I’ve been fighting the flu for a week. Which is my officially unofficial excuse for getting three of last weekend’s games incorrect.
My other unofficial excuses are: (1) Andy Dalton overthrew A.J. Green on what would have been a game-winning touchdown; (2) Joe Webb isn’t as good as I thought he was; (3) Christian Ponder is better than I thought he was; and (4) the Colts were far more charitable to Baltimore than they were in 1984.
So MDS went 4-0 and I went 1-3 and now that we agree on every game this weekend all I can hope for is a tie, at best, in the postseason edition of the picks contest.
Did I mention I won the regular-season contest by 11 games?
Ravens at Broncos
MDS’s take: Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis, the best offensive and defensive players of their generation, will meet one last time in Denver. I don’t think it’s going to go well for Lewis and his team. The Ravens have struggled all year against good quarterbacks and good wide receivers, and I see this game looking a lot like their December meeting, when Manning’s passing got the Broncos a big lead, and Knowshon Moreno’s running ran out the clock in the second half. In fact, I’ll go ahead and predict the same score as last time.
MDS’s pick: Broncos 34, Ravens 17.
Florio’s take: Peyton Manning has beaten the Ravens nine straight times, including earlier this year in Baltimore. While Ray Lewis missed that game, he could be more of a liability than an asset in the rematch. Noticeably larger than he was when he reported to training camp with a lean frame intended to help chase tight ends, Manning could have Lewis running ragged in the thin air of Colorado. Along with the rest of the defense.
Florio’s pick: Broncos 31, Ravens 17.
Packers at 49ers
MDS’s take: This, to me, is the toughest game to pick. The 49ers won at Green Bay in Week One. The 49ers had a better record during the regular season. The 49ers are at home. The 49ers got a week to rest while the Packers had to play last week. For all those reasons, the 49ers would seem to be the logical pick. But two factors have me leaning toward the Packers: The way Aaron Rodgers is playing lately, with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the last four games. And the question mark about 49ers defensive end Justin Smith, who in my opinion is their single most important player, but who won’t be at full strength with a torn triceps. I like the Packers to win a close, high-scoring game.
MDS’s pick: Packers 35, 49ers 31.
Florio’s take: In what could end up being the best postseason game of the year, the Niners will try to beat the Packers for the second time since September — and the first without Alex Smith at quarterback. Even though Colin Kaepernick has the ability to move the ball on the Green Bay defense, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be determined to prove to the Niners that they should have picked him with the first selection in the 2005 draft.
Florio’s pick: Packers 28, 49ers 24.
Seahawks at Falcons
MDS’s take: I was all set to take the wild-card Seahawks to win on the road against the No. 1 seed Falcons, but the injury to Seattle defensive end Chris Clemons made me reconsider. Clemons started every game and led the Seahawks in sacks, and I believe Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan can take advantage of an opposing defense with a depleted pass rush. If Seattle cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner can lock down Atlanta receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, and if rookie Bruce Irvin can step up his play in place of Clemons and make life difficult for Ryan, the Seahawks’ defense can still play well enough to win this game. But I’m going to go with the Falcons in a close one.
MDS’s pick: Falcons 27, Seahawks 24.
Florio’s take: I’ve said all year that the Falcons won’t get respect until they earn it by winning in the postseason. And it won’t be easy against a Seahawks team that has demonstrated it can beat anyone, anywhere. But with two weeks to prepare and five seasons of pent-up frustration, Matt Ryan and company will finally find a way. Most likely. Probably. Possibly. Maybe.
Florio’s pick: Falcons 24, Seahawks 21.
Texans at Patriots
MDS’s take: This game won’t go as badly for the Texans as their previous meeting, but it won’t go particularly well for the Texans, either. Tom Brady can pick apart Houston’s secondary, and while there are some big holes in the Patriots’ secondary, too, I’m not convinced that Matt Schaub is playing well enough right now to take advantage. The Patriots will beat the Texans convincingly again and earn an AFC Championship trip to Denver.
MDS’s pick: Patriots 31, Texans 17.
Florio’s take: Sure, the Jets were blown out by the Pats in December 2010 before beating New England in the postseason. But that makes it even more likely that the Patriots won’t fall into a trap, barely a month after trouncing the Texans, 42-14. Indeed, last year the Patriots blew out the Broncos in December before blowing them out even worse in the playoffs. Coach Bill Belichick will have his guys ready to charge out of their foxholes and attack — in slightly more organized and effective fashion than the way the guys in Stripes attacked the obstacle course.
Florio’s pick: Patriots 38, Texans 17.