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Weekly Game Breakdowns - Divisional Week
Bob Cunningham
January 10, 2008

The first week of the playoffs is in the books, and what is arguably the most fun week during the annual NFL postseason is upon us.

I love the divisional playoffs because there’s almost always at least one true stunner.  A heavy favorite comes up flat and goes down to a premature defeat.  Those among us with a certain ability to BS will say we saw it coming, but usually, it’s an upset the magnitude that virtually no one could realistically forecast.

You know, like maybe the Patriots losing this week.  That sort of a shocker.  Mark these words… it might not be the Pats.  Probably won’t be, in fact.  But at least one of this week’s four home favorites is gonna get whupped.

2007 Picks Record Straight-up:  171-89 (66 percent)
2007 Picks Record Against-The-Spread:  134-117-9 (53 percent)
Last Week:  3-1 SU, 3-1 ATS

Here’s how I see the divisional playoffs: 

SEATTLE (11-6) at GREEN BAY (13-3)
Saturday, Jan. 12, 1:30 p.m. PT

Line:  Packers favored by 8    

Strongest Trends:  The home team has won the last four meetings, but the visitors are 3-1 ATS in those games.

Last Meeting:  The Seahawks won at home, 34-24, in 2006.

Seahawks Status Report:  Seattle pulled way to rout visiting Washington Saturday, 35-14, in the NFC wild-card round.

Packers Status Report:  Green Bay, the second seed, was on a bye last week.

Recent Playoff History:  The Seahawks lost to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL and last year won their opening round game over Dallas when Cowboys QB Tony Romo fumbled the snap on what seemed to be an easy game-winning field goal attempt.  The Seahawks then nearly knocked off Chicago on the road but succumbed in OT, 27-24, in the divisional playoffs.  Green Bay last made the playoffs in 2004, losing at home to Minnesota.  The previous year, the Packers beat the Seahawks in overtime at home after QB Matt Hasselbeck’s now infamous “and we’re going to score” prediction after Seattle won the coin toss.  Shortly afterward, Hasselbeck threw an interception which was returned for the decisive TD.  The Packers have made four Super Bowl appearances, winning three of them.

Game Summary:  Pretty far-fetched to even consider picking against Brett Favre at Lambeau Field in January, but consider that the Pack lost its last postseason game there and was taken to overtime in the previous one.  Nevertheless, I like the rested Packers to take full advantage of being at home against a team which is notoriously inconsistent away from home.  Interestingly, I believe it will be Green Bay’s ability to run the ball in the cold conditions that will make the difference.

Prediction:  PACKERS, 20-14

Saturday, Jan. 12, 5 p.m. PT

Line:  Patriots favored by 13   

Strongest Trend:  The Patriots are 3-1 SU and ATS in the last four meetings.

Last Meeting:  The Patriots prevailed at Jacksonville, 24-21, on Christmas Eve of 2006.

Jaguars Status Report:  Jacksonville managed to do what no one else has ever done – defeat Pittsburgh twice on its homefield in the same season.  The Jaguars squandered an 18-point lead Saturday night but drove down and kicked a field goal with less than a minute left to gain a 31-29 triumph.

Patriots Status Report:  New England was off last week after completing the first unbeaten regular season since the schedule was increased to 16 games in 1974.

Recent Playoff History:  The Jaguars’ last postseason appearance was two seasons ago, when they were drilled at New England, 28-3, in the opening round.  Jacksonville played in the 1996 AFC Championship Game but still seeks its first Super Bowl berth.  The Patriots have won three Super Bowls in the last six years and has made the playoffs five times over that span.  Last season, New England blew a lead and lost the AFC Title Game at Indianapolis.

Game Summary:  There’s a lot of sentiment that Jacksonville is just the type of team with a legitimate shot to beat the vaunted Patriots – and I won’t argue that a 12-5 team would have no chance. Of course the Jaguars might pull off the upset. But New England is so deep and effective that it can allow the Jaguars to do what the Jaguars do best – control the line of scrimmage – and still beat them.  Jacksonville’s pass defense can be had, and the Patriots will enjoy success throwing the ball as they have all year unless the weather comes into play.  If that’s the case, New England would win a defensive struggle at home anyway. A tip of the cap to the Jaguars for a nice season, but it ends Saturday night.

