By Doug Halberstadt
Only eight teams remain with a shot at calling themselves this year’s NFL Super Bowl champion. The four teams from both conferences will square off against one another this weekend.
In the AFC, Baltimore will travel to Denver and Houston will visit the New England Patriots.
Denver finished the regular season with a 13-3 record, mostly because of the rejuvenated play of quarterback Peyton Manning. The Ravens were 10-6 in the regular season and knocked off the Indianapolis Colts 24-9 last week in the wild card game.
The Broncos and the Ravens faced one another less than a month ago (Dec. 16) in Baltimore. Denver doubled the score on Baltimore (34-17) in that game. The Ravens will be trying to avoid elimination in the playoffs by upsetting the Broncos at Mile High Stadium. I don’t think the Ravens have enough weapons to get the job done. Manning and his Broncos might not be able to outscore the Ravens by the same two-to-one margin again, but I do believe they’ll come out on top and end up playing in the AFC Championship Game.
The other team I predict will make it to that championship game is the New England Patriots. To get there, they’ll have to dispatch the Houston Texans this Sunday (Jan. 13). These two teams also faced one another about a month ago. The Texans were thoroughly embarrassed (42-14) at Gillette Stadium Dec. 10. There’s no doubt the Texans will be looking to avenge that loss and prove they are better than that score showed. The problem for them is nothing much has changed from a month ago. Quarterback Tom Brady, running back Stevan Ridley, wide receiver Wes Welker and tight end Rob Gronkowski are still the backbone of the potent Patriots offense. The Texans didn’t have an answer for that offensive juggernaut a month ago, and I don’t see them shutting them down anytime soon, especially not in this playoff game.
The NFC matchups feature the Green Bay Packers traveling to San Francisco to take on the 49ers, and the Atlanta Falcons will host the Seattle Seahawks.
The Packers and the 49ers game pits two teams almost equally matched against one another. That’s strictly going by the numbers. The Packers averaged 27 points per game this season, the 49ers averaged 25. Green Bay’s defense allowed an average of 21 points per game. The 49ers’ defense was a little stingier. They gave up an average of 17 points per game. When they met in Green Bay for the regular-season opener back on Sept. 9, the 49ers came out on top 30-22 despite more than 300 yards passing from Aaron Rodgers.
Last week, I went against Green Bay in their wild card matchup with the Vikings. I’m not going to make that mistake this week. I think the Packers are peaking at exactly the right time of the year. As much as I’d like to see the 49ers win on their home turf, I’m expecting Green Bay to prevail.
The Seattle Seahawks have to make another cross-country trip this weekend. This time, they are headed to Atlanta to tackle the Falcons. They spotted the Redskins a 14-point lead in the wild card game last weekend and then battled back and scored 24 unanswered points to come away with the victory. I’m pretty certain that tactic won’t work against the Falcons. I’m not sure the Seahawks have any tactic that’ll work against Atlanta. I look for the Falcons to take advantage of the travel-weary Seahawks and play their way into the NFC Championship Game the following week.
Last week, I only picked one of the four wild-card games correctly. I think I relied a little too much on my heart instead of my brain. This week, I tried to keep the emotion out of it. I hope that’ll equate to a better record.
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the Jan. 9-15, 2013, issue