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Divisional Playoffs

Divisional Playoffs
Saturday Sunday
NYJ at PIT - 4:30 PM EST - CB MIN at PHI - 1:00 PM EST - CB
STL at ATL - 8:00 PM EST - AD IND at NE - 4:30 PM EST - AD

For The Season
(163-93) Straight Up - 63.6%
(145-106-5) Against The Spread - 57.7%

N.Y. Jets (+8.5) at Pittsburgh
The Steelers are looking to advance to the AFC Championship for the fifth time in the last 11 years under "Growling" Bill Cowher. The Jets have never won at Pittsburgh in the divisional round. Overall the Jets are 2-15 against the Steelers including a fantastic 0-6 in the Steel City. However only 1 out of 4 chalks covered the spread last week. So look for that trend to continue. I like the Steelers as much as the next guy but this will be a defensive battle with low scoring. Nobody will win this by more that a TD.

December 12th the Steelers handed the Jets a 17-6 loss, which clinched the division title for the Steelers. That was the game the Big Bus threw a 10-yard halfback option in the fourth quarter and then ran for another score later with three minutes left. The Steeler defense held the Jets out of the end zone and Pennington had a horrible game as he threw three interceptions. Curtis Martin didn't have a great game either and only ran for 72 yards and no scores.

Big Ben is undefeated with a 13-0 record. You have to give him credit, defense or not, 13-0 is 13-0. But this defense is good. They are lead by Porter, Farrior, and Polamalu and they are #1 overall defense and points allowed. They will make it awfully difficult for Pennington and Co. That set a franchise record with 14 straight wins but with Big Ben at QB this was unexpected but Ben turned in a Rookie of the Year performance with 2621 yards and 17 TDS. He needs to keep his TD/INT ratio down. His 11 TDS is a little high. He has to make the correct decisions with the ball for the Steelers to win.

The Jets pulled the upset last week. They held Tomlinson to only 80 yards and really controlled the temp of the game. Martin didn't have a great game with only 66 yards but Pennington played considerably well with his injury. He completed 23-33 passes for 270 yards and 2 TDS. Moss looked good with a 47-yard TD. The last time the Jets were this far in the playoffs was 2002 under Herm. They got beat by the Raiders 30-10. The Jets are hoping to get back John Abraham this week. But at press time we still did not know what is the status with his injury.

Again, I think this will be low scoring. It will be a gem to watch though. The Steelers should pull this out because they have too many weapons on offense. With Ward, Burress, Randle El, and the running back tandem that should be enough to pull out a victory.

Final Score: Steelers 21, Jets 17

St. Louis (+7) at Atlanta
This game, like so many in the history of the NFL playoffs, will come down to turnovers. And while St. Louis QB Marc Bulger is eminently well-versed at throwing the untimely interception, it will most likely be the play of Falcons QB Michael Vick that determines the outcome.

In 14 starts this season - excluding the final week - Vick led the Falcons to 11 wins, with the three losses coming at the hands of the visiting Detroit Lions via a 17-10 loss in Week 5 at home, in Kansas City against the Chiefs in a 56-10 drubbing and at Tampa Bay, where the Bucs shut them out 27-0.

Looking for a common theme? I most certainly l was, and I noticed that in two of the three games (KC and TB) Vick threw two picks, although he didn't throw more than one interception in any of his team's wins this season. The Lions game was somewhat of an anomaly, since Vick threw just one interception, and the Falcons were still very bad. But the Lions did harass Vick into three turnovers, including a fumble in the final minute that sealed the victory. Vick faced intense pressure all day, and the Lions sacked him six times. Against Detroit, Vick managed just 196 through the air and only 29 yards rushing, his second lowest total of the season up until meaningless Week 17. The Lions won because they held Vick in check and punished him whenever he attempted to pass.

At KC, Vick was just 7-21 for 119 yards and no TDs, although he did manage 62 yards rushing on just six carries, including a 32-yard scamper that set up a measly field goal on the Falcons first possession. The Falcons lone TD was on an Allen Rossum punt return and Vick, after being sacked four times, was replaced by backup Matt Schaub in the last quarter. I think we can chalk this game up to the Chiefs getting pressure on Vick and playing up to - and a little beyond, maybe - their offensive potential. The Chiefs did not necessarily shadow Vick on defense, but they did keep him in check by playing their safeties up and using CB William Bartee, weakside linebacker Shawn Barber and MLB Monty Beisel on blitzes to accompany defensive line pressure from rookie DE Jared Allen and veteran DE John Browning.

If the Rams are successful, it will be through the use of shifty, speedy lineman Leonard Little in pursuit of Vick and by playing safety Adam Archuleta up closer to the line of scrimmage to shadow the elusive QB. On offense, the Rams will need solid pass-blocking to avoid penetration from DT Rod Coleman, DE Patrick Kerney and DT Ed Jasper. They'll also have to pick up blitzes from LB Keith Brooking, LB Chris Draft and DB Bryan Scott.

