By David J. Cohen
The playoffs have a different feel this year than in recent years. In those years there were clearly defined contenders and pretenders for the championship. However, this year the playoffs seem truly wide open. This year the playoffs are centered on three inexperienced quarterbacks: Tony Romo of the Cowboys, Rex Grossman of the Bears, and Philip Rivers of the Chargers. If they can rise to the occasion their teams will make the runs expected of them. If they falter, proven veterans will seize the day.
The NFC is the perfect example of what parity has done to the league. It has made teams competitive which have been awful the year before. With parity, you can go through Hurricane Katrina one year and earn a bye the next. Parity has also made mediocrity a premium. The 8-8 Giants are in the playoffs, and teams like Green Bay were still in it going into the last week of the regular season. The playoff picture in the NFC is murky, with no clear cut choice. With that said, here is how it should play out.WILDCARD ROUND
(6) New York Giants v. (3) Philadelphia Eagles – The Eagles are a shock just to be in the playoffs, nevertheless to win the NFC East. They lose Donovan McNabb and in comes Jeff Garcia. They can’t stop the run. The year is over. So much for that. Jeff Garcia has resurrected his career playing in the same system that earned him 3 Pro Bowl selections. The rest of the team has finally begun to take shape. Andy Reid is running the ball consistently for the first time since he became a head coach. The Eagles are averaging 124 yards a game on the ground and 4.8 yards a carry. This gives them the 2nd best rushing attack among playoff teams, behind the Chargers. Garcia has played smart and efficient for the most part. The offensive line is finally looking like a solid group. The secondary is beginning to look like those of recent Eagles teams, with the ability to shut passing games down while being effective on the blitz. Their only problem is stopping the run. They are allowing 136 yards a game on the ground, which is 2nd worst among playoff teams. They have the talent and players to contain the run but things haven’t fallen into place. This is their Achilles heel. If they can contain the run, they’ll be in Miami. If not, they could lose this game.
The Giants are coming off a chaotic season off the field. The tension in their locker room is at a fever pitch. The team seems to hate its head coach, Tom Coughlin, who will be looking for work if he can’t win this game. Eli Manning is clearly not the leader his brother is and seems to wither away in the face of pressure more often than not. Plaxico Burress is a dangerous receiver but is almost as inconsistent as T.O. Jeremy Shockey is an explosive player but has been used more to help block this year, which has limited his production. The one weapon they do have is Tiki Barber, who is retiring at the peak of his production. The Giants are getting as much out of their running game as the Eagles, averaging 135 yards a game and 4.7 yards a carry. On defense, the Giants are banged up and are ailing on the defensive line. They will not be able to apply the pressure they need to be an effective defense. They are porous all over the place. They are allowing 342 yards a game, which is worst among playoff teams, including the 5th worst mark in the league against the pass. Their defense will need to have a revival to win this game.
This game should be close for a half. Then the Eagles should pull away. Jeff Garcia dominated the Giants pass coverage a few weeks ago and there is no reason to believe it won’t happen again. For the Giants to have a chance Tiki Barber will have to gain 200 yards on the ground and the Giants will have to be sharp and turnover-free. Barber should have a good game, but the Eagles will design run blitzes to contain him. Eli Manning will have to play like he did in the 4th quarter against the Eagles in their first game, where the Giants came from 17 down to win in OT, throughout the entire game. Manning hasn’t put together an impressive 4 quarter performance all season. This could be a great game, but it has more signs of being a landslide victory for the Eagles.
The Pick: Eagles, 31-17.
