Last week was a solid one for my predictions against the spread but I missed Saturday’s games straight up. It is a very interesting slate this weekend so it is time to get straight to the picks along with an x-factor for each team.
Wild card weekend results:
Straight up: 2-2
Against the spread: 3-1
Ravens vs Steelers:
Ravens x-factor: Todd Heap, tight end- Heap had a huge game for the Ravens last week recording over 100 yards in their win over the Chiefs. Now he faces a tougher challenge but needs to come through for his team to have success running the ball. A good amount of his yards came off crossing routes over the middle which could open up the game for Ray Rice.
Steelers x-factor: Emmanuel Sanders, wide receiver– With the Ravens keying in on stopping the big play to Mike Wallace, Sanders has a chance in his rookie season to have a big impact out of the slot in this rivalry game. Like Heap for the Ravens, there is a good chance Sanders will have most of his production running routes over the middle.
Prediction: If you have been following the build up to this game, the cliché “these teams just don’t like each other” is probably a sentence you have heard often. These games are always physical and while the winner will be one step closer to the Super Bowl, chances are they will be beat up going into the AFC title game. My prediction is Ravens 17 Steelers (-3.5) 23.
Packers vs Falcons:
Packers x-factor: James Starks, running back– Starks played very well last week against the Eagles and showed why he was touted as a mid- round pick before missing his senior year at Buffalo. If he proves to be more than a one game wonder this postseason, it will drastically increase the Packers chances of winning.
Falcons x-factor: Tony Gonzalez, tight end– Gonzalez made the Pro Bowl this year but it was mainly based off reputation averaging less than ten yards a catch. However, if the Falcons want to win, he needs to have a big game. Outside of Roddy White, the Falcons receiving corps isn’t that strong so a big game out of Gonzalez will take pressure off Matt Ryan and open up the field for White.
Prediction: Last time these teams met, the Falcons offensive line played very well allowing only two sacks. If they can do that again and you throw in how loud the Georgia Dome will be, this should be a heck of a battle between two of the league’s top young quarterbacks and very well could be the next decades Manning/Brady matchup. My prediction is Packers 21 Falcons (-2.5) 26.
Seahawks vs Bears:
Seahawks x-factor: Marshawn Lynch, running back: Last week, Lynch entered “Beast Mode” in what led to one of the greatest postseason runs ever and is sure to be shown on NFL Films until the end of time. The last time these teams played was Lynch’s first game with the Seahawks and he is now more familiar with the blocking schemes and the playbook. If he performs well it will open up the passing game for Matt Hasselbeck and company.
Bears x-factor: Johnny Knox, wide receiver: Knox might be the league’s most underrated deep threat as he averaged almost 19 yards a catch on the season. The last time these teams played he had over 100 yards for the day and with Matt Forte running the ball, Jay Cutler should be looking for Knox deep when they get into play action.
Prediction: I am not even going to try and explain how lucky the Bears have been starting in week one with their victory over the Lions with the Calvin Johnson “catch/no catch” scenario. However, they have risen to the occasion to beat quality teams. While the Seahawks have already gone into Soldier Field this year to win, this Bears team has changed offensively and while it will be close, should pull out a victory. My prediction is Seahawks 23 Bears (-10.5) 27.
Jets vs Patriots:
Jets x-factor: Antonio Cromartie, cornerback: Cromartie’s huge kickoff return to begin the Jets final drive last week is why the team is here in the first place. Now, he is going to be another key factor in how the Jets perform. Cromartie has made national headlines for calling out Tom Brady this week adding more fuel to the fire between these teams. Brady hasn’t said anything back but if past history is any indication, he will be targeting whoever is being covered by Cromartie early and often.
Patriots x-factor: Deion Branch, wide receiver: If Brady does what I think he will on Sunday, Branch will be on the receiving end the majority of the time. Granted, I am basing this off the fact that the last time these teams played Darrelle Revis was shadowing Wes Welker the whole game. Branch is a very good route runner and gets out of his breaks quickly which could lead to trouble for Cromartie.
Prediction: After a week of jokes that incorporated Rex Ryan and Nick Folk’s foot, it is time to play the rubber match for the matchup both teams (mainly the Jets) have been wanting all year. The Patriots have the formula to pass efficiently against the Jets which few teams could replicate. They don’t have a true number one receiver but instead have many efficient ones to go along with two very good receiving tight ends. If the Jets can control the tempo of the game, they have a chance but the Patriots just look too strong. My prediction is Jets 17 Patriots (-8.5) 31.