The Falcons may have dispatched St. Louis in Week, but the Rams have won three straight and were 7-0 against the Falcons before the early season debacle. The health of both Bulger and Vick have been questioned, since the two young QBs missed some time down the stretch with minor injuries.

I don't think the Rams have what it takes to stop the Falcons from getting to Bulger, and they don't have enough deep coverage to keep Vick from heaving it downfield. While the Falcons weren't the most impressive offensive team in the NFL, they were pretty tough to stop when Vick had it going. With the playoff stage set, I think Vick and the Falcons will shine.

Final Score: Falcons 31, Rams 17

Minnesota (+9) at Philadelphia
I noticed a very strange line on this one. Donovan McNabb will be looking to take the Eagles to their fourth straight NFC Championship game. He was hoping I am sure that he would have more firepower that he did the last three times. But Owens ankle, and Roy Williams, did not cooperate. This Eagles team looks eerily familiar with the last three that marched into the playoffs. You know, the offense that has scored a pitiful one TD in both of those games at home. It will be tough to replace Owens's 77 catches for 1200 yards and a team record 14 TDS. They need to make it to the Super Bowl to have a chance to see Owens in action again.

He will have to depend on his other weapons, you know, the same weapons he has had the last three year. The usual suspects should see in increased role. That would be Brian Westbrook, L.J. Smith, and Chad Lewis. The folks that really need to pick up the pace are Todd Pinkston who never saw an over the middle pass he liked and Freddie Mitchell that has shown nothing this year. As horrible as Pinkston has been Mitchell has been able to take over the 2nd receiver spot. Andy Reid has been resting his starters the last few weeks in fear of another disappointing injury. McNabb only played a couple of series and Kearse played neither contest. The Rams and Bengals pounded them in both games as expected. This will be tough game for them as with Owens they barely nipped the Vikings in their earlier game this year.

The Vikings played the underdog role pretty well last week as they beat the crap out of the Packers 31-17 and really controlled the game from start to finish. They jumped out to a great start going up 14-0 in the first. This despite winning 3 out of their last 23 outdoors. They will be led by Culpepper who would have been the league MVP this season if not for some dude named Manning. Culpepper had a season of 4717 yards and 39 TDS. Against the Packers he had 285 yards and 4TDS and looked like the Culpepper of earlier this year. Two of those TDS went to the best receiver in the game Randy Moss. After one of those had to be the funniest thing I have ever seen. For those of you who don't know the story the last time the Vikings visited the Packers the fans mooned the Vikings team bus after the game. This time Randy struck back with a moon of his own as he simulated the act after a long passing TD. Of course, everyone wanted to get down on Randy but if you don't want him to do it then stop him from scoring.

Miss was hobbled by an ankle injury that may keep him from practicing this week. The Vikings have one the best receiving corps with Moss, Burleson, Robinson, and Wiggins. They may be without third down back Moe Williams as well. Look for O. Smith to get some more carries to make up some of the load. The offense will be tested against one the NFC's best secondaries that features three pro bowlers with Sheppard, Dawkins, and Lewis. I think this game was close in the first one with everyone going full strength and it will be even closer this time. I have to say 9 points is crazy. Bet the farm on this one. The Vikings have a chance to win this one.

Final Score: Eagles 28, Vikings 24

Indianapolis (+2.5) at New England
While there are scads of ways to approach analyzing this game, and the Patriots, despite having Indy's number the past few meetings, seem to be bound for a loss using all of them.

I'm probably the biggest non-New England, non-fan supporter of what the Patriots have done the past few years. I love watching them play and appreciate their offensive versatility and their defensive toughness. But how in the world can they stop Peyton Manning when he's this hot?

I know, I know. Manning was just as hot last year, and although I wasn't yet writing for, my newspaper column predicted the Pats would win 24-17 in the cold weather. The Pats won 24-14 and many of my comments then still stand the test of one year's time. Tom Brady was 5-0 career in the playoffs before last year's AFC Championship and he's still undefeated in the postseason - 7-0 - heading into this week.

What went wrong last year for Indianapolis? They underutilized the running game, which was still without a 100 % healthy Edgerrin James, but that problem has been solved. Manning wasn't nearly as perfect as he looked during the 2003 season, throwing four picks in the championship game. In the five losses to New England dating back to 2001, Manning has thrown the same number of touchdowns - nine - as interceptions, and hasn't been the same guy under the pressure of the New England blitzes. Defensive backs Rodney Harrison and Ty Law owned Manning last year, and in Week 1 of the 2004 season, the linebackers took over, with big plays from Tedy Bruschi and Willie McGinest.

The Colts have improved defensively, with DE Dwight Freeney having an exceptional season on a significantly better line. While they have had almost as many injuries in the secondary as the Pats, Indianapolis has established a more aggressive game plan and the defense led the NFL with a +19 turnover margin.

Regardless of the outcome, this will be a game that ranks among the best we've seen in this century, and there have already been many great postseason finales. And it may mark the day when Manning finally gets some of the playoff glory Tom Brady has usurped from the exalted NFL heir-apparent.

Final Score: Colts 27, Patriots 24