Prediction:  PATRIOTS, 24-10

Sunday, Jan. 13, 10 a.m. PT

Line:  Colts favored by 8½   

Strongest Trends:  San Diego has won the last two meetings, including one at Indianapolis when the Colts went in 13-0, and is 3-0 ATS in the last three clashes.

Last Meeting:  San Diego held on for a 23-21 home win earlier this season.

Chargers Status Report:  The Chargers rallied from a 6-0 halftime deficit to dominate the second half of its wild-card game against visiting Tennessee Sunday.  San Diego won, 17-6, for its seventh straight victory since standing at 5-5.

Colts Status Report:  Indianapolis was off last week.  The Colts are the No. 2 seeds.

Recent Playoff History:  San Diego has won three of the last four AFC West titles, but hasn’t won a playoff game since reaching the Super Bowl after the 1994 campaign, when the Chargers lost to San Francisco.  Last year, the Chargers lost at home to New England, 24-21, in the AFC Divisional playoffs.  Indianapolis is the defending Super Bowl champion.  The Colts bested Chicago, 29-17, in Super Bowl XLI and are making their sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

Game Summary:  In a lot of ways, the Chargers just don’t impress me enough to give them a serious shot in this one.  When assessing playoff teams, I look at QB play and run defense and turnover ratio – those categories more than any others.  San Diego excels only on the latter, and the Colts are right up there with them in terms of forcing mistakes.  The matchup of Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning is, of course, a mismatch for the Colts, especially at Indy.  And the Chargers run defense has real issues as well, while their own running game – featuring the game’s best back – hasn’t been all that impressive.  Also there’s the leg injury to Chargers TE Antonio Gates.  He will probably suit up and give it a go, but if he sits or is otherwise a non-factor, San Diego will be toast. Rested and with the experience of last year’s title trek fresh in their minds, the Colts are the clear choice.  San Diego’s recent success in this series isn’t relevant in my opinion because this is the playoffs.

Prediction:  COLTS, 31-17

NEW YORK GIANTS (11-6) at DALLAS (13-3)
Sunday, Jan. 13, 1:30 p.m. PT

Line:  Cowboys favored by 7½    

Strongest Trends:  The Cowboys have won the last three meetings including a season sweep this year.  New York is 8-1 SU on the road this season, while two of Dallas’ three defeats came at home.

Last Meeting:  The Cowboys won at The Meadowlands, 31-20, in November.

Giants Status Report:  New York overcame an early 7-0 deficit at Tampa Bay Sunday, scoring 24 unanswered points en route to a 24-14 victory.  The Giants are the fifth seeds.

Cowboys Status Report:  Dallas enjoyed a bye last week and is the NFC’s No. 1 seed.

Recent Playoff History:  The Giants are making their third straight playoff appearance, bowing out with a loss at Philadelphia last season.  They last played in a Super Bowl in 2000 (Feb. 2001), losing to Baltimore.  Dallas has dropped its last five playoff games including last season’s bitter 21-20 defeat at Seattle when QB Tony Romo bobbled the snap on a virtual gimme field goal attempt, and was tackled just a yard shy of the goal line in the waning seconds.  The Cowboys are tied with Pittsburgh and San Francisco with five Super Bowl wins all-time, but haven’t gone as far as the NFC Championship game in a dozen years.

Game Summary:  Although the Cowboys are the top seeds and playing at home, there is enough working against them to believe an upset is a legitimate possibility – and staying with my belief that at least one favorite will bite the dust this weekend, we have arrived at my Upset Special.  The questionable status of WR Terrell Owens is huge – without him, the Giants can stack the box more because wideouts Patrick Crayton and Terry Glenn, while talented, are game-breakers in the same class as T.O.  As of now, it’s my guess that Owens will play, but it’s unlikely that he will be close to 100 percent. There are also intangibles, such as the difficult task of beating the same team three times in a season.  Another is the anomaly that two No. 1 seeds rarely make it to the Super Bowl.  And Big Mo – momentum.  The Giants have it, Dallas doesn’t.  If Giants RB Brandon Jacobs gets 20-plus carries and can match his season average of five yards per carry, New York rambles to the upset win – which would be huge for Green Bay fans who dread another trip to Big D with a Super Bowl berth on the line.

Prediction:  GIANTS, 28-24

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