(5) Dallas Cowboys v. (4) Seattle Seahawks – The most intriguing match-up of the Wildcard round. The Cowboys enter the playoffs on a sharp downward spiral. Their defense has played awful in the their last 4 games, which culminated in allowing Lions QB Jon Kitna to throw for over 300 yards in a Lions win when the Cowboys were playing for the NFC East crown. Two weeks earlier they gave up 4 passing TDs to Michael Vick. That’s also pathetic. They do a decent job against the run, allowing a respectable 104 yards a game. But the pass defense is bringing them down. They are giving up big plays early in games, digging holes they can’t climb out of. A big reason for this is safety Roy Williams. In every game this year there are a handful of plays a game where he makes rookie mistakes in the secondary which lead to huge gains by the other team when spotted. On offense, the Cowboys have the ability to be dangerous. They have a good tough back in Marion Barber. They are dynamic at the receiver position with T.O. and Terry Glenn. The starting QB, Tony Romo, was great at the start but is coming back to earth quickly. He can make plenty of great plays but is very erratic at times, which leads to turnovers. Couple this with the pass defense and the Cowboys are playing from behind and putting Romo in situations to fail. Their offense is averaging 27 points a game, which is 4th in the league. But right now, it seems they’re giving up twice that to their opponents.
The Seahawks are the NFC’s dark horse. They have underachieved all year but have suffered key injuries. They lost both Shaun Alexander and Matt Hasslebeck for several weeks during the year. Both are now trying to regain their form and rhythm. And on defense their corners are getting destroyed. At least their top 3 corners should be out for this game. Despite all this, they are in a position to make a serious run in the playoffs. On offense they have the potential to be a juggernaut. Matt Hasslebeck is a proven quarterback, Shaun Alexander was last year’s MVP, and they have a trio of talent at receiver in Deion Branch, Darrell Jackson, and Nate Burleson. On defense they have some good players on the front 7 that need to play up to their caliber for the Seahawks to advance in the playoffs. Statistically they have been an average team on both sides of the ball. However, Hasslebeck and Alexander are both now warming up and rested since they haven’t suffered through 16 games of wear and tear. The receivers are starting to get into a rhythm with Hasslebeck. If the defense can come around, they have the potential to be NFC champs again.
The only thing about this game which is certain is that it will be a shootout. Both teams match-up extremely well in the pass game against each other. The depleted Seahawks secondary will struggle to cover Owens and Glenn, and the porous Cowboys defense will give up big plays to Branch, D-Jack, and Burleson all game long. The running games could be the deciding factor, simply because whoever is more successful could give their defense more of a breather. What it should come down to is turnovers. Whichever team blitzes more effectively and causes pressure will win the game. Looking at the potential for success and the players involved, the Seahawks are in a position to win at home. Hasslebeck should be able to bottle up mistakes and Romo is due for a few terrible plays. That will be the difference in this barnburner.
The Pick: Seahawks 41-30.
(5) Seattle Seahawks v. (1) Chicago Bears – The Bears come into the playoffs with the top seed and a bloated 13-3 record. They had one of the easiest schedules in the league and based on their performance, it’s safe to say they’re the worst 13-3 team in NFL history. They only played 3 teams all year with winning records. They are 2-1 in those games, including a 37-6 win over the Seahawks in week 4 with Alexander out of commission. The stats for the Bears are deceiving. They average 27 a game, which is tied with the Colts for 2nd in the league. However, there are a ton of defensive and special teams TDs included in that average. Their defense feeds off of turnovers and on special teams, rookie KR Devin Hester has been a beast, with 6 total TDs. Their offensive production is average: 14th in the league in passing yards per game and 15th in rushing yards per game. On defense they allow only 16 a game, 3rd in the league. They are 6th against the run and 11th against the pass. The interesting thing about Chicago is that on both sides of the ball, they have played worse at the season has come to a close. Rex Grossman is the worst starting QB of any team in the playoffs. He has put up quarterback ratings of 10, 1, and last week, a perfect 0. They can’t get him to just manage the game and take what the defense gives him. He has also had over 100 rating games, including weeks 14 and 15, but this vast inconsistency is terrible. The Bears get the run going at times but end up depending on a big play from Grossman to receiver Bernard Berrian to get the big play they need. Defensively, injuries and losses on the defensive line have led to a defensive decline in production. Lately teams have been able to run on the Bears, and this isn’t good news with Seattle coming to town. With the front 4 not getting a push against the offensive line, teams are taking advantage of the over-aggressiveness of the linebackers, particularly Brian Urlacher as they run right up the middle of the field. The pass defense hasn’t created enough turnovers in opposing territory to create short fields for the offense. This is what the Bears rely on to get points. If Hester doesn’t have his kick return success, the Bears may have lost a couple more games.
