NFL’s Divisional Round Forecast

Seattle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons (Sun. 1:00pm EST)

The battle of the birds. This is going to be a rocking game in Atlanta, Sunday. Both of these teams are high motor teams with everything on the line.

The Seahawks are arguably the hottest team remaining. However, they just lost starter Chris Clemons with an ACL injury and they signed veteran Patrick Chukwurah to fill his spot.

Yes. The Patrick Chukwurah. The Patrick Chukwurah who last played in the league four years ago and last played professionally for the United Football League’s Florida Tuskers.

Which begs the question…what is a Tusker?

Regardless, the game will be a test for each team. It may be more costly for the Falcons however.

Falcons head coach Mike Smith has brought the Dirty Birds to the playoffs every year (except for ‘09) since his arrival in 2008. He brought in general manager Thomas Dimitrioff and the two turned the franchise around. But…and it is  a big but…the Falcons have gone one-and-done in each playoff appearance.

The worst coming last season with a 24-2 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

After offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey left to become head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Falcons tagged Dirk Koetter as their offensive coordinator and the results were instant. Koetter took the handcuffs off quarterback Matt Ryan and he produced putting up his best season yet going for 4,719 yards and 32 touchdowns.

Overall the Falcons ranked eighth in total offense. A sure test for the Seahawks’ fourth overall total defense.

However explosive the passing game has been this season, the running attack of the Falcons has been off. Star back Michael Turner averaged a mere 3.6 yards per carry and totaled only 800 yards.

If the game is to be won, the Falcons will surely have to attack the Seahawks weakness aka the missing Clemons. If they can’t get that going and the Falcons falter, one has to wonder — will there be a ninth head coach fired this offseason?

Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots (Sun. 4:30pm EST)
This is the trap games of trap games and if Texans’ running back Arian Foster’s Twitter page is any sign, the Texans are looking for revenge. Blood-thirsty, hell-bent revenge.

Foster changed his avatar on the social media website to a screen-shot of an article written by Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy.
It reads: “The 2012-13 New England Patriots just became the first team in NFL history to get back-to-back byes before advancing to the conference championship game.”

“Could this get any easier?”

“I mean, seriously? The planets are aligned and the tomato cans are in place. The fraudulent Houston Texans are the only team standing between the New England Patriots and a trip to the AFC Championship game. All the Patriots have to do is beat the terrible Texans. One week from Sunday. At Gillette Stadium.”

Ouch. Those are some damning words that you know lit a fuse under an already fuming team. The Texans were embarrassed on Monday night Week 14 when they went into New England wearing the best record (and letterman jackets) in the NFL and then walked out with a 42-14 loss.

The Patriots dominated the game from start to finish, however this has set them up in some tricky territory.

Pats quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick have lost six playoff games together and all six have been to teams they played in the regular season.

Look at the 2010 season.

The Patriots dominated the rival New York Jets 45-3 on Sunday night football. That post season? A one-and-out appearance by the Pats as they Jets won on the Patriots home field 28-21.

Significant? Maybe. Maybe not. Their first Super Bowl win in 2001 was against a St. Louis Rams team they faced in the regular season. It is worth having tucked in the back of your memory.

Surely it is in Belichick’s memory but he shot it down quickly this week in a news conference. Instead issuing the statement:

“You don’t win a war by digging a foxhole and sitting in it…You need to attack.”

We can only wait and see who attacks first. Either way, it’s gonna be a firefight at Gillette Stadium this Sunday.

We are down to the divisional round. Last week’s Wild Card round was good but this week holds a lot in store historically aside from the recent announcement of the 15 finalists for the Hall of Fame Class of 2013. This week also features a lot of regular season rematches.

Actually,  three of the four games this weekend will be rematches. The Packers and the Niners squared off in Week 1, the Pats and Texans tangoed in Week 14, and the Broncos battled the Ravens the next week. The only “new”  game will be Seattle versus Atlanta.

But let’s be real, this is the playoffs and the playoffs always add a new wrinkle…even if they are regular season rematches.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Denver Broncos (Sat. 4:30pm EST)  
This game has so much historical value, it’s insane. Let’s look at the facts – Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are squaring off against Peyton Manning and Champ Bailey. If those four guys aren’t first ballot hall-of-famers, I don’t know who is.

Sure, these two teams played just a few weeks ago and it was completely one-sided as the Broncos rolled to a 34-17 win. Remember though, Ray Lewis was still out with a triceps injury then. He is back now and has completely changed the team. With the announcement of his retirement, Lewis galvanized his entire team and gave them a helluva motivational force which was on display in their 24-9 victory over the Colts in the Wild Card round.

The Lewis factor wasn’t there last time for the Ravens, but it will be on full force again this week against Denver.

Out of all the match-ups in this game the most striking will be Peyton Manning versus Joe Flacco.

Wait, I know what you’re thinking. ‘Manning is a way better quarterback than Flacco is!’ Hey, everyone is entitled to their opinions, but lets just play with facts real quick.

Yes, Peyton Manning is one of the greatest of all-time…in the regular season. What about the postseason? It’s a bit of a different story for Mr. Manning. In his career Manning has a 9-10 record with only one Super Bowl ring. He’s thrown 29 touchdowns and 19 interceptions compared to his career numbers of 436 to 209.

On the flip side, is the only quarterback in NFL history with a postseason win in each of his first five seasons — Joe Flacco. Including this season, Flacco is 6-4 in the postseason with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Relatively similar numbers to Manning.

It’s more than that though. In his past two playoff games, Flacco has thrown for 588 yards and four touchdowns with one pick. Is Flacco maturing into a top tier quarterback? A win on Saturday would assuredly answer that.

Update: Ravens 38 to 35

Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers (Sat. 8:00pm EST)
This is by far the “newest” rematch game this weekend. These two went head-to-head way back in September and the Niners walked away with a 30-22 victory. However, a lot has changed from then to now.

Probably the most critical to this match-up is that San Francisco now has a new quarterback in Colin Kaepernick. In their Week 1 match-up, Alex Smith manned the ship and had a respectable day going 20/26 with 211 yards and a touchdown. Kaepernick appeared on only one play that day — a 17-yard run.

After a concussion forced Smith to leave the game in Week 10, Kaepernick took over and has provided a lighting rod for the offense.

In his short time as quarterback, the dual threat Kaepernick has thrown for 1,814 yards along with 10 touchdowns and a mere three interceptions. Not to mention, rushing for 418 yards and five more scores.

Lightning rod or not, Kaepernick will be going against a strong defense in his first playoff game. Not only will he have to keep an eye out for the manic known as Clay Matthews and if he manages to escape him, Kaepernick still has to keep an eye out for the playmaker Charles Woodson who is fully healthy after sitting out since Week 8. In first first action last week, the impact was clear as Chuck came back strong with six tackles.

It’s not just the 49ers with some new blood at a pivotal position.

Green Bay has been shuffling the cards at running back all season. The latest ball carrier being a former car salesman.

Yup, after being cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars at the end of training camp and spending a blink of an eye with the Pittsburgh Steelers, running back DuJuan Harris was out of the NFL and working at a car dealership in Jacksonville, Fla.

Only a week went by before a team came calling again. This time it was the Packers. Harris would leave to join Green Bay’s practice squad and has since then become the Packs’ leading back. Harris ran for 47 yards and a touchdown last week against the Vikings but is keeping all options open if this doesn’t turn into a permanent gig. He plans to go back to the dealership this offseason.

“I just got off the phone with them,” Harris says of his former bosses. “They just told me they sold 10 cars. That’s live. That is live. Why not be a part of that?”


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