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Reilly’s Rants: Divisional Drama

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Veteran Ray Lewis of the Ravens
www.usatoday.com

As we wrapped up the New Year just about a week ago, football fans had a lot to look forward to. Ray Lewis, the veteran Ravens linebacker, called it quits after 17 years, and was possibly facing his last game as a Raven, against the Andrew Luck-led Colts. The Colts were not the only team to have 2012 draft picks lining up under center. Both the Redskins and the Seahawks had NFL freshman representing them in the first round of the playoffs. The Bengals had a chance to rewrite history against the Texans, as J.J. Watt and city of Houston hoped to beat the Bengals in the wildcard round for a second time in two years. Lastly, the Packers had to overcome Adrian Peterson and the Vikings, just one week after they failed at the same task.

It all culminated on game day. Aaron Rodgers and the Pack feasted on the inexperience of backup quarterback Joe Webb. The Colts could not endure the inspired play of the Baltimore Ravens. The Bengals offense was shut down by a resilient Houston defense. And finally, in the game of the weekend, the Seattle Seahawks beat the Washington Redskins after Robert Griffin III went down by an injury, adding insult to injury. After guessing a perfect four out of four last week, this author decided to make a forecast for this week’s divisional round.

Game #1: Baltimore Ravens @ Denver Broncos (SAT, 4:30 ET on CBS)

Professional Projections: Denver by 10

Reilly’s Projection: Denver by 14

X-Factor: Demaryius Thomas (WR, DEN) 

Although the Ravens had an all-star roster at the beginning of the season, numerous injuries have hampered them. You don’t need a medical degree to understand that Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis will not be playing at one hundred percent. On top of that, Peyton Manning’s hurry-up offense (an offensive strategy in which the team is not brought together in the huddle, leading a hurried game) will leave little rest for the Ravens defense. Thomas will get his chance to prove that he deserves to be considered among the elite wide receivers, using his blazing speed to overshadow any other flaws. Expect Ray Lewis’ career to end in Denver, after a miserable defeat.

Game #2: Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49’ers (SAT, 8:00ET on FOX)

Professional Projections: San Francisco by 3

Reilly’s Projection: Green Bay by 3

X-Factor: B.J. Raji (DT, GB)

This very well could be the greatest playoff matchup we see this weekend. We get to see San Francisco’s average offense and stellar defense go against Green Bay’s average defense and stellar offense. Barring an epic performance by Colin Kaepernick, the Niner’s offense will be heavily focused on the reliable Frank Gore. That being said, if B.J. Raji can act as a deterrent to the SF up-the-middle running game, expect to see some unusual forced throws from Kaepernick, that could very well lead to some turnovers. As for Green Bay, expect to see Aaron Rodgers playing at an elite level, as per usual.

Game #3: Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons (SUN, 1:00ET on FOX)

Professional Projections: Atlanta by 1

Reilly’s Projection: Seattle by 10

X-Factor: Bruce Irvin (DE, ATL)

This will be the game in which the Seahawks cement their status as a Super Bowl contender. Matt Ryan and the Falcons have developed a reputation as coming up short in big situations. This trend will continue. Bruce Irvin will have to step up, as the D-line leader Chris Clemons is now benched due to a torn ACL. Although Irvin is a rookie, his pure athleticism paves the way for numerous tackles for a loss. Expect the Falcons’ defense to be slow out of the gates, and to further wear themselves out against the explosive Marshawn Lynch. Also, expect erratic play calling involving Michael Turner, as he will be involved on outside runs and sweep plays that will undoubtedly end up in far less yards than expected.

Game #4: Houston Texans @ New England Patriots (Sun 4:30ET on CBS)

Professional Projections: New England by 10

Reilly’s Projection: New England by 13

X-Factor: The Patriot’s O-Line (OL, NE)

Some are saying that this game is already in the books. This author has a hard time disagreeing. Tom Brady has proven time and time again that he is one of the best options at quarterback during the postseason. Matt Schaub has proven nothing. This author is willing to bet that a mismatch at the quarterback position will be evident. As for the run game, the Texans will need one, as the Patriots probably won’t have to run for over 50 yards (although they may run for more, just for kicks). The only possible way for the Texans to overcome Brady is with a historic performance from J.J. Watt and the D-line. Assuming the Patriots O-line prevents any sort of Houston miracle, Tom Brady will be one step closer to the Super Bowl.