This entire game revolves around potential. Coming into the playoffs, we haven’t seen the best of the Seahawks. If they can turn potential into performance, they will make it to this game and probably win it. They could create a few big plays in the passing game along with a strong performance from Shaun Alexander in this game. Their defense is good enough to blitz Grossman and contain RB Thomas Jones. They can force the Bears into many 3rd and long situations. On the flip side, the Bears can suddenly revive their defense when it counts and shut down Alexander and the Seahawks. They can force the game into Hasslebeck and get pressure on him and cause a few turnovers. It’s all a matter of who shows up and who doesn’t in this game. Based on what we know, Grossman will likely hit a couple big plays to Berrian because of the injuries to the Seahawks secondary but be average at best otherwise. The Seahawks linebackers will drop back into coverage many times in this game and could take advantage of Grossman’s struggles to read defenses and pick him off a couple of times. If the linebackers can sack him a couple of times early, it will add to this possibility. The Bears success is joined at the hip with turnovers, and this game will be no different. If Seattle doesn’t cough up the ball, they’ll beat the Bears. Grossman is this team’s Achilles heel, and when that’s your QB and the game is on the line, that’s spells trouble.
The Pick: Seahawks 20-14.
(3) Philadelphia Eagles v. (2) New Orleans Saints – The Saints come into the playoffs after what could be the most unlikely turn of events in NFL history. They have an awful season, have no home and are devastated by Hurricane Katrina. So they get a new coach, some key additions, and win the NFC South. They have become America’s team and are considered by many the front runner to win the NFC. On offense, they have a prolific passing game. Drew Brees leads the league in passing yards with over 4400 yards. Deuce McAllister had a good season and gives them a proven rusher who can simply get it done. Reggie Bush is being used more as a receiving threat, but finished with over 1300 all purpose yards and led the team in catches with 88. At receiver, Joe Horn still comes up with clutch catches, but the 2 big threats at the position are Devery Henderson and 7th round pick Marques Colston, who is a Pro Bowl caliber player. These weapons give the Saints the best passing attack in the NFL. On defense, the Saints have played great against the pass, giving up just 178 yards per game, 3rd in the league. However, their run defense hasn’t been so great, and is the reason the Saints aren’t blowing away everyone in the NFC. It’s their Achilles heel, and they will need to fix it if they hope to get to Miami.
This game is interesting because both teams struggle to stop the run, and the running game will play a critical role in this game, especially for the Eagles. They must keep the powder keg passing attack of the Saints on the sidelines. They will be blitzing often in this game to create pressure, especially to target Reggie Bush in pass protection. They must find a way to get to Drew Brees, which has been tough this year for opposing defenses. Also, Brees must limit interceptions when in scoring position. Several times this year he has tried to force things at the end of long drives and cost his team points. He needs to stay within himself. The Eagles need a huge game both running and receiving from Brian Westbrook to win this game. The atmosphere will be one of a kind and the Eagles will need to quiet the crowd early. Garcia must have another efficient game and use his legs to create passing plays against a solid Saints secondary. The Eagles need to control the tempo of this game or it could get out of hand in a hurry. Statistically there is a clear edge for the Saints, as they score more points, get more yards, and are better defensively than the Eagles. The Eagles will have to play their best game of the year by far to win. In a close game, the Saints should pull it out.
The Pick: Saints 27-24.
