NFL Divisional picks: Bears, Steelers, Patriots and Falcons will advance

January 12, 2011

By Doug Halberstadt
Sports Columnist

At noon, Sunday, Jan. 16, the Chicago Bears will play the Seattle Seahawks at Soldier Field in their push toward the Super Bowl.

The rest of the NFL playoff match-ups have the Baltimore Ravens facing the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New York Jets playing the New England Patriots and the Green Bay Packers taking on the Atlanta Falcons.

The Bears and the Seahawks have already played one another one previous time this year. That game was also in Chicago. Seattle beat the Bears 23-20 Oct. 17.

Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck threw for four touchdowns in last weekend’s upset victory over the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. While Hasselbeck was torching the Saints’ secondary, the Bears had the weekend off.

In October, Hasselbeck and Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had fairly similar afternoons. Hasselbeck threw for one touchdown. Cutler didn’t throw a touchdown or an interception in that game. Hasselbeck was 25-40-0-242. Cutler went17-39-0-290.

I think the Seahawks spent all of their playoff coins in the big win against the Saints last weekend, and their season will come to a close with a loss to Chicago in the second round.

The Ravens and the Steelers will meet one another for the third time this year. The clubs split the season series with close wins on each other’s home turf.

These two teams really do not like one another. “If you want to play somebody, you want to play your rival,” Ravens nose tackle Kelly Gregg said of next Saturday’s divisional-round game against the Steelers at Heinz Field. “Those are the kind of games you love. You’re trying to beat your nemesis.”

Despite sharing 12-4 records in the regular season, the Steelers won the AFC North and a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed in the AFC behind New England, while the Ravens are the fifth seed. Even though they lost to the Ravens 17-14 at home in week four of the regular season, I’m taking the Steelers to take advantage of their home field and knock the Ravens out of the playoffs.

The Patriots are at home against the New York Jets. It was just a little more than a month ago that the Patriots dismantled the Jets in front of a national television audience on Monday Night Football, winning 45-3. New England quarterback Tom Brady went 21-of-29 for 326 yards and four touchdowns in that game. I doubt he’ll be able to duplicate that performance, but I do expect Brady and his teammates to come away with the victory.

The Packers managed to keep their Super Bowl hopes alive by defeating the Eagles in Philadelphia last Sunday, Jan. 9. To advance to the conference championship game, they’ll have to beat another bird of prey in their home nest. This week, they face the Falcons in Atlanta. This will also be a rematch for these two teams. The Falcons beat Green Bay 20-17 in the Georgia Dome earlier this year.

The Falcons should win this game. They are an outstanding 20-2 at home under Matt Ryan, they have the NFC’s leading rusher in former Northern Illinois University Huskies running back Michael “The Burner” Turner (1,371 yards and 12 touchdowns), and they have a defense that has been very opportunistic, picking off 22 passes (fourth in the league) and recovering nine fumbles.

Ryan was fantastic in the first match-up between the two teams, completing 24 of his 28 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown, all of which included a game-winning drive with a minute left after the Packers tied the game up at 17 on an Aaron Rodgers pass. Turner also had a very successful day, rushing for 110 yards on 23 carries, tacking on a touchdown of his own.

I look for the Falcons to win for the second time in two tries against the Packers this season.

Last week, I was 1-3 in the Wild Card games. I really hope I don’t fare that poorly again this week; however, if I do, I also really hope the game I do get correct is the Bears. GO, CHICAGO!

Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.

From the Jan. 12-18, 2011 issue

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