Divisional Playoffs – AFC Preview

And so, the AFC Divisional games come down to, quite aptly, 2 big division rivalries. Both for the 3rd time this year, the Jets face the Patriots, while the Ravens head to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers.  Throw out any previous numbers or predictions – its the playoffs, its personal, it’s going to grit-your-teeth tight. Buckle up for what could be another couple of hugely entertaining games.

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Saturday 15th, 9:30pm

“I hate playing the Ravens.”

You can’t blame Big Ben Roethlisberger for feeling this way. The Ravens have always been one of those hard nosed defences that QB’s hate to go against. Their defence is dangerous at all 3 levels – D-Line, linebackers & secondary. One ray of hope that Roethlisberger may be clinging to is that there is a chance Ed Reed, the Ravens pick-machine Free Safety, misses this game for personal reasons.

Baltimore arent exactly slouches on the other side of the ball though. While perhaps not explosive, they can certainly put points on the board, and with big time play makers like Ray Rice & Anquan Boldin you can’t simply say they’re a one dimensional team.

Pittsburgh are a team made in the same mold. Their defence is mighty. Their offence compliments the D well enough to win games. Lots of games. Like the Ravens, they have some solid playmakers on the attacking side of the ball, Rashard Mendenhall (1273 rush yards) & Mike Wallace (1257 receiving yards) can feasibly score from anywhere on the field, and you cant take anything away from Big Ben either, especially at this point in the season – He’s won 2 superbowls already, don’t forget.

Despite this, both defences are good enough to stop the offences they are facing. As such, this game is undoubtedly going to be won in the trenches. This one could get nasty.

Ones to watch

Ray Lewis. The 15 year veteran linebacker is quite simply the heartbeat of the Ravens. There are few in the league who match his intensity on the field, and he backs up his talk with consistent play. He’s also one to step up his game in the playoffs. If you’re one of those who finds it difficult to get excited by defensive play, keep an eye on #52. It’s hard not to be fired up by his energy, even through the TV.

Staying on the defensive side of the ball, there may not be a player in the leage who polarises his team as much as Troy Polamalu does for the Steelers. He anticipates the game so well, and it’s for that reason that he is so often able to come up with those game-changing plays – picks, forced fumbles, sacks, etc. You can expect him to leave this game with at least one big number on his stat line. Big Ben may hate playing the Ravens, but I cant imagine Joe Flacco enjoys it too much either when he looks up and see’s Troy lurking.

Prediction

It’s not going to be high scoring. Despite 2 decent offences, it will likely be a defence dominated game. Pittsburgh will be fresher, Baltimore have some good momentum. In truth I think the Steelers are the better team, but I’m going with the Ravens on this one. Not by much though. Baltimore by three.

New York Jets @ New England Patriots

Sunday 16th, 9:30pm

If you’ve been paying attention to the media coverage of this game, you’ll have seen some cracking trash talk. Rex Ryan is always good for it, claiming that this game is all about Rex Ryan vs Bill Belichick and calling out Tom Brady for having poor work ethic (comparatively to Peyton Manning). Pretty bold for a man who’s team was beaten 45-3 last time these teams faced off. Still, you have to love it. Even Antonio Cromartie got in on the action: “Tom Brady? He’s an asshole, f*** him.”

Fun though it is, in reality the Jets have a huge task on there hand if they want to make it to the championship game. The Patriots are undoubtedly the favourites for the Superbowl, and they are playing wonderful football. Brady has had a magnificent season – 3900 yards, 36 TD’s and only 4 INTs. Thats about as close to perfection as it gets in the NFL, and he has this very youthful team working with such efficiency it looks like you’re watching veterans.

The Jets are also a very good team. On paper, they’re probably better than the Patriots at most positions (excluding QB), and I wouldn’t expect a repeat of that week 13 thrashing. They’re going to need all they’ve got to win it though, and I expect the deciding factor will be if Mark Sanchez is in the mood to put up points. We’ve seen a few times this season the Jets offence simply not clicking – Only 9 points against Baltimore, none against the Packers and 6 against Miami. That wont fly against New England, and despite having one of the best defences in the league, I think they’re going to need to put 30 points on the board to upset the Patriots.

Ones to Watch

LaDanian Tomlinson is a vastly experienced back, and has enjoyed a solid return to form with the Jets this year, however, it is his backfield partner, Shonn Greene that could be the game changer in this one. He didn’t put up huge numbers in the regular season while sharing carries with LT, but he exploded in the playoffs last year, and I can see him doing the same again.

For the Patriots, I’m going to be a little more obvious. If you can get past the hair, watching Tom Brady play quarterback is like watching a surgeon at work. He’s made so few errors this season and I expect that form to continue here. Like him or not, you have to appreciate he’s one of the best to play the game and a certain future Hall of Famer. Sit back and enjoy him at work.

Prediction

As I mentioned, the Jets are going to have to be faultless to get by the Patriots in this game. I don’t think they will be. I can see this one getting really personal, and though I think it’ll be quite high scoring (relatively to Ravens – Steelers…), but ultimately Tom Brady will play better than Mark Sanchez. Patriots by 10.

Andy Stuart

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    • Thor
    • January 14th, 2011

    Ravens 13 – Steelers 17. Big Ben, Troy and home field the difference. Ravens a bit overrated imo.

    Jets 14 – Patriots 30. Jets score few points early on but can rally like few others in the dying seconds. Jets D need to keep Patriots below, say, 15 point by half time for a possible comeback. It’ll always be catch up for Jets in this one.

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