Pat Higgins and Saúl Berríos-Thomas | The Duquesne Duke
Ravens at Patriots
The Baltimore Ravens will travel to Foxborough this weekend as seven point underdogs against the New England Patriots, fresh off a road win over the Steelers at Heinz Field. Without Ray Rice, the Ravens finished the season 4-2 after their Week 11 bye, with quality victories over the Saints and Dolphins and a bad loss to the Texans in Week 16. Without Le’Veon Bell in the Wild Card round, the Steelers struggled to stop quarterback Joe Flacco, who turned in an efficient 259 passing yards and two touchdowns. He’s yet to record a turnover in his postseason career, and that’s ultimately why the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2013.
With all that said, it’s too difficult to pick against Tom and Bill in Foxborough with a healthy Rob Gronkowski.
Panthers at Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks are going to spank the Carolina Panthers at home. The Panthers just aren’t that good. The only reason they are still in the playoffs is because they faced a Cardinals offense last week led by third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is exciting to watch, but he doesn’t have the talent around him to beat the best defense in the league. Expect a lot of Beast Mode from Marshawn Lynch combined with enough steady play from Russell Wilson to finish the Panthers for this season.
The NFC Conference Championship game will be a lot of fun. In their last two games, Seattle has beaten the opponent by a combined score of 50-28. The Seahawks are just too good on defense. They can shut down Aaron Rodgers’ weapons, which by the way aren’t that great, and are made better by an elite quarterback. Look for the Seahawks to play again on Super Bowl Sunday for the second year in a row to defend their title.
Colts at Broncos
Just as the Ravens faced the Steelers without one of their two most important offensive players (Le’Veon Bell), Andy Luck and the Indianapolis Colts welcomed the A.J. Green-less Bengals to Lucas Oil Stadium last week and rolled onto a rematch in Denver against Peyton Manning and the Broncos on Sunday. Though the matchups on the weekend of the Divisional round are the best football America will see all season on a yearly basis, the matchup between an aging Manning and his gifted spawn could offer the most exciting action of the weekend.
Peyton struggled against the Bengals in Week 17, tossing five interceptions and looking generally uncomfortable in the pocket. The Sheriff has now had two weeks to correct his footwork and cook up all the chicken parm he desires, so it’s difficult to pick against him at home. But if there’s anybody who’s crafty enough to beat Manning at this point in the season, it’s Andrew Luck. I like Luck enough to give the Broncos a run, but I don’t think Peyton will duck out this season before another episode of Brady-Manning next weekend in Foxborough.
As for the latest matchup of the two greatest quarterbacks of this generation, both Brady and Manning are running out of time to grab another title. The Broncos will have to take down the Patriots on the road, but I trust The Sheriff to take his Broncos to Glendale for a rematch on Feb. 1.
Cowboys at Packers
The Dallas Cowboys’ magical season that one Duke writer predicted at the start of the season ends this weekend. They received a gift from the referees last week against the Lions after officials initially flagged Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens for blatant pass interference but then picked up the flag moments later with no viable explanation.
They will lose to the dominant Green Bay Packers on Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field, where temperatures are expected to be below freezing at kick off. All the talk of Aaron Rodgers’ calf this week will be meaningless after he dominates after the bye week. The Cowboys offense doesn’t have an answer for Rodgers, and the Packers’ defense is just good enough to get by. I don’t think Romo is going to pull a Romo by any means. I just think the better team will win here.