coached team is a tough out in the playoffs.
THE PICK: PATRIOTS 26, RAVENS 17
Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals
4:40 pm ET
Amazingly, this game is the third contest of the weekend that is a rematch of a Week 17 game, and like the Philly/Dallas game, this one is also in the same building, at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona. Will it be the same outcome though? Last week, the Packers played all of their starters in annihilating the defending NFC champs 33-7, but Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt did not use star QB Kurt Warner after the first quarter. Still, how much of that crap about tipping your hand before playing an opponent again do you believe? This is the NFL, and the team that executes their game plan usually wins. Packers’ coach Mike McCarthy believed that letting Aaron Rodgers and his receivers stretch the field against the Cardinals’ 23rd ranked pass defense, as well as mixing in a heavy dose of Ryan Grant and Ahman Green to run the ball and keep it away from Warner and Matt Leinart was an effective strategy. Of course, McCarthy’s Packers boast the #1 rushing defense in the NFL and the #5 passing defense, so they feel like they can stop whoever is trying to move the ball against them anyway, especially if star CB Charles Woodson suits up after aggravating a shoulder injury last week. Remember, though, that the Cardinals are recently playoff tested, and came within a brilliant Santonio Holmes touchdown catch from winning it all less than a year ago.
THE PICK: PACKERS 33, CARDINALS 30
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Posted in: NFL
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, AFC Championship Game, Ahman Green, Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, Charles Woodson, Ed Reed, football, Green Bay Packers, Julian Edelmn, Ken Whisenhunt, Kurt Warner, Matt Leinart, Miami Dolphins, Mike McCarthy, New England Patriots, NFC champions, NFL, NFL playoff previews, NFL Playoffs, Randy Moss, Ray Lewis, Ray Rice, Reliant Stadium, Ryan Grant, Santonio Holmes, Super Bowl, Tennessee Titans, Terrell Suggs, Tom Brady, University of Phoenix Stadium, Wes Welker, wild card games