By: Dan Leach
Baltimore Ravens (11-6) at Denver Broncos (13-3) 4:30 PM Est. (Denver -9.5)
The “Ray Lewis Retirement Tour” continues for at least one more game, but now his Ravens have to travel to the top seed in the AFC, Denver Broncos. The Ravens seemed to win comfortably against the young Colts in the Wildcard round, but when you look closer the game could have gone much differently had rookie Andrew Luck made a couple better decisions in the Red Zone.
Now they get to take their sometimes pedestrian offense to Denver where all the Broncos have done in Peyton Manning’s first season in the Mile High City is win 11 games to end the regular season, play top notch defense, and create havoc for their opponents. So the Ravens have no chance right? Well from first glance that is how it may seem, but the Ravens were able to do some strong things offensively against a good Colts defense and if that continues against a better Denver D, they can at least stay in this game until the final stages.
Prediction (Based on a 1-10 Bagels and Locks Scale)
7.8 Bagels on the Ravens +9.5 – There is no way you can deny the amazing things that Denver has done en route to the overall one seed in the AFC. Manning has made an almost seamless transition from his major surgery and year off and the balance the Broncos have on both sides of the ball make it very tough for any opponent to create a game plan that can beat them. Denver’s NFL second best +192 point differential is startling as well. The Ravens will be playing with high emotion and energy led by Lewis defensively this is a D that can still take over games. If Joe Flacco can keep the mistakes to a minimum and Anquan Boldin can have another huge game, there is no reason to think this can’t be tight until the final possessions.
Denver 24 Baltimore 17
Green Bay Packers (12-5) at San Francisco 49’ers (11-4-1) 8pm est. (San Fran -3)
This is one of the more interesting playoff match ups I can remember in the last several years as you have two teams capable of playing in the Super Bowl, but also with flaws that could knock them out before they can get anything going. The Packers enjoyed a bye-like week in their game against the Vikings when as soon as QB Christian Ponder was unable to go, the Vikes chances seemed to go out the window in a game that was very hard to watch at times. The Niners came into this season as Super Bowl favorites, but one QB change and a ton of inconsistency later; they are not nearly as feared as they were after beating the Pack to open the 2012 season in Lambeau.
The Packers have had trouble stopping the run and that is where there is a huge opening for the Niners whether it is the legs of Frank Gore or QB Colin Kaepernick. The latter is the biggest key of this game as he will be making his first playoff start and at times this year has dazzled and at others has looked very average. The intensity of the playoffs will be much different than any other game he has played in his football career and that is where there could be some trouble. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense have been playing better and better and they are capable of scoring you right out of a game when clicking on all cylinders.
7.4 Bagels on the Niners -3 – This game is going to come down to which unit is can impose its will more frequently, the Packers offense or the Niners defense. A-Rod and the Pack will score their points, but when the Niners are at their best it is when that defense is creating turnovers and making opposing offenses have to almost abandon their game plan and get desperate. I think we will see a lot of lead changes and a lot of huge game-changing type of plays, but in the end Kaepernick will shine, ending any doubt that the switch from Alex Smith to him was the wrong move. The Niners who were one play away from the Super Bowl last season will put themselves back in position to get there this year.
San Francisco 24 Green Bay 20
Dan Leach was just nominated for an Academy Award for his work in the costume department of the epic “Les Miserables”, only eats whole grains and rice during the winter months, and is a finalist for the Cleveland Browns head coaching job.