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Divisional Playoffs

Divisional Playoffs
Saturday Sunday
WAS at SEA - 4:30 PM EST - CB PIT at IND - 1:00 PM EST - CB
NE at DEN - 8:00 PM EST - AD CAR at CHI - 4:30 PM EST - AD

Washington at Seattle (9.5)
Give the Skins credit they walked the plank last week and came out on top. They really controlled the game defensively. The defense set the tone early with a pick that was rushed in for a TD and then a fumble recovery where all the Buc players were wondering where the whistle was at. But the real story is the offense. If they are going to rely on their defense that heavily in this one they will be in some serious trouble. Scoring some points and moving the ball on offense will be essential to winning this game. Quite frankly, I don't think they have a chance in hell. The offense has not been same in the last half of the year and will continue to struggle in the playoffs. It really will be a shame as this defense is the best left in the playoffs and will be wasted after this blowout. They will be seeing Shaun A's footprints in their dreams...or maybe nightmares.

Make no mistake, Mr. Alexander deserved the MVP. He was just sick this year by breaking the rushing record that was previously held by a dude named Holmes. He really did it in unspectacular fashion. There was little fan fare as he is a workmanlike running back that flat gets it done. Looking at the numbers he had 1880 yards rushing and a 5.1 yard per carry average. You just can't beat that. With Alexander's success that left little room for Hasselbeck as he had a ho-hum 3400 yards and 24 TDS. The key to this game will be to control the clock and get his receivers involved early. Don't look for Alexander to rush for 200 in this one. The Skins will load and up and ask Hasselbeck to beat them in the air. I think you see a big game for Darrell Jackson as he makes his way back from injury. The defense will focus on Portis as they are just not scared of Brunell. I see this game getting ugly early and the crowd getting involved as the Seahawks will take one more step towards the Super Bowl.

Final Score: Seahawks 32, Skins 16

New England (+3) at Denver
This week, the Patriots (11-6) travel to Denver to face the Broncos (13-3) at Invesco Field at Mile High. The air may be thin in that lofty elevation, but the competition should be as thick as the coagulated blood of a nose guard.

When these teams played earlier this season, the Broncos prevailed 28-20, but not before Patriots QB Tom Brady mounted a comeback in the fourth that fell short in the waning minutes. Brady, who has still not lost a playoff game in his career, will undoubtedly keep this one closer in the first three quarters, setting up a classic finish possibly decided in the last minute by one of the kickers (who are two of the game’s best). The Patriots are coming off their 10th straight playoff win, eclipsing a record set by the legendary Packers of the 1960s, so they have the momentum.

But this game may be more about coaching and less about momentum. Both coaches have extensive playoff experience and impressive postseason records. New England HC Bill Belichick is 11-1 in his playoff career, while Mike Shanahan is a solid 7-4. These guys know what it takes to win in January. During the last meeting, Jake Plummer held onto the football pretty well. He threw for 262 yards and two touchdowns and shifty RB Tatum Bell rushed for 114 yards and a score. The Broncos were even up 28-3 after a two-yard scoring run by Mike Anderson early in the third quarter, although Brady led a Patriots charge that put up 17 consecutive points before faltering with a few minutes to go. The formula for beating the Broncos has been simple: Pressure Plummer and force turnovers. And against the Jaguars, the Patriots got to Byron Leftwich and notched an easy victory.

Linebacker Willie McGinest was the undisputed MVP for the Pats D, with a playoff-record 4 1/2 sacks. Cornerback Asante Samuel, who has stepped up his play during the second half of the season, even returned an interception 73 yards for a TD. But it’s going to take more than Samuel to shut down Plummer. The Pats have the league’s 31st-ranked pass defense, and their safeties have been beaten time and again by opposing receivers. Eugene Wilson will have to play up to get a jump on the run, and the Denver RBs are decent enough to combine for 150 yards. The Pats have the NFL's 8th-ranked run defense, so expect to see a lot of play action from Shanahan, whose offense is built around a running game that ranked second in the NFL at 158.7 yards per game. He’s not my favorite coach, but Shanahan can get tricky and shake it up once in a while, which I expect he will facing a defense that’s bound to blitz frequently and throw them lots of stunts. If Tedy Bruschi is back on Saturday, Shanahan might play on his adrenaline and try to fake him out. McGinest, LB Rosevelt Colvin, DE Richard Seymour and the rest of the defense will need to get to Plummer, or the Pats will run into the same problem they did in October.