(5) Seattle Seahawks v. (2) New Orleans Saints – Will the Seahawks surprise everyone once again? Will the Saints continue on the most improbable run in NFL history? That’s the build-up for this game. It breaks down pretty easily. If Shaun Alexander is in top form, the Seahawks will control the game. The Saints will have to play honest because of the trio of receivers Seattle has to create huge plays at any moment. Hasslebeck will have huge plays throughout the game if the Saints regularly stuff the box to stop the run. Seattle’s receiving trio in man coverage is an advantage for them against anyone in the league. Thus, Seattle should have a good game offensively. If Alexander gets 30 carries and over 4 yards a run, it means Seattle has controlled the tempo and will dominate time of possession. This fact is extremely important, because if Seattle has a few 3 and out’s in this game, the Saints could tear their depleted corners to shreds. This could be negated to an extent if Seattle CB Marcus Trufant is healthy and ready to go, which is a strong possibility. Even with Trufant, the Saints should have success through the air. Henderson will have his chances to sneak behind everyone for the long bomb, Colston should have some favorable situations over the middle, and the forgotten one, Joe Horn should see some balls come his way in critical 3rd down situations. The Saints may also be able to get over 100 yards out of McAllister, and if their receivers are finding success, Reggie Bush could have the best game of his young career. If he gets past the linebackers in this game, he will find the end-zone. Both offenses have favorable match-ups in this game, and it’s the defenses and game planning that will make the difference. If the young playmakers of the Saints rise to the occasion, they win the game. If they have struggles, and if the Saints can’t stop the run, Seattle will once again come out of nowhere to make the Super Bowl. The fact that the Seahawks haven’t played anywhere near what they are capable of is the toughest part about breaking down the NFC. If they can turn it on in the playoffs, it would make up for what was a terrible last month, including losses to the 49ers and Cardinals. It would also be fitting of the NFC to have a 9-7 team make the Super Bowl. Statistically the Saints are the better team, but the Seahawks haven’t shown their true colors all year long. It’s a tough game to call, but my gut feeling is that the Saints fairy tale won’t make it to Miami. The Saints are a team plagued by turnovers at times, and those turnovers, coupled with a strong running game by the Seahawks, should give them a slight edge.
The Pick: Seahawks 28-24; win the NFC again.
Now on to the AFC playoffs, where the Super Bowl winner lies. The NFC is like the Eastern Conference in the NBA, and the AFC is like the Western Conference. Most of the contenders are in it. The AFC playoffs will be dynamic from start to finish, with plenty of drama and late game heroics along the way.
(6) Kansas City Chiefs v. (3) Indianapolis Colts – The Chiefs needed a win and the kitchen sink to make the playoffs, and they got it. With help from the 49ers they go to Indianapolis. They are anchored by Larry Johnson, who broke the NFL record for carries. They are 3rd in rushing among playoff teams. They are near the bottom in the league in passing yards, but Trent Green has only recently come back from injury and is still trying to get into a groove. Tony Gonzales and Eddie Kennison are still the best receiving targets, but they are good enough to make the few plays needed if Johnson has a good game. On defense, they have a couple of playmakers up front and a proven corner in Ty Law. However, as a unit, they are average against both the run and pass, which is an improvement for them. They are 9th in the league in points allowed despite rushing and passing defenses well below 9th, meaning they are a bend but don’t break defense, a trademark of their coach, Herm Edwards.
