2011 NFL Playoff Predictions, Week 1, Part 2

If you missed my predictions for today’s games, you can find them here.  Now, for a look at tomorrow’s games:

Baltimore (-3) over Kansas City

Most of the Chiefs' opponents in 2010 seemed less intimidating on the field than in year's past.

Out of all the playoff teams, there isn’t one that had an easier path to the playoffs than the Chiefs.  The AFC West was up for grabs in 2010 due to yet another sluggish start from preseason favorite San Diego, and Kansas City staked their claim by handing the Chargers a loss on the opening weekend of the season.  After that, the Chiefs schedule featured an astounding run of teams that ranged from mediocre to downright awful.  It’s hard to believe, but after that opening week win over the eventual 9-7 Chargers, Kansas City would play only two more games against teams that finished above .500 — a rematch against San Diego (in which KC was crushed 31-0) and a loss against the Indianapolis Colts (a ten point loss in Week 5).

I’m not dismissing what Todd Haley, his staff, and his players accomplished in 2010 by winning six more games from the year before and winning the franchise’s first division title since 2003 — but it’s simply the facts that the Chiefs were a decent team with a creampuff schedule, and other than the Seahawks, they’re the team least-likely to find themselves playing in Cowboys stadium in February.

The Chiefs do feature one of the league’s strongest running games, which only got better in the season’s final weeks as Haley finally took the restraints off of Jamaal Charles, who ran for an astounding 6.4 yards a carry, easily leading all running backs.  And quarterback Matt Cassell quietly had a remarkably efficient season, throwing only 7 interceptions (and 27 touchdown passes), while receiver Dwayne Bowe emerged as one of the biggest deep threats in the NFL.

But this isn’t the league-worst Denver defense they’re going to be facing on Sunday, but rather the feared Baltimore Ravens squad, which yet again ranked near the top of the league’s overall defenses.  They gave up the 5th-fewest yards rushing in 2010 — and if they can stop Kansas City’s ground game, then it could be a long day for the faithful at Arrowhead Stadium.

If the Ravens win the Super Bowl in 2010, this was the moment that started their run.

My pick here is more about the Chiefs than it is about head coach John Harbaugh’s Ravens team.  Frankly, I don’t know how I feel about their chances in the playoffs — they’re the team I’m finding it harder to get a grasp on than any other as we start the march to the Super Bowl.  I love Ray Rice and think he’s the team’s best weapon — yet I think he’s misused at times, particularly when he’s sometimes not on the field in the Red Zone.  I like Joe Flacco and the weapons he has — the addition of Anquan Boldin was arguably the best move made by an team in the past off-season — yet I think Harbaugh at time relies too much on the passing game instead of pounding at the run.  And as great as the defense has been, they’ve still given up some crucial backbreaking plays at the worst times (remember the touchdown drive that cost them the game against Atlanta back in Week 10?).

Still, only New England, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh won more games than the Ravens’ total of 12 — and that wasn’t an accident, nor was it as fluky as the Chiefs win total (the Ravens went 4-3 against teams better than .500).  When you factor in the x-factor of potential distractions in Kansas City involving the departing Charlie Weis (no matter what is said, there’s no way Weis’ mind could have been 100% on the Chiefs preparing for this game while preparing to take another job at Florida), then it’s easy for me to take the Ravens to advance to the next round.

Green Bay (+2.5) over Philadelphia

The Eagles will go as far as this man takes them.

There’s not a team in the NFL I’ve gone back and forth on more than the Eagles this past season.  As crazy as it might sound now, I was a huge skeptic when Andy Reid made the decision to name Michael Vick his rest-of-the-season starter back after only one start (a win against the Detroit Lions) — and frankly, even now I think Reid handled his entire quarterback situation from training camp up until that moment incredibly poorly (the huge $12.25 million extension given to Kevin Kolb before the season was a mammoth mistake if Reid had so little confidence in the young quarterback as to bury him after one bad quarter-and-a-half against one of the better defenses in the NFL, and Reid’s sudden faith in Vick as his starter makes me wonder why the Eagles didn’t commit to him from the beginning).

But there’s no doubting the tremendous impact that Vick has made on the Eagles since he entered the starting lineup, and he cemented himself as the league’s comeback player of the year with his play (as well as a putting himself in the conversation as a legitimate MVP candidate).    The Eagles have an explosive offense that’s going to be hard for any defense to contain, and Vick present a near-impossible match-up — so why am I picking the Packers, you might ask?

Well, Philadelphia has had a tendency in the Andy Reid era to pull some mystifying no-shows in games and lose to teams they have no business losing to.  Look no further than Week 16 of this year’s season, when with everything to play for (in the form of a first-round bye), the Eagles crapped the bed in an embarrassing home loss to the Minnesota Vikings.  It was a game where their hapless opponents managed to limit Vick’s effectiveness and beat him up to the point of nearly knocking him out of the game, while their defense was neither able to stop rookie QB Joe Webb nor Adrian Peterson and the running game.  It was an ugly loss, one that made me believe as I originally thought earlier in the season, that the Eagles are not a Super Bowl contender, Vick or not.

Brett who?

And the problem for them this week is that it’s not the Vikings they’re facing — it’s a Packers team that was considered by many to be a sleeper Super Bowl contender themselves coming into the season.  While that dream may not be in the cards for the Pack due to some untimely injuries (none of which has hurt Green Bay more than the loss of running back Ryan Grant way back in Week 1), the Packers are an extremely dangerous team, having one of the best quarterbacks in the league themselves under center in Aaron Rodgers, a dangerous corps of receivers led by deep threat Greg Jennings, and what’s most important, a shut-down defense.

The Packers gave up only 240 points in 2010, the second-lowest in the league (behind only the Steelers).  If they’re week on that side of the ball, it’s in stopping the run (they didn’t give up a ton of yards, but they did give up an alarming 4.7 yards a carry) — but in their favor, the Eagles don’t ever really attempt to establish the running game (a maddening Andy Reid trait as well over the years), but rely heavily on their pass-first approach.  If Philly does the same thing on Sunday — and nothing in Reid’s history suggests they won’t — then the Packers should be able to contain them enough to allow Rodgers to gain his first playoff win.

That’s enough from me about what I think is going to happen — last year’s first weekend was carnage for my picks (I went 1-3), so I’m hoping things are better this time around.  I’ll be back at the start of the week with some thoughts on the weekend’s action — in the meantime, enjoy the playoff action!

Picks for Week 2 of the playoffs are now up here.

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2 Responses to “2011 NFL Playoff Predictions, Week 1, Part 2”

  1. […] a little brutal honesty « Wrapping Up The First Weekend Of The Year As Fast As I Can 2011 NFL PLayoff Predictions, Week 1, Part 2 […]

  2. […] in Joe Flacco.  What has changed, however, is the threat that Anquan Boldin brings to the team.  I mentioned last week that I thought he would be a major factor if the Ravens made a Super Bowl run, and he paid […]

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