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Monday, January 10, 2011

Divisional NFL Predictions: January 16, 2010

Seattle Seahawks vs Chicago Bears: Skip it
Chances are if this were any other top seed I would have no problem laying the points and rolling with the home team.  Unfortunately, SEA get to take on a CHI team that I have thought were overrated since day one.  That doesn't mean that they haven't improved during the year, but when Jay Cutler is your quarterback and Mike Martz is your offensive coordinator nothing is a sure thing. 
In any given game either one of them can produce a disastrous game and lose it all by themselves.

Yet, much like the NO/SEA game, CHI enter this tilt as heavy favorites with good reason.  To begin with, Lance Briggs will be in this game and that will add a whole new complexion for SEA that they didn't have to worry about the first time around.  In that game SEA beat the cover two look a few times for big plays and I expect them to challenge this defense deep again - especially if they see some man-to-man coverage.  Relying on the big play is not a formula for success against this CHI team.  Despite Hasselbeck's success down the field, they still averaged less than 10 yards per reception.  Another big difference will be Matt Forte's role.  He was factored out of the game plan in week 6 after his short TD run as Martz called 39 passing plays in the loss.  SEA did a great job limiting them to 13 points and 0 third down conversions.

On the other side of the ball, Lynch is riding high after one of the more memorable runs in recent playoff history, but he now has the reward of playing against one of the best run defenses in the league in less than favorable conditions.  I don't expect much success on the ground or in the air this week from SEA.  They might come out with a world of confidence because the entire team just won their version of a Super Bowl against NO.  Look for an emotional let down in what could turn out to be a blowout by the fourth quarter.  Despite their play over the last two weeks, this SEA team is still terrible in most of the critical categories.  However, one advantage they should have is causing havoc in the CHI backfield.  The offensive line has improved a lot over the season, but Cutler will need to hit his hot reads a few times in this game due to the pressure he'll see.  CHI own a significant advantage in this game, but laying 10 points is too much for my liking.  In reality, CHI should be favored by a touchdown.  If I see the line drop under 10 before kickoff, I'll include them in a 7 point teaser along with NE.  For now I'll take a pass.  Prediction: Skip it. 

New York Jets vs New England Patriots: NE -2.5
Is there any game on the board that is more difficult to figure out than this one?  Before the season started I picked NY to overtake NE for the division crown.  This was primarily due to the additions NY made in the offseason and the defense NE would be starting the season with.  After seeing what Mark Sanchez did in week one I went with NE the first time around.  The second time they met I switched back to my original stance and went with NY.  I'm not sure anybody thought NE would blow out NY the way they did, but give credit to Brady and company as they stamped their names as division champs with an emphatic exclamation point.  

Depite going 0-2 in this rivalry this season, I can't say I'm entirely surprised at how things have played out.  Belichick always seems to outperform his stats which makes it a little more difficult to interpret their matchups.  They have the ability to beat anybody in this league regardless of how bad their defense ranks or who is missing from their lineup.  As we break down this game, let's forget about all the trash talking going on in the media because it won't have any impact on the final result of this game. 

The last time these teams met, NE dismantled NY's man-to-man game plan on defense.  I don't think they will take the same approach in this one though.  Look for NY to clog up the middle of the field and put pressure on NE to win the game on the sidelines.  Unfortuantely for NY, there's no way they could have anticipated the production seen by the NE tight ends this year.  That will pose as a matchup problem for them and Mark Sanchez is going to need to do considerably more if they hope to keep up.  Last week LT showed they he isn't ready for retirement yet as he produced one of his better games of the second half of the season.  Greene has been a monumental disappointment this year based on expectations, so it's hard to tell how much of a factor he'll be in this one.  Rex doesn't have complete trust in him yet and turning the ball over is the last thing you want to do with Brady.  Weather will be a factor on Sunday, but Sanchez has proven that he can produce in less than favorable conditions.  He churned out good games against PIT and CHI on the road, so don't assume he'll have trouble with the elements.

Revis is playing top-notch football once again after playing catch-up all season long, but how much of that will be a factor when we don't even know who the number one receiver on NE is?  Cromartie struggles with quickness so he could be targeted quite a few times in the short passing game.  Getting to Brady will also be a problem because NY can no longer produce the same kind of pressure packages that they had last year.  You saw this last week as they dared IND to run the ball all game long.  If NY can't get some early success in this game, that psychological hurdle is going to seem like a mountain.  This game will be close if NE fall behind early, but even if they do NY will need to collectively play the games of their lives to have a chance at the upset.

Right now the line is hovering around -9 at most places, but like the SEA/CHI game it is an inflated number.  The public have done well betting NE all year long and if they want to go with them again they'll have to give up a few extra points on the line for it.  However, if you took one look at the X's and O's it would be hard not to go with NY.  They have the statistical edge on the ground, in the air, and the return game.  NE have the edge with third down/red zone offense, points from long drives, turnover differential, and penalties per game.  Yet how much of this will matter at kickoff?  Given everything that is involved with this matchup, I'll be teasing NE for the best chance to win.  Even if this game is tight at the end, who would you rather put your faith in?  Bill Belichik and Tom Brady or Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez?   Prediction: Tease NE.
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