The Colts come in troubled. The offense is great again, but it isn’t multi-dimensional like in the past. Peyton Manning continues to light it up, with receiving threats Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and secret receiving weapon Ben Utecht. This has led to the 2nd best passing attack in the league, only behind the Saints. The running game is average, which has taken away the effectiveness of the play action which the Colts thrived on in the past. On defense they have issues. They can’t stop anyone in a backfield with a football from running all over them. Even wash-upped never was has been Ron Dayne of the Texans ran for 153 yards against them. They give up an average of 173 yards a game rushing. To give you an idea of how bad this is, they give up 28 more yards a game rushing then the 2nd worst rush defense in the league. They allowed the Jaguars to rush for an average of over 14 yards a carry for an entire half. Statistically the pass defense is great, allowing only 159 yards a game, 2nd best in the league. This mark is obviously overrated since opposing teams don’t have to throw the ball often against a defense which can’t stop the run. Their rush defense is also partly responsible for the great passing numbers, since the Colts feel they have to beat everyone in a shootout. They resemble the Colts teams of a few years ago more than the team last year which had a serious shot at the Super Bowl.
This match-up is pretty simple. Herm Edwards goes by the philosophy “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. This means he will run Larry Johnson until the Colts prove they can stop him. This is big trouble for Indy. The Chiefs will have a huge edge in time of possession, and this game could resemble the first Colts – Jaguars game, where the Jaguars held the ball for over 40 minutes. The Colts still won that game because the Jags are a young team and didn’t execute down the stretch. The Chiefs have a lot of veterans who realize this could be their last chance for a ring. Manning will have his usual great game but won’t have the quick scores the Colts need in this game. The Colts are essentially the perfect team for the Chiefs to play. Larry Johnson gains over 200 all purpose yards and Trent Green makes the key completions to send the Colts packing early yet again.
The Pick: Chiefs 20-14. Colts finally lose at home.
(5) New York Jets v. (4) New England Patriots – The Jets come into the playoffs after their unlikely run, which was fueled by clutch plays and a weak schedule down the stretch. On offense they are led by comeback player of the year Chad Pennington, who is a proven leader and an accurate passer. At receiver, Laveraneus Coles is a proven weapon and Jerricho Cotchery is turning into a dependable number 2 receiver. The Jets running game involves Leon Washington, a rookie with elusive moves and good speed. The other two running backs are among the worst in the league in yards per carry. The offensive line has 2 rookies but has held its own this year. The offense is average at best, with average or below average marks in every major offensive category. Pennington is reliable but has thrown 16 INTs this year compared to just 17 TDs. The defense is an enigma. Kerry Rhodes is turning into one of the best hitting safeties in the league. Jonathan Vilma is the best young linebacker in football. The front 4 can create plays occasionally. However, on the whole the defense is as average or below average as the offense. They struggle to stop consistent running backs and give up 10 – 20 yard chunks of yards in the air from time to time. The reason they are hard to figure out is the following: 23rd ranked rush defense + 15th ranked pass defense = 6th in points allowed. This makes no sense, which makes perfect sense for the year the Jets have enjoyed. They are a rebuilding team which somehow made the playoffs. The credit belongs to first year head coach Eric Mangini, who should lead this team to great things in the future.
The Patriots, for once, are quietly sneaking into the playoffs. On offense, Tom Brady had another solid year at quarterback, despite the lack of weapons at receiver. Reche Caldwell is starting to come on but isn’t a true number 1 in this league. Their best target is tight end Ben Watson, who is the closest thing to a go-to guy for Brady. The running game is the real story, led by rookie sensation Lawrence Maroney. Dillon has also run well with a reduce workload. The duo combined for over 1500 yards. This has led to the 7th ranked offense in the league. On defense, they are quietly getting the job done. They are allowing a paltry 15 points a game, which is 2nd best in the NFL. Their strength is stopping the run. They allow only 94 yards a game. They have an average pass defense, but one that is vastly improved from last year and one that has some playmakers. The linebackers are still great and the front 3 are still lethal. The loss of S Rodney Harrison will hurt somewhat, but knowing the Patriots, they’ll find someone to plug the gap. The Pats are what they always are: a good all-around team. What the rest of the league doesn’t realize is that this team is the best they’ve had in 3 years. The defense isn’t a liability, but another asset for the Bill Belichick and the Patriots to utilize.
