They call this round the Divisional Playoffs because it's expected that the winners of each division will play each other in this round. Instead, we have the intra-divisional playoffs in the AFC, with two sets of division rivals going at it. Personally, I love it. There's already been a lot of trash talking to fuel these teams' hatred for one other. But more importantly, it means that the teams have to go all out to find an edge, and not just use their vanilla schemes and plays. I expect some very exciting football from the AFC matchups.
BAL@PIT Line: PIT by 3 with added vig or 3.5 depending on the book, o/u 37
It's a good thing for both these teams that they are playing the first game of the weekend. I'm definitely one of those who believe that these two teams pound the stuffing out of each other every time they meet up, and it's a good advantage for whoever their opponents are the following week. There's been much talk about how weak the Pittsburgh offensive line has been, and it is indeed a very bad matchup against a Ravens defense that gets to the QB not by speed, but by strength and wearing down the opponent's O-line. The most important stat in this game will be turnovers. The Steelers won 7 of their last 9 games, but in their two losses, they were not able to force any turnovers, while they caused at least two turnovers in every one of those wins. I'd be all over the Ravens to win outright if it wasn't for the fact that Flacco had two fumbles against a weaker Kansas City defense last week.
Pick: BAL+3/3.5 (no idea how this line will move over the weekend), Under 37
GB@ATL Line: ATL by 2.5, o/u 43.5
Speaking of vanilla schemes and plays, that's pretty much what one expects from Atlanta. You know what's coming, but can you stop it? I think Atlanta's run game will take control against the Packers' weaker run defense. Some would argue, however, that Green Bay's offense is good enough to win the game just on their side of the ball. While Rodgers looked sensational last week, I think a large part of that was the unexpected rushing performance of James Starks. I don't think that will happen against this Atlanta run defense, and if they make Green Bay a one-dimensional offense, it could be a frustrating day for Rodgers. Another interesting thing to note is that all the teams in this playoff round come from the North or the East Coast. The only real warm weather team is the Falcons, and they play in a dome so they won't have to worry about this crazy weather we've been having. That might end up being more of an advantage than even their 7-1 home record would indicate.
Pick: ATL-2.5, Under 43.5
SEA@CHI Line: CHI by 10, o/u 41
A matchup of two of the most underrated teams of the season. I think one of the reasons for that was because both teams excelled in a part of the game that isn't taken into account in fantasy football, that is, special teams. Between Hester and Washington, it's probably a push in terms of who has the upper hand, but I do expect both teams to frequently begin their drives with good field position. The key player in this game will be Matt Forte. Chicago doesn't really have any notable top talent receivers, and Cutler is still prone to making mistakes. Forte, on the other hand, has been the most consistent part of that offense, quietly racking up 1000+ yards rushing and 500+ yards receiving. In Seattle's win over Chicago earlier in the season, they limited him to 11 rushing yards.
Pick: SEA+10, Over 41
NYJ@NEP Line: NEP by 8.5, o/u 44
I'm not going to even begin to guess each coach's game plan. I'm just going to sit back and enjoy the game. I do think that Ryan will go for at least one fake punt or fake FG or surprise onside kick, though. New England has been dominant all year, with only two losses and two other games that one would call close (Green Bay and Indy). In those four games, the Patriots' opponents managed more first downs than they did and controlled the time of possession. That is the only real way to beat the Patriots, and the Jets showed some of that last week by running the ball a lot and winning the time of possession battle against the Colts. I just don't think they'll be able to do that in the cold and snow of Foxboro, and I certainly don't trust Sanchez to convert third downs in those conditions. If the Patriots ever get out to a lead that gets Ryan to go away from the running game, it'll be over very quickly.
Pick: NEP-8.5, Under 44