By Doug Halberstadt
I guess I owe John Harbaugh and his Baltimore Ravens an apology — I underestimated them. The Ravens defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-17 in their Wild Card game. Of the four games last weekend, it was the only one I got wrong. That win earned the Ravens a trip to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, this Saturday, Jan. 10, to battle Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
This might be like déjà vu all over again for these two team. They’ve played one another in four of the past six post-seasons. Last year (Jan. 20, 2013), they met in the same location during the playoffs. The Ravens won that game 28-13 and knocked the Patriots out of the playoffs. The Ravens were led by quarterback Joe Flacco. He was 21-for-36 with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a quarterback rating of 106.2.
His counterpart, Brady, had a miserable playoff performance. He finished the game 29-for-54 with one touchdown and two interceptions for a quarterback rating of 62.3. I expect several things will be different this year.
The one biggest difference being Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski. Injuries prevented him from playing in last year’s game. This year, he’s healthy, and in his own words, “mad eager” for the upcoming game against the Ravens. He’s Brady’s favorite target, and I look for the two of them to have a big day. This should be a revenge game for the Patriots. I’m taking New England by 10, 27-17.
The other AFC divisional game has the Indianapolis Colts heading out to Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium to take on the Denver Broncos. These two teams opened the 2014 regular season against one another at the same venue. The Broncos beat the Colts 31-24 Sept. 7. I don’t see any reason to expect anything different this weekend.
If anything, I think Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is more dangerous now than he was earlier in the season. The confidence level between him and his receivers has skyrocketed after playing together for a full season. I’m taking Denver 28-17.
The game with the most local interest will be at Lambeau Field on Sunday (Jan. 11). The Dallas Cowboys will come calling on the Green Bay Packers. The interesting thing about this game is the Cowboys haven’t lost a road game all season, and the Packers haven’t lost a home game all year.
Something has to give. I think the Cowboys’ luck is about to run out. They barely got by the Lions in the Wild Card game last week. The Packers are a much better team than Detroit. In the words of Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers, “Relax.” That’s easy for him to say. Not likely, though, for Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo. Romo was hit hard in last week’s game and can expect more of the same from the Packers’ defensive squad. I think Rodgers will tear apart the Dallas “D” and win this one 38-14.
The second NFC divisional game is at Century Link Field in Seattle. The Seahawks welcome the Carolina Panthers to town. These two teams faced one another in Charlotte back on Oct. 26. The Seahawks won that game 13-9. I expect this game to be much higher scoring.
Neither quarterback had a good game in that week eight match-up. Seattle’s Russell Wilson was 20-for-32 with one touchdown and one interception for a quarterback rating of 77.5. Cam Newton was worse for the Panthers. He was 12-for-22 with no touchdowns and one pick for a quarterback rating of 61.
These two guys won’t forget those sub-par performances and will be looking to make some amends. This time, Wilson will be playing at home in front of the “12th Man.” The loudest fans in football will get the chance to see their team take another step in their quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions. Newton won’t go down easily, but I expect the Seahawks to come out on top, 28-24.
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the Jan. 7-13, 2015, issue