This game is also pretty straight-forward. The Jets have overachieved this year. They went into Foxboro earlier this year and won in a muddy mess. This time the better team should come out on top. The Patriots are the better team in just about every asset of the game. On paper, this game shouldn’t be close, but Jets – Patriots games are always close.
The Pick: Patriots 20-13.
(6) Kansas City Chiefs v. (1) San Diego Chargers – The Chargers come into the playoffs as the best team in football. The offense surrounds league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson, who had 28 rushing TDs and 1800 yards rushing. He also had 58 receptions for a little over 500 yards. He is the total package. At receiver, Keenan McCardell is still getting the job done, Eric Parker and Vincent Jackson are emerging as threats, and Antonio Gates is still causing havoc for opposing secondaries. Under center, Philip Rivers had a pretty good season overall, but struggled over the last month of the year. However, even when he struggles Rivers is able to come up with the big play in the 4th quarter to get the win. All the weapons combine for the best offense in the league by far, averaging 31 a game. On defense, the Bolts have playmakers all over the field. The defensive line is agile and powerful. Shawn Merriman is a monster with and without steroids. The corners, who were the Achilles heel of this team in year’s past, have come around, particularly Quentin Jammer. They are a solid all-around defense, allowing 19 points a game, 7th in the league. The only knock on them is that they don’t force enough turnovers, but they haven’t needed them to win games.
This game is a heated rivalry game which should be close the whole way. Kansas City is one of the 2 teams to beat the Chargers, back in week 7 in Arrowhead. In that game, LTD didn’t have a rushing touchdown and only 66 yards, but had 73 receiving yards and a TD and a passing TD. The Chiefs got a well-managed game by backup Damon Huard and a big game from Larry Johnson: 28 carries for 132 yards and 2 TDs. Rivers had his struggles in this game but still threw for 266. The Chargers erased a 17 point lead but lost on a Chiefs game-winning FG. In the second game, Larry Johnson was contained, rushing for just 84 yards. LTD had arguably his best game all year, going for 199 yards and 2 TDs. Trent Green never got into a rhythm, and the Chiefs couldn’t turn their few good drives into TDs. Philip Rivers had arguably his worst game of the year, completing just 8 passes and throwing 2 picks. Tomlinson carried the Bolts to a 20-9 victory.
Thus this game is very simple. The Chiefs need a big game out of Larry Johnson and a good game from Trent Green to win. Tomlinson shouldn’t be able to get 200 again but should have success like he did in their first meeting as an all-around player. The common denominator in both games was bad showings from Philip Rivers. The Chiefs were able to fluster him in both games. If they can do it again, they have a chance. Rivers must just manage the game and not force things in a game where opportunities will come at a premium. All of the pressure is on San Diego, and if Rivers plays like he has late in the year, the Chargers may need that one big play to come out with the win. They’ve done it all year and will likely win in dramatic fashion again.
The Pick: Chargers 17-13.
(4) New England Patriots v. (2) Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens season really began when Brian Billick took over the play calling and dismissed Jim Fassel. They have only lost once since. The offense has playmakers in Baltimore. They finally have a proven quarterback in Steve McNair, the hungriest player in the playoffs. The receiving core is solid, with McNair’s favorite receiver Derrick Mason and an emerging star in receiver Mark Clayton. Tight end Todd Heap is a dependable and clutch receiver and a great 3rd down target. Jamal Lewis is the feature back, and has never been the same since going to prison. The Ravens would be unstoppable if Billick kept RB Chester Taylor and let Lewis go last year. Right now Lewis is holding the offense back. Baltimore averages only 102 yards a game on the ground, the worst mark of any playoff team. The passing attack is 11th in the league but would be higher with a complementary running game. On defense the Ravens have returned to their accustomed dominance. They are allowing a league best 13 points a game. They are a balanced unit. Bart Scott, Ray Lewis, and Adalius Thomas combine for the best core of linebackers in the league by far. Ed Reed, Chris McAllister, and Samari Rolle lead a ferocious and ball-hawking secondary. They allow only 79 rushing yards a game and only 188 passing yards a game, which are 2nd and 6th in the league respectively. They get good push on the ball, apply a ton of pressure, and are opportunistic.
