Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011
Posted 10:09 a.m.
By John MullinCSNChicago.com
So there I was, looking through the paper and websites, and come to find out
There are other playoff games this weekend! Who knew?
With all the local attention and debate swirling over Bears-Seattle Seahawks, ranging from matchups to seedings to whatever, the concurrent run-up to divisional playoff games elsewhere in the Lower 48 could have been overlooked.
Not by View from the Moon, however. Some will only matter if the Bears win a couple more games and the AFC winners matter because the Bears are looking at one of them in the Super Bowl. But those are worth a serious look because one will be of potentially vital interest to the Bears, and the other two are third-time grudge matches.
Indeed, one beauty of this postseason is the presence of blood feuds. Pittsburgh-Baltimore. NY Jets at New England. And if the Bears and Green Bay Packers win this weekend.
Actually, the Patriots may not consider the Jets worthy of feud status; who is, for that matter? But the Jets did get a lot further in the 2009 postseason, Rex Ryan is getting more pub than the Pats put together, so maybe just this once.
Ill hold off on assessing Bears-Seahawks until closer to game time. In the meantime:
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. CT
Easily the most volatile pairing in the 2010 postseason. Ravens pass rusher Terrell Suggs wearing a T-shirt bearing an insulting anti-Pittsburgh (the city) illustration. James Harrison taking time out from paying fines to obliterate someone in a Ravens helmet. Should be fun.
The all-important quarterback edge goes to the Steelers simply because of Ben Roethlisbergers experience and composure under postseason fire. Joe Flacco has been an under-celebrated nugget as far as reaching the playoffs all three years of his career. Flacco posted a 115.4 passer rating in the win at Kansas City, although two of his lesser games this season were against the Steelers.
But if Roethlisberger is a character question off the field, he has been anything but when hes on it.
Pittsburgh has never lost in the playoffs to a division opponent and beat the Ravens in the 2008 AFC Championship game. Neither team can be considered truly explosive on offense. On offense the Steelers ranked 14th in yardage and 12th in scoring. The Ravens were 22nd in yardage and 16th in scoring.
On defense, however, there are virtually no weaknesses. The Steelers ranked second in yardage allowed and No. 1 in scoring defense. The Ravens are 10th in yardage and No. 3 in scoring.
The key to a Baltimore win is the offense getting running back Ray Rice free. More than Flacco, Rice is the centerpiece of the offense, the No. 10 rusher in the NFL (1,220 yards, 4.0 per carry, and 63 pass receptions). Pittsburgh was the NFLs best against the run. Strength vs. strength.
More important than all of that, and where I think the game gets decided, is the turnover situation. One misplay or great play will decide this game. The Ravens were a plus-7 in turnover ratio; the Steelers were plus-17, second-best in the NFL. Sometime Saturday afternoon Harrison will force a fumble or Troy Polamalu will break on an interception and Pittsburgh will move into the AFC Championship game:
Pittsburgh 16 Baltimore 13
In the one the Bears and Chicago will be watching with the greatest of interest:
Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons Saturday, 7 p.m.
The Falcons have been virtually unbeatable in the Georgia Dome since Matt Ryan came to town. Atlanta ranks fifth in points scored and allowed, meaning the Falcons can score and can stop people from scoring. They convert a staggering 46.7 percent of their third downs, best in the NFC and second only to New England 48.2 among remaining playoff teams.
The Falcons have elite fire in both barrels on offense. Roddy White led the NFL in receptions (115) and yards (1,389) and was second in receiving TDs (10). Michael Turner led the NFC and was third in the NFL with 1,371 rushing yards. Tony Gonzalez threw in 70 catches at tight end just for good measure.
But here comes Green Bay, the only team in the remaining eight ranking in the top 10 for yardage both gained and allowed, points scored and given up, and in turnover ratio. The Packers will give up rushing yards (18th ranking) and they dont run the ball as well as championship teams do.
But heres the thing: The Packers went through the New York Giants, Bears and Philadelphia Eagles in their last three games, must-win situations against winning teams with a combined record of 31-17 and allowed no more than 17 points to any of the three.
Aaron Rodgers directed his offense to 45 points in a losing playoff game last season and to 21 and a win this year. He is emerging as one of the NFLs true elite quarterbacks. Ryan has been in just one playoff game, losing a wild-card game as a rookie when he managed a passer rating of just 72.8 against the Arizona Cardinals.
The crucial edge in all three non-Bears playoff games is the quarterback. It is in this one, too.
Green Bay 21 Atlanta 20
New York Jets at New England Patriots Sunday, 3:30 p.m. CT
The Jets have garnered a disproportionate amount of media attention, some of it by design, some of it by New York. When Jets coach Rex Ryan declares a divisional playoff game the second-biggest game in franchise history, behind Super Bowl III but ahead of a conference championship (which he lost to Indianapolis last year), somebody has seriously lost their compass.
The Jets defeated New England 28-14 in Game Two but the Patriots put a 45-3 humiliation on the Jets when the teams met in Gillette Stadium late in the season, a far more relevant case study for the game at hand.
Based on the numbers, the simple reality is that the Patriots are better at virtually everything. The Jets out-rush New England per game and per attempt but in nearly every other offensive category, the Patriots are superior. The Patriots rank eighth in yardage per game; the Jets are 11th. The Jets are 13th in points per game; New England led the league in scoring. The Patriots scored more touchdowns passing (37) than the Jets scoring rushing and passing combined (34).
The Jets are stingier at allowing yards but the two teams are nearly even in the more important scoring defense, 313 points given up by the Patriots to 304 by the Jets.
But the numbers really do not contain the full picture.
Where this game will be decided is in one spot: quarterback. Tom Brady is the NFLs best; Mark Sanchez isnot. Bradys 111.0 passer rating led the league; only Matt Hasselbeck has a lower rating than Sanchez (7.3).
The Patriots led the NFL with a plus-28 turnover ratio due in no small measure to Brady throwing just interceptions all season and the New England secondary intercepting 25 passes. Only the Steelers (21) had more than 19.
What that translates into is one quarterback with a Super Bowl resume against one who is inconsistent and facing a defense that statistically may not be the equal of the Jets but is more opportunistic. The Jets are not good enough to shut down New England but the reverse is most certainly true.
And playoff games are most often decided by quarterback play. For that reason alone:
New England 30 New York 20
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.