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The Lineman’s NFL picks — classics on the cards

January 14, 2011

NFL/The Lineman is only sure of one thing this weekend and that is that football fans are in for a real treat with all four games shaping up as potential classics.

It was a rough ride for home teams last weekend with only the Seattle Seahawks surviving and who says you need an elite quarterback to win in the playoffs.

Saints Drew Brees and Colts Peyton Manning will watch this weekend’s action from the couch while Jets’Mark Sanchez and Seahawks Matt Hasselbeck moved on.

Yes indeed, shaping up as another wild and wonderful weekend in the NFL.

Playoffs: 2-2. Pick of the Week 0-1.

Regular Season Record: 53-49

PICK OF THE WEEK:

Green Bay Packers (11-6) at Atlanta Falcons (13-3) (Line Packers plus +2.5): Wow, very tough to pick a best bet from this lineup but I have to go with what many would rank as an upset, the Pack taking down the high-flying Falcons.

With a first round bye the Falcons are well rested and playing at home where they are 7-1 this season.

They are also 20-2 at the Georgia Dome in games quarterback Matt Ryan has started but as we were reminded last week home field advantage does not always count for much.

The Packers should feel right at home as they roll into snowy Atlanta riding the building momentum from a three game winning run, including last week’s wild card victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Pulling off must wins over the Giants, Bears and Eagles, the Packers are already in full playoff mode and firing on all cylinders as they prepare to take on an Atlanta team that has been idling for two weeks.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has been brilliant since returning from a concussion and leads a Green Bay offense that has finally found the missing spark to their ground game in rookie running back James Starks, who rumbled for a franchise playoff record 123 yards against the Eagles.

If Starks can force the Falcons to respect the Pack running game it will open up more space for Green Bay’s explosive wide outs Greg Jennings and Donald Driver.

There are no question marks hanging over Atlanta’s running game, the Falcons getting plenty of mileage out of Michael ‘The Burner’ Turner, who finished third in NFL rushing with 1,371 yards.

The Packers defense will also have to pay special attention Atlanta wide out Roddy White led NFL in catches with 115.

Led by sack machine Clay Matthews, Green Bay led the NFC in sacks with 47 and will need to keep pressure on Ryan, who completed 24-of-28 passes in 20-17 win over the Pack in Week 12.

Rodgers also had a good day in the regular season meeting completing 26 passes for 344 yards and might have won if not for his costly first half fumble on the Atlanta one-yard line.

Atlanta is favoured but “Frankly Scarlett I don’t give a damn”.

Falcons gone with the wind.

Green Bay packing for a trip to the Super Bowl.

Take the Pack and the 2.5.

- – - -

Seattle Seahawks (8-9) at Chicago Bears (11-5) (Line Seahawks plus +10.5): I was more surprised by the Seahawks’ wildcard win over the Saints than I was at finding a quarter at the bottom of my Starbucks grande mocha, non-fat latte a couple of weeks ago.

And here is a bigger surprise no one saw coming, a Seahawks win over the Bears combined with a Packers victory over the Falcons and the NFC title game will be in Seattle.

I’m not sure I will be heading to the Pacific Northwest next week but I feel pretty confident the Seahawks will not be blown away in the Windy City.

Looking at the tale of the tape this is one big mismatch.

Seattle is the first division winner with a losing record to reach the post-season and have lost seven straight away playoff contests.

The improving Bears won seven of their last nine to clinch the NFC second seed and first round bye.

The Chicago defense is fourth ranked allowing an average of just 17.9 points per game and is second against the run.

Seattle is 27th in total defense surrendering 368.6 ypg and 28th in total offense (297.8 ypg).

But the Saints also had much better numbers and they will be watching this one back in the Big Easy.

Seahawks hit the road where they had just two wins this season but one of those came at Soldier Field in Week 6 when they shocked the Bears 23-20.

While Seattle’s offense has sputtered the Bears are no offensive juggernaut either, ranking below the Seahawks in total yards.

Seattle ranks second last in rushing offense but running back Marshawn Lynch ran wild against the Saints piling up 131 yards, including one of the most spectacular runs ever seen in the NFL playoffs that helped clinch victory over the defending Super Bowl champs.

Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck was inspired last week tossing four touchdowns against the Saints fourth ranked pass defense and now takes on a Chicago defense that ranks 20th against the pass.

While Hasselbeck is battle tested making his 11th post-season appearance the unpredictable Jay Cutler will be getting his first taste of playoff action.

Last year it was the Saints writing the Cinderella feel good story, the year it is the Seahawks, who needed a big win in the final game of the NFL regular season and then seized their opportunity beating New Orleans.

The last word goes to Hasselbeck, who provided some perspective on the Seahawks playoff chances.

“What do you call the person who graduated medical school with the lowest GPA?,” asked Hasselbeck.

Answer: “A doctor.”

Take two aspirins and the 10.5 points and call me in the morning.

New York Jets (12-5) at New England Patriots (14-2) (Line Jets plus +8.5): The Jets have talked a better game than they have played this season but have done just enough to back up their bravado.

But talk is cheap, as the Jets discovered when they paid a visit to the Foxborough last month and were schooled by Tom Brady and the Pats.

The Jets gloated following an early season win over New England but the Pats wiped the smirks off their faces with a 45-3 master class.

A beating like that sticks with a team and I am expecting the rubber match between the bitter AFC East rivals to be nasty, close affair.

The Jets wobbled into the post-season losing three of their last five regular season games but showed plenty of grit and imagination slipping past the Indianapolis Colts 17-16 in last week’s wildcard thriller.

The big question is, did the two week layoff cool off the red-hot Pats offense that put up more than 30 points a game during an eight game winning run to close out the regular season?

Job number one for the Jets will be slowing down the Pats high-octane attack.

Brady has had an MVP type campaign tossing an NFL record 335 consecutive pass attempts without an interception while leading the league with 36 touchdown tosses.

Foxborough has been a no go zone for visiting teams with Brady posting an NFL record 28 consecutive home wins as a starter.

Oh yea, he is also 8-1 in home playoff games and tossed four touchdowns in that 45-3 Week 13 demolition.

The Jets have the league’s third ranked defense but may have to be even better than that to keep Brady and company in check.

Jets QB Mark Sanchez is going to have to up his game in a big way after some less than impressive play down the home stretch.

The buildup to the Sunday showdown has featured plenty of entertaining trash talking, most of it – ok all of it – coming from the Jets.

I really can’t see the Jets winning this one but the New Yorkers have not forgotten that December beat down the Pats laid on them and that should be motivation enough to keep this close.

Patriots game but Jets cover.

Take the Jets and the 8.5.

- – - -

Baltimore Ravens (13-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) (Line Steelers minus-3.5): Put the kids to bed because this game will require parental guidance due to graphic scenes of violence. Certainly, this bone-jarring clash between AFC North rivals will not be for the faint-hearted.

You know exactly what you are going to get when the Steelers and the Ravens step onto the field — a punishing hard-hitting close game with five of their last six regular meetings,  including two this season, decided by three points or less.

I am not one of those guys who thinks a week off is necessarily a good thing. But in the Steelers case no team needed the time off more.

The Steelers’ two key players, QB Ben Roethlisberger and Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu both limped through the end of the season and should now be back close to full fitness for the Ravens.

Roethlisberger has won his last six starts against the Ravens and boast an 8-2 record in the playoffs.

The Steelers defense is the best in the NFL allowing a league low 14.5 points a game but are even more ferocious when their Pro Bowl safety is on the field.

Baltimore QB Joe Flacco will have to be aware at all times of Polamalu, who is a proven game changer.

The Ravens have their own game changer in defensive back Ed Reed, who led the AFC in interceptions despite sitting out six games with an injury.

The Baltimore defense led by super scary linebacker Ray Lewis is no less intimidating than the Steelers ranking third in points allowed (16.9).

The Ravens are riding a five game winning streak while the Steelers closed out the season winning six of seven capped by a 41-9 rout of the Cleveland Browns that clinched a first round bye.

This is the most evenly matched game of the weekend and chances are it will come down to one big defensive play. Who makes it?

A week off, playing at home, Pittsburgh steals this one.

Take the Steelers and give up the 3.5.

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