Last week, MDS and yours truly disagreed on both Saturday games. He was right, I was wrong, and now I’m in a two-game hole with seven postseason games left.
This week, we agree on the Saturday games. But we disagree on the Sunday games. Which means that we could be tied heading into the championship round, or that he could have a four-game lead with three games left.
Maybe we’ll include the Pro Bowl this year.
For our picks in all four games to be played this weekend, keep doing what you’ve been doing to reach the point where we invite you to keep doing it.
Ravens at Patriots
MDS’s take: Patriots fans have reasons to be concerned. The Ravens have a good track record of playing well in New England in the postseason, and the Ravens played some of their best football of the year in Saturday’s win over the Steelers. Baltimore is a complete team with only one weakness, the injury-riddled secondary. And even that injured secondary held up pretty well against Pittsburgh’s passing attack. Add all those things up, and it’s tempting to pick an upset. But I think the Ravens will fall just short. New England’s defense will pressure Joe Flacco into some mistakes, and Rob Gronkowski will come up with some big plays, and the Patriots will win a close one.
MDS’s pick: Patriots 21, Ravens 20
Florio’s take: The postseason history between these two teams suggests that the Ravens will thrive in Foxboro. Or perhaps it puts the Patriots on greater notice of the risk of getting caught flat-footed in the divisional round and losing, as half of all No. 1 seeds have done since 2005. While the most important pieces of the two teams are the same as they’ve been when the Ravens established a 2-1 record at New England in the playoffs, the Patriots have Darrelle Revis and a healthy Gronk. That alone should be enough to prevent the team that rebounded dramatically from a 2-2 start to the regular season from falling to 1-3 at home against Baltimore in the postseason.
Florio’s pick: Patriots 34, Ravens 17.
Panthers at Seahawks
MDS’s take: I’ve been impressed with the Panthers the last few weeks. Winning five straight games by an average margin of 16 points per game isn’t easy against anyone in the NFL. But the reality is that playing at Seattle represents an enormous step up in competition for Carolina, and I just don’t think the Panthers are up to it. This looks like the least competitive game of the weekend, as the defending champs will cruise into the NFC Championship Game.
MDS’s pick: Seahawks 28, Panthers 10.
Florio’s take: In each of the last three years, the Panthers gave Seattle all they could handle. From 16-12 in 2012 to 12-7 in 2013 to 13-9 earlier this year, coach Ron Rivera and company have shown that they know how to compete with one of the best teams in the league. But each of those games was played in Charlotte; for the first time ever, the post-Fox Panthers get a taste of Seattle. While the Panthers may be able to cover the double-digit spread, they won’t be able to advance.
Florio’s pick: Seahawks 20, Panthers 10.
Cowboys at Packers
MDS’s take: Tony Romo was outstanding on Sunday against the Lions, despite a furious Detroit pass rush beating him up all day. Green Bay’s pass rush isn’t as good as Detroit’s, and Romo should be even better on Sunday at Lambeau Field. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, Aaron Rodgers will be better still against Dallas’s defense. In a high-scoring game, the Packers will come out on top.
MDS’s pick: Packers 38, Cowboys 30.
Florio’s take: For the first time ever, a team that was 8-0 on the road faces a team that was 8-0 at home. But the biggest question is whether Aaron Rodgers’ torn calf muscle will hold up. Even if it does, the Cowboys have a healthy Romo — and an oversized, orange-sweatered mojo. It all adds up to Dallas punching a ticket to a return to Seattle, the scene of one of the best games of the regular season . . . and the site of the snap-bungling gaffe that gave Tony Romo the label of late-game choker.
Florio’s pick: Cowboys 28, Packers 24.
Colts at Broncos
MDS’s take: All the attention will be on Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, but to me the difference in this game is the personnel on the defense. Denver has pass rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware and cornerbacks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib, and that will make life miserable for Luck. Indianapolis just doesn’t have the same kind of personnel, which means Manning can do what he does best, and exploit holes in the opposing team’s defense. The Broncos will score a lot and set up a trip to New England in the AFC Championship Game.
MDS’s pick: Broncos 30, Colts 20.
Florio’s take: Something hasn’t been right with the Broncos over the past few weeks. While the good news is that quarterback Peyton Manning has had extra time to allow his thigh (and whatever else may have been injured) to heal, the bad news is that Manning tends to overprepare when he has two weeks to get ready for a big game, with a 2-4 mark in the divisional round after earning a bye. With the Colts bumping against the ceiling that separates the NFL’s second tier from its elite, this could be Indy’s chance to break through.
Florio’s pick: Colts 24, Broncos 21.