Friday, January 14, 2011

AFC Divisional Preview and Predictions

Baltimore Ravens (12-4) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)

Baltimore is coming off of a dominating performance in last week's Wild Card game against the Chiefs. Joe Flacco had a very nice game, he threw for 265 yards and two TD's, connecting with seven different receivers. The Ravens D caused a lot of problems for the Chiefs on offense, they picked off three Matt Cassel passes, and held him to just 70 passing yards. KC had some success with the run game, their backs combined for 108 yards and a TD. The Ravens didn't show much weakness against an undermanned Chiefs team, but if you can take one thing away from that game, Baltimore is some what susceptible to the run.

The Steelers are not the Chiefs. In fact, they are much, much better. Not only does Pittsburgh have a fantastic running game with Rashard Mendenhall, but they have a Superbowl winning QB, three fantastic receivers (Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, and Heath Miller), and a stout defense both against the pass and run. The Ravens are going to have a very tough time on offense this weekend, Ray Rice is going to have to break some big runs to open up Pittsburgh's defensive front.

Joe Flacco is not going to have as much time in the pocket as he did against the Chiefs. His looks won't be as clean with James Harrison, James Farrior, and LaMar Woodley in his grill. The Ravens offensive line is gonna be in for a huge test against the Steelers great defensive packages.

The Ravens defense must keep Mendenhall, and big play receiver Mike Wallace under control. The Steelers do a great job at mixing in the run with the pass, and it helps to create opportunities for Wallace to get behind the defense.

Keys to Ravens victory: Protect Flacco, have some big plays in the run game, no big plays for Mike Wallace.

The Steelers are coming off of a much needed bye week, which allowed All-World Safety Troy Polamalu to rest his injured Achilles. Pittsburgh brings in the league's 11th ranked rushing attack, and the 14th ranked passing game. They're gonna find it difficult to get offense going against a very good Ravens D, which is coming off of a strong performance against the Chiefs.

For the Steelers to get their offense going, they must try and pound the run with Mendenhall. If Mendenhall can have any success with the run, it will open up the passing game for Roethlisberger. Big Ben has got to be ready to be pressured early and often. He is not known as a very mobile QB, but he is going to need to use his feet to keep plays alive.

Pittsburgh's D is going to have to limit Rice's production, and pressure Flacco into making bad decisions. It's not often that Flacco makes a bad throw, but, if he gets pressured, it's more likely for him to make a mistake.

Keys to Steelers victory: Pressure Flacco, Limit Rice, create win turnover battle.

Prediction: Steelers win defensive battle 17-13

New York Jets (11-5) @ New England Patriots (14-2)

The Jets come into the Divisional game after defeating the Colts 17-16 in the Wild Card round. The Jets received a lot of gifts from the Colts in order to win that game. The Colts made numerous mistakes on defense and special teams, and Jim Caldwell's controversial timeout, that even drew the ire of Peyton Manning, all made for a Jets victory.

The storyline's all week have been the Jets using their mouth's to try and get into the head's of their opponents, which is nothing new. What they don't know, and should know, is nothing phases the Patriots; it only adds fuel to the fire.

Mark Sanchez is nursing an injury to his throwing shoulder, and it showed in the first half against the Colts. Sanchez struggled mightily in that game, and luckily, they were playing a very bad defensive unit. Sanchez will not have that luxury this week against New England. It looks like the Jets are going to rely heavily on LT and Shonn Greene to create the majority of the offense. The injury to OT Damien Woody will have a big impact on the Jets run game.

The Jets D is going to have to step up big in light of their offensive struggles. They cannot let Brady sit in the pocket and pick apart their defense with short passes to Welker and Woodhead. They have to mix up blitz packages to try and confuse Brady, they must also make sure they tackle properly. Benjarvus Green-Ellis has a physical running style and he relies on getting yards after contact.

Keys to Jets victory: 160 total rush yards with a TD, no turnovers, hit Brady.

Like Manning, Brady is doing a whole lot with a little. We all know the impact that Welker can have on a football game, but Danny Woodhead? The Pats traded Randy Moss, brought back Deion Branch, and inserted Woodhead into a much bigger role, and it has paid dividends. It seems like New England finds guys who check their ego at the door and just do whatever it takes to win.

Brady is having one of the best seasons of his career, and Benjarvus Green-Ellis is also having a career season (not to mention the best nickname in the NFL, "The Lawfirm"). The Pats offense relies heavily on Green-Ellis' physical running, and slot passes to Welker and Woodhead which opens up the deep threat in Deion Branch.

New England's defense is young, but very athletic. That was the biggest question mark looming for the Pats before the regular season, but they seem to get better and better each week. They do struggle against the pass, allowing nearly 260 pass yards per game, but with Sanchez's shoulder injury, they may have dodged a bullet.

Keys to Patriots victory: Limit Jets run game, play smart on defense.

Prediction: Patriots win 27-17

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