2009 NFL Divisional Playoffs Preview

I didn’t write a column with last weekend’s wild card round picks. It was right after the holidays. I was in a time crunch. Blah blah blah. Anyway, I didn’t write a column, but I posted my usual playoff picks, and I went 3-1.

By not thinking (and writing) too much, I didn’t talk myself into any bad picks. The only game I missed was the Chargers-Colts battle, and that game was the closest of them all, eventually being settled in overtime in favor of San Diego thanks to career nights for backup running back Darren Sproies and punter Mike Scifres.

So, after the silent treatment was successful, I’m doing the obvious—completely abandoning that winning strategy and writing a picks column for the divisional round. I’m feeling good after winning Erie Times-News sports columnist Duane Rankin’s BCS challenge with a clean sweep, 5-0, of the big college bowl games. Now it’s time for me to go pro with the picks for this weekend.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Tennessee Titans
The first team to 10 may very well win this game. These teams play similar grind-it-out styles that depend on their defenses and running games. The primary contrast comes at quarterback. The Ravens will play rookie Joe Flacco. The Titans will start 36-year-old veteran Kerry Collins, whose first playoff start came Jan. 5, 1997. Flacco was 11 years old. Collins hasn’t exactly had a Hall of Fame career, but I think his wisdom and Flacco’s inexperience will be the difference in this one.

My pick: Tennessee 13, Baltimore 3

Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers
This game looks to be the biggest mismatch of the weekend. Carolina was 8-0 at home this season, and Arizona was just 3-5 on the road. Plus, the Cardinals may be without Anquan Boldin, allowing the Panthers to put extra attention on Larry Fitzgerald. Expect Kurt Warner to keep it close for a half, but then the Panthers’ will pull away to win going away.

My pick: Carolina 34, Arizona 17

Philadelphia Eagles vs. New York Giants
Last year, the Giants were in the Eagles’ role, heading to Dallas for a divisional round matchup on the road as an underdog. So the Giants won’t be blindsided by Donovan McNabb and company. But they also won’t be fully equipped to beat them. The absence of Plaxico Burress hurt the Giants down the stretch this season, and it will hurt against the Eagles. Their Earth, Wind & Fire running game of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw should be effective. But with Eli Manning lacking Burress as a deep threat, the passing attack is limited—something that the Eagles’ aggressive blitz scheme should be able to exploit.

My pick: Philadelphia 27, New York 24

San Diego Chargers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
For the second week in a row, the Chargers game looks like the toughest one to pick. My thoughts on this one, re-printed below, were also included on Bill Williamson’s AFC West blog.

Records are irrelevant in the playoffs, so it doesn’t matter that the Chargers are 9-8 and the Steelers are 12-4. Things that do matter? Defense (advantage Steelers, number one in the league). Peaking at the right time (advantage Chargers, winners of five in a row). Injuries (Call it even between Tomlinson?s groin and Roethlisberger?s head). This game has all the makings of a slugfest much like the 11-10 result from earlier this season. And in the past three seasons, the Super Bowl winner has not had a first round bye. While that bodes well for San Diego, no one has been more battle-tested this year than the Steelers. Their rigorous schedule should have them well-prepared for the grind of playoff football. Polamalu picks off Rivers late to seal the deal.

My pick: Steelers 20, Chargers 13.

Matt’s 2009 NFL Playoff Predictions Tally
Overall: 3-1

For more information, visit MattHubert.com.

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