Saturday January 12, 2013
4 Ravens @ 1 Broncos
4:30 pm (eastern time), Sports Authority Field at Mile High
Heading into halftime last Sunday against the Colts Baltimore led 10-6, but the offense came out in the second half and took the game over. Joe Flacco led the attack with a spectacular showing (12/23. 282 yards, 2 TDs), which I admit is not something I was expecting to see. I predicted that a Baltimore victory would come through a heavy dose of Ray Rice, but it was actually Rice's backup rookie Bernard Pierce who stole the show against Indy.
Rice ran for just 68 yards on 15 carries while losing two fumbles and almost costing Baltimore at critical times in the game, while Pierce stepped in and ran for 103 yards on just 13 carries as the Ravens managed to easily move the ball up and down the field. Flacco hit Anquan Boldin five times in the second half, for 145 yards and a touchdown.
On defense, Baltimore felt the presence of returning linebacker Ray Lewis as he made 13 tackles and nearly made an interception early in the game. Paul Kruger put pressure on rookie signal caller Andrew Luck for most of the day, sacking him 2.5 times and Baltimore forced two Luck mistakes. The Colts' offense held the ball for nearly 38 of the game's 60 minutes as Luck set a rookie record for pass attempts in a postseason game (54), but were forced to settle for three Adam Vinatieri field goals and never got into the end zone against Baltimore's stout defense.
This week will be a much different story for Baltimore, as they get a match-up with the No. 4 overall defense on the road. Sure, Flacco and company could handle the Colts and move on with a 24-9 first round victory, but now they are forced to travel to the Mile High and face a much better defense. Indy was ranked 21st in overall defense, 21st in pass defense and 29th in run defense. The Broncos are 4th, 3rd and 3rd and somehow get overlooked as a top defense around the league.
Indianapolis didn't exactly have a standout pass rusher on its squad this season (Robert Mathis' 8.0 sacks led the team), but the Broncos have two guys in Von Miller (18.5 sacks this season) and Elvis Dumervil (11.0) who don't waste any time getting after opposing QBs and eating them for lunch. Mathis got to Flacco just once last week, but if I'm Flacco I'm not exactly looking forward to this match-up in Denver.
How can the Ravens pull off a victory today? Mistake-free. If this offense makes just one mistake, they aren't winning this game. Peyton Manning and his No. 2 scoring offense will make Baltimore pay dearly for any mistakes they make on the offensive side of the ball. Going for his 5th career MVP trophy this season (hopefully Adrian Peterson will win it instead), Manning is playing a strong as ever right now and has turned Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker into Pro Bowl-worthy wideouts.
Prediction: Broncos 31, Ravens 14
3 Packers @ 2 Niners
8 pm (eastern time), Candlestick Park
Despite the Vikes not playing with starter Christian Ponder last Saturday night, the Packers' 24-10 victory over Minnesota last Saturday night looked pretty impressive. Quarterback Joe Webb couldn't complete a pass to save his life, and I even think he failed to hit a trash can two feet away from while attempting to throw his Gatorade cup away on the sidelines (no joke). Completing just 11 of 30 attempts, Minnesota's offense once again consisted of: Adrian Peterson running a heavy dose.
After allowing 409 rushing yards to Peterson in the previous two match-ups between these two teams this season, Green Bay surrendered just 99 yards on 22 carries. So anytime you hold AP to under 5.0 yards per carry, you're gonna have a good day. The only time Minnesota got into the end zone was on a 50-yard pass from Webb to Michael Jenkins with under four minutes to play in the game, so you can almost call it garbage yards and points. The game was long over by that time.
Aaron Rodgers (23/33, 274 yards, 1 TD, 104.9 rating) played near-flawless football against Minny's 15th-ranked defense, but tonight will be a bit of a different story. Going up against San Fran's No. 2 defense will be a huge challenge for Rodgers and this offense. But with a banged up Justin Smith and after surrendering 34+ points to New England and Seattle late in the season, it's been proven that it's possible for a high-scoring offense to put up points on the Niners.
San Francisco defeated Green Bay 30-22 in the first game of the season, but there's a huge difference between then and now. First off, Alex Smith was the Niners' quarterback back then while now second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick is under center for San Fran and he has zero postseason experience. Second off, the Packers failed to run the ball effectively (14 attempts for 45 yards). Rodgers was the team's leading rusher in that game, running the ball 5 times for 27 yards while Cedric Benson ran 9 times for 18 yards.
This week will be a whole new story, as the Packers have appeared to have found its guy in the backfield. Second-year back DuJuan Harris ran the ball 34 times for 157 yards and 2 TDs this season, but over the last two weeks he's been the guy for Green Bay, running the ball a total of 117 yards on 31 carries with a touchdown. Harris and Alex Green have been splitting carries and make for a formidable one-two punch alongside Rodgers in the backfield.
Now I wouldn't take Green Bay's backfield over San Francisco's Frank Gore, but the fact the Rodgers may finally have a couple of capable runners coming out of his backfield to accompany his high-flying passing offense is a scary thought. Putting pressure on SF signal caller Kaepernick will be key for the Pack's defense, and I'm not so sure I trust this Niner offense with Kaepernick. I'd take Rodgers and his superb postseason track record (plus experience) ove Kaepernick and the Niners defense any day. Don't forget that Green Bay lost a game to Seattle that they should have won (replacement officials gave Seattle a game-winning TD that should've been ruled an interception at the end of the game), meaning Green Bay would have ended up being a higher seed than San Fran.
San Francisco is favored by 3 points, but I'll take the underdog Packers in this one.
Prediction: Packers 24, 49ers 14
A little later this afternoon I will be posting an article with all of our BOLD predictions for all four games this weekend! Plus, look out for more predictions for tomorrow's games as well.
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