This game will be a slugfest. If you like scoring, change the channel. The top 2 scoring defenses square off. The Ravens are the better defense both against the run and pass. The Patriots are better offensively, especially in the running game. It will come down to which team can make enough big plays on offense to win it. Brady may have all the accolades, but McNair has the playmakers when he drops back to make the necessary plays. The Patriots can be defeated through the air, and the Ravens will have no choice but to use their passing game as their running game, with plenty of short routes. When the Pats creep up on the line, McNair will burn them for the deciding play in the game. The Pats won’t be able to get consistency out of the running game and they don’t have the receiving weapons to threaten a much more talented Ravens secondary.
The Pick: Baltimore 10-7.
CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP A.K.A. THE ACTUAL SUPER BOWL
(2) Baltimore Ravens v. (1) San Diego Chargers – This is another great AFC playoff game. The Ravens have the edge defensively and the Chargers clearly have the edge on the other side of the ball. In their first meeting, the Ravens won on a game-winning TD drive by Steve McNair, getting the go-ahead score with :34 seconds left. McNair struggled until that drive, throwing for 2 picks before that. He had just 158 yards passing. Rivers managed the game well and didn’t force much, throwing a TD and a pick. He only had 145 passing yards. Tomlinson had a decent game, with 27 carries for 98 yards and a reception for 7 yards. The Ravens had no rushing game to speak of. The Chargers were better in the game, but the Ravens found a way to win.
Since then, Billick is calling the plays and the Ravens offense, at least in the passing game, has been much better. For the Chargers, LTD is still great but Rivers has declined over the last month, except when they need him to make a play late in the game. The Ravens should play better on offense in this game. Tomlinson needs a similar rushing game and needs to be an intricate part of the passing game for the Chargers to win. The Chargers receivers should struggle once again to find openings in the Ravens secondary. The Ravens receivers won’t light up the joint but will have more success. Todd Heap should have a great game as Billick will utilize him more than the Ravens did in the first match-up. Heap wasn’t involved until the key drive in the first game.
This game will come down to the quarterbacks. The Ravens rush defense is easily the best in the playoffs and won’t allow Tomlinson to rush for enough yards for Rivers to just manage the game. He will have to make big throws throughout the game to lead the Chargers to Miami. McNair will also need to play better and not force the issue like he did several times in the first game. McNair and Derrick Mason desperately want another crack at a championship after coming a yard shy against the Rams. The Ravens, on both sides of the ball, are far more experienced and ready to take the next step. It’s quite possible Rivers will play like Ben Roethlisberger did his rookie year in his first AFC Championship game. Rivers hasn’t played well coming into the playoffs and is due for a bad game where he can’t rescue himself. The Ravens will win the turnover battle and win what should be a nail biter.
The Pick: Ravens 14-10.
SUPER BOWL XLI
Seattle Seahawks v. Baltimore Ravens – After the great playoff games in the AFC and the intriguing contests in the NFC, it all adds up to another lackluster Super Bowl, where the commercials will be rescuing the attention spans of millions of people. The Seahawks are no match for the Ravens. The Ravens defense will overpower the Seahawks offensive line and put relentless pressure on Matt Hasslebeck. Shaun Alexander will struggle against the stout Ravens rush defense. It will be an uphill struggle for the Seahawks offensively. On the flip side, the Ravens passing game should have success all game as McNair uses his mobility when needed to create plays. The Ravens will throw underneath early and often until the deep passes present themselves. McNair will put on a clinic and finally get his ring. And in the process, McNair will solidify himself a spot in the Hall-of-Fame.
The Pick: Ravens 34-10.