A few weeks after some single ladies found engagement rings under the Christmas tree, the best eight teams in the National Football League will play seven games to determine who picks up the jewelry on February 1st.
In the first divisional playoff of the week, Baltimore travels to Nashville to face the Tennessee Titans. Earlier in the season in Maryland, Tennessee benefitted from a questionable personal foul call and cashed in with a touchdown in the final two minutes of the game. This game acts as the rubber game in the postseason series between the Ravens and Titans. It’s the third game in just under a decade for one of the fiercest rivalries in the league. Expect the traditional low-scoring, smash mouth defensive effort we are used to seeing from these teams when they meet in a premier matchup. If Joe Flacco can complete more than 9 passes and the Ravens defense doesn’t allow the Titans offense to move down the field with short passes, the Ravens will continue this magical road show to the AFC Championship Game.
The Pick: Ravens 17, Tennessee 10
In the other half of the AFC divisional bracket, the San Diego Chargers bolt into Pittsburgh for a showdown with the Steelers. Clashing in a mid-November classic 11-10 win by Pittsburgh, expect a different outcome in this one. If the Chargers can stop Ben Roethlisberger the same way they limited Peyton Manning’s production last Saturday in San Diego, these underdogs have a great shot to knock off the AFC North Champions. The major question mark entering the game will be the health of Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson. If Tomlinson can revert to his old form of taking over a football game with speed and precision, the Chargers will roll over the Steelers. Then again, Pittsburgh has the best defense in the NFL in almost every imaginable statistic. San Diego needs to get out to an early lead in this game and let its special teams play a field position game with Pittsburgh if they want to hang with the Steelers.
The Pick: San Diego 24, Pittsburgh 20
Over in the NFC, the top seed New York Giants host the Philadelphia Eagles in Sunday’s early game. Playing for the third time this season, both teams already have a road win in this series. Using a tremendous ground game for the majority of the season, the Giants control the game clock as well as field position with their phenomenal trio of running backs. Philadelphia’s unlikely path to the divisional round reads like a cheesy sports movie. Take a coach with more personal problems than Lindsay Lohan, a quarterback who fans boo mercilessly at his home stadium and a pair of plays this season where the Eagles dropped the football before crossing the goal line. Throw in an owner who has the most awkward high five in the history of sports and you end up with a…Super Bowl Champion?
The Pick: N.Y. Giants 28, Philadelphia 7
The most dangerous team left in the NFL postseason plays its home games in Charlotte. The Carolina Panthers have the best balance left in the playoff chase. A veteran quarterback with two outstanding running backs and a pair of playoff tested receivers gives the Panthers one of more dangerous offenses left in postseason play. A few years ago in Philadelphia, Carolina controlled the NFC Championship Game against the Eagles with a steady diet of effective rushing and timely passing. On Saturday night the Panthers will face an Arizona Cardinals team who can’t wait to be eliminated. Since the Cardinals won the division in early December, this team looks like a bad Al Pacino movie. You just want it to end.
The Pick: Carolina 35, Arizona 3