Went three of 4 against the spread this week. The Bengals failed me, by 2 points. Here are my picks for next weekends' games:
1.) (11-6) Baltimore Ravens (+9) @ (13-3) Denver Broncos: The Buzzards did what they had to do in disposing of the Luck led Colts, 24-9. Bernard Pierce and Ray Rice gained 173 yards on 28 carries, in averaging over 5 yards per carry. But, Rice lost two fumbles...something that they can't afford to have happen, in Denver. Anquan Boldin had a big game, with 5 catches for 145 yards...which included a 50 yard reception, and a TD catch. But, they'll need to involve deep threat Torrie Smith and their TEs more, if they want to have a legitimate chance at beating the Broncos. On defense, they managed to get good pressure on Andrew Luck...sacking him three times., and hitting him 7 times more. Three weeks ago, the Buzzards were crushed in Baltimore by the Broncos, 34-17, in a game that was not as close as even that lopsided score indicates. Nontheless, the Ravens are a proud veteran team. If Joe Flacco brings his "A" game to the "Mile High City", they could pull the upset. Baltimore must also do a better job at stopping the run than they did against Indy (152 yards gained on 30 carries), and must mess up Peyton Manning's hair. Since Manning doesn't have the mobility of Andrew Luck, they can likely do the former. The question is, can they get consistent pressure on Manning, that they got on Luck? Given time to throw, the deadly accurate Horseface will pick them apart. That...and the really big "if" regarding Joe Flacco bringing his "A' game, appear to be long shots. Flacco threw a horrible 98 yard pick six from the Broncos' 3 yard line in that previous loss, which proved to be the turning point of that game. The pressure is really on Joe. His performance in Denver will set the parameters regarding the number of zeroes on his new contract: PICK: Broncos;
2.) (12-5) Green Bay Packers (+3) @ (11-4-1) San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers are not the team that the Packers were hoping to see in this round. They have the pass rushers necessary to take advantage of the weaknesses on Green Bay's OL. They also have big, physical DBs to beat on the sleek Packer WRs. What would concern me if I were a Packers' fan is the recent difficulty that the Pack had in containing Adrian Peterson, and the Vikings' pass rush. Though Frank Gore is no AP, he's tough, and effective. To win this game, Green Bay must jump out to an early lead. If they're forced to play catch-up, it could get ugly: PICK: 49ers;
3.) (12-5) Seattle Seahawks (+2) @ (13-3) Atlanta Falcons: Tough game to predict, because of the unpredictability of the Atlanta Falcons. For the past couple of years, they've been world beaters in the regular season, and wimps in the play-offs. This is a huge game for Matt Ryan. If he hopes to retain the nick-name of Matty Ice, he must come up big in this one. Yet, as always when the play-offs come around, the Falcons have concerns. They are not running the ball well, as RB Michael Turner looks like he's spent. CB Dunta Robinson (concussion) and their sole pass-rusher, John Abraham (ankle), both went down in the final week of the season. Meanwhile, the Seahawks appear to be getting stronger, and gathering confidence each week. They have great balance on both sides of the ball, and appear to be the team to beat in the NFC: PICK: Seahawks;
4.) (13-4) Houston Texans (+9.5) @ (12-4) New England Patriots: It's simple. Stop Arien Foster, and you stop the Houston Texans. Everything the Texans do on offense stems from their great RB. Look for the Texans to try to open up their offense a bit by throwing to their TEs, and to Foster, coming out of the backfield. But, make no mistake. Shutting down the Texans' running game is the key to beating them. On defense, the man to contain remains DE J.J. Watt, the best defender in the game. Watt is good enough that he alone can disrupt an offense.
To win this game, the Patriots not be over confident. They must put aside the memories of that glorious 42-14 shellacking they gave the Texans early in December...and remember the 2010 season...when the 14-2, #1 seeded Patriots lost at home to the Jets, 28-21...a team they had crushed and humiliated just several weeks prior, 45-3. Though the Texans have not played as dominantly as they did early in the season, they are coming into Foxborough looking for revenge, respect, and redemption. The Pats must nip that quest in the bud immediately by starting fast, and jumping off to an early lead. Their offensive line must protect Tom Brady. This game will likely be decided by turnovers, and redzone defense. I look for the Patriots to win...but, win by 10 points or more?: PICK: Texans.
As always, your comments and predictions are welcome...particularly on the Pats' game.