NFL Divisional Round Preview

Before I get to my Divisional Round Preview, I’d like to send all of the losers from Wild Card Weekend off the only way I know how: By jabbing them one final time.

Atlanta Falcons: Hey Mike Smith and Mike Mularkey, his name is Jerious Norwood. He’s #32 and he’s one of the best playmakers on your offense. Might want to think about using him more the next time an opposing defense figures out how to shut down Michael Turner.

Indianapolis Colts: Seven trips to the postseason in the last seven years and you only manage one Super Bowl appearance with a three-time MVP at quarterback? Dear Barbara…

Miami Dolphins: Chad, I love you man and I love your story this season. But you can’t force passes down field into double coverage and expect good things. You should have kept doing what you did all season and what you did in your first possession of the game – hit the high-percentage passes and let your receivers get the yardage.

Minnesota Vikings: Did anyone else scratch their head when Brad Childress declined a holding penalty on third down early in the first quarter that would have moved the Eagles on the edge of field goal range? Instead, it brought up forth down and David Akers drilled a 43-yarder to give Philly a 3-0 lead. Childress basically said, “I’m not sure if my defense can hold the Eagles on 3rd and 14 – better give up the field goal so we don’t give up a potential touchdown instead.” You never give your opponents points in the playoffs. Never. Not even a field goal. Force them back, force them to make a play and force them to earn the points.

Myself: I went 1-3 with my Wild Card Predictions last week. Seriously? You went with the Colts in the playoffs? A rookie in Matt Ryan? The Vikings over everyone’s sleeper team in the Eagles? You’re a freaking bum. (Ironically I went 3-1 in a family football pool because I came to my senses and picked San Diego and Philly.)

Moving on…

Chris JohnsonBaltimore Ravens (11-5) at Tennessee Titans (13-3)
Saturday, January 10, 4:30PM ET
Opening Odds: Titans –3
Over/Under: 34.5
Game Outlook:
No disrespect to the Giants and Eagles or any other team playing this weekend, but this is easily the best matchup on the divisional playoff schedule. Did you see what Ed Reed and the Ravens did to Chad Pennington and the Dolphins last week? They held them to only 276 total yards, forced five turnovers and surrendered only 52 rushing yards. And although they used a lot of gadget formations throughout the season, it’s not like Miami’s offense was a dud this year. Granted, the Titans have the seventh best rushing attack in the league and rookie Chris Johnson brings an added dimension to the field, but Mike Heimerdinger has his hands full this week trying to come up with a game plan to move the ball against a Baltimore defense allowing just over 15 points a game this season. That said, it’ll be interesting to see how rookie quarterback Joe Flacco does against the seventh best defense in the NFL. Flacco passed with flying colors last week while playing mistake-free and running for the game-clinching score in the fourth quarter. But he’ll have to do a hell of a lot more than complete 9 of 23 passes for 135 yards against a Tennessee defense that could have DT Albert Haynesworth and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch back on their defensive line. If both players are in the lineup Saturday, Flacco is going to feel the heat up the middle and from the edges so he better get rid of the ball in a timely manner. Overall, this is the best defensive matchup of the year and this game will probably come down to who doesn’t turn the ball over.
X-Factor: Chris Johnson, Titans RB
The only time the Dolphins found success last week was when they used the Ravens’ aggressive style against them and slipped backs out in the flats. Pennington was able to hit Patrick Cobbs and company for seven to 10 yard gains and the Titans could employ the same method. Johnson is a homerun threat and more than capable of taking one to the house every play. Tennessee has to get the ball in this kid’s hands and force the Ravens to miss tackles in the open field, which they have the penchant for doing at times.
Prediction: Titans 16, Ravens 13.
I’m not going to bite on this potential upset. The Ravens’ defense is absolutely nasty, but Flacco worries me against a ball-hawking Tennessee secondary and I think the Titans are going to shut down Baltimore’s running game. This game comes down to which team makes fewer mistakes and I’ll take a veteran in Kerry Collins over the rook Flacco. (Word to the wise though, Kerry – stay away from Ed Reed’s side if you can.)


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Gary Myers lays kiss of death on Giants

Gary Myers of the New York Daily News puts the crimp on the Giants this weekend, writing that there’s no way the Eagles will go into East Rutherford and knock off the G-Men.

Eli ManningThis will be an NFC East slugfest Sunday at Giants Stadium because it always is.

Giants 23, Eagles 13.

It should be noted that last year, right here in your Daily News, I not only predicted each of the Giants’ four playoff victories, including the huge upset of the Patriots in the Super Bowl, but had the margin of victory just about on the nose each week. Just wanted to point that out.

The Giants were the best team in the NFC all season despite losing to the Eagles and Cowboys back-to-back in December. But when they faced their only must-win of the season on that Sunday night against the Panthers in the battle for the No. 1 seed in the 15th game, they rallied to send the game into overtime and then won it.

This is a tough-minded team. Doesn’t mean the Giants are sure things to repeat as Super Bowl champions, but they do have a lot of heart, and it’s going to take a near perfect game from the Eagles to knock them out of the playoffs.

The Giants are the best at finding a cause that doesn’t even exist and not letting go. Even after winning the Super Bowl and going 12-4 and being picked by many to run through these playoffs and win it all again, they still feel disrespected. It’s ridiculous, of course, but it works for them.

Fair enough, but let’s take a look at the facts:

A) The Giants haven’t played a complete game in over a month. (Week 13 in a 23-7 victory at Washington to be exact.)
B) Eli Manning hasn’t passed for over 200 yards since Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg.
C) The Eagles have the third best defense in the NFL, including the fourth best run defense.
D) Philly has already proven they can beat the Giants in New York.

I’m not saying it’s a slam-dunk Eagle victory, but this is no time to be predicting wins days before the game.

One last thing Myers might want to chew on is that Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote before the Falcons’ playoff game last week that they would beat the Cardinals in Arizona. He poured a big cup of jinx all over the Falcons and I’m afraid Myers might have just done the same thing to the Giants.

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