On offense, the Patriots are clicking, playing their best football of the season. Last week, Brady threw for 201 yards and three touchdowns, including a 63-yarder to tight end Ben Watson. The Broncos pass defense isn’t much better than the Pats, and Denver is ranked 29th in the league. RB Corey Dillon will have his hands full versus the NFL’s 2nd-ranked run defense, however, and the Pats #1 WR, Deion Branch will probable be blanketed by Denver CB Champ Bailey. The Patriots have always been effective in the flats, going to both receivers and backs, but in Ian Gold and D.J. Williams, the Broncos have the speed at outside linebacker to defend New England’s screens. If Brady goes deep, it will be to Watson, TE Daniel Graham and WRs David Givens and veteran Troy Brown, who better still be on the Broncos radar. With the Broncos lack-luster pass rush, they’ll have difficulty forcing Brady to throw picks.

Final Score: Patriots 23, Broncos 20

Pittsburgh at Indianapolis (-9.5)
A big battle here as the Steelers will look to avenge their earlier loss to the Colts on Nov 28th 27-6. That was the week that Marvin Harrison and Manning hooked up for an 80-yard TD pass on the Colts' first offensive play of the game. There is a lot of smack being talked on the Steeler end but you wouldn't know talking to the big three in the Indy. They quietly go about their business as they know they are the better team. The key factor is that the Colts know they can handle the Steelers as a matter of fact dominate the Steelers. The confidence is on the Colts side not the Steelers. You are looking at a team that is loaded on both sides of the ball and rested up. Much will be made about the fact the Colts have had a lot a rest between meaningful games but that is people looking for a reason that this game might be close.

The fact is the Colts D is just as good as the Steelers D. Look at the stats. They are 15th and 16th respectfully against the pass however Pittsburgh is a better team against the run. But for meaningful defense stat you can look at the fact the Colts are a +12 and the Steelers are a +6 on turnover ratio. So both teams are pretty good but the Colts are better. Especially at home where they are a whopping +8. The Steelers on the other hand are a -7 on the road. Get the picture? By the way don't let anyone tell you that Palmer not being in that game last week didn't make a difference. That is just like saying that not having Manning in the game would not make a difference. Of course it made the difference. How many snaps in practice do you think Kitna got in preparation of the Steelers? Zero. In any event it comes down to who can run the ball and stop the run. The Colts and Steelers are a much better team when they control the running game. Here is a vote for the home team. They will dominate. It won't be close. Here's to the bus on his last ride to school.

Final Score: Colts 31, Steelers 13

Carolina (+3) at Chicago
Nearing the end of last season, this game would have been nearly unforeseeable as a divisional playoff matchup one year later. But here we are — watching Rex Grossman and the Chicago Bears (at home, no less) take on the Carolina Panthers. The 12-5 Panthers head into Soldier Field to face the 11-5 Bears this Sunday after dispatching the Giants as easily as Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai defeats challengers in fish battles.

The Bears, with their stifling defense, have also looked dominant at times this season. They won eight on a row from Oct. 16 to Dec. 4, and got a huge offensive boost when Grossman returned. However, this is Chicago’s first home playoff game in four years. While many believe the Bears will stick to the ground game against Carolina, I think head coach Lovie Smith will be a bit more lenient in allowing Grossman to look downfield, since the young QB has a cannon compared with Kyle Orton. Chicago will rely heavily on the power running of Thomas Jones, but it will be the big play that makes the difference.

When these teams met in November, Chicago CB Nathan Vasher had two interceptions in the first quarter to set up a pair of scores, and the Monsters of the Midway sacked Jake Delhomme eight times en route to a 13-3 victory. Adewale “Wally” Ogunleye recorded three sacks and fellow DE Alex Brown had two. Jones only had 87 yards on 25 attempts.

The key for the Bears defense will be stopping Steve Smith, who had a franchise-record 14 catches for 169 yards in the November meeting. The Bears are solid against the run, but the Panthers showed for the second consecutive week they actually do have a ground game. DeShaun Foster rushed for 151 yards, Smith caught a touchdown and ran for a score, and the Panthers rolled. Nick Goings even got into it and the Panthers tallied 223 team rushing yards. If Grossman can keep his passes out of the hands of Panthers strong safety Marlon McCree, who had two of his team’s three interceptions last week, the Bears should win.

Final Score: Bears 21, Panthers 17