With our five writers going each 3-1 last week here is your Divisional Playoff Weekend’s roundtable discussion with Zach Schotz, Eric Huberman, Jason Weingold, Seth Goldberg, and Patrick Keenehan to give you our insight.
1. Choosing out of just the remaining quarterbacks in the playoffs, who would you want in a win or go home situation?
Eric Huberman: In a couple of years this answer may be Aaron Rodgers, but for now I have to go with Brady. In my mind, he is the greatest quarterback to ever play the position. A three-time Super Bowl champion and two-time Super Bowl MVP, Brady has the hardware to back up my answer for sure. He ranks fifth all-time in game winning drives with 37, but does trail Peyton Manning by 12 in that category. The bottom line here is that Brady has more rings than Peyton, and continues to put up stellar seasons despite a revolving door at the wide receiver position in Foxboro. Tom Terrific gets the nod for me.
Jason Weingold: Brady. I’ve said it from the start of the season, and I still agree. Brady has been impressive all of his life and this year is no exception. Brady has started every game for his team since 2002, except for in 2008, in which he was injured in a week two matchup. Continuity is one thing that I look for in a quarterback in this situation. The second thing that I look for is overall raw talent and statistics, and Brady has nothing short of that. I know Brady has lost the Super Bowl twice to the Giants, but he still has three super bowl rings. In 2011, Brady threw for over 5,000 yards and he followed that up in 2012 with over 4,800 yards. Brady also throws for touchdowns. Aside from throwing 50 in 2007, he has thrown more than 35 in three straight seasons. In addition, during the 2009-2011 seasons, Brady threw for 72 touchdowns while in the red zone, while only throwing five interceptions. I know Peyton Manning has been clutch through his career as well, but coming off of neck surgery, I have to side with the healthy Brady. Brady is nothing short of proven and qualified to lead his team in a win-or-go-home game. He has 26 career fourth quarter comebacks and has orchestrated 37 game winning drives to compliment that. Brady’s experience and football IQ along with his consistency year in and year out makes me believe he is the most qualified man for the job.
Patrick Keenehan: I have to go with Tom Brady. It’s hard not to pick Brady when he has three Super Bowl rings and a postseason record of 16-6 all time. If the Patriots win this weekend then Brady passes Joe Montana for most career playoff wins, which would say a lot about how well Brady performs under pressure. Brady always seems to have the Patriots as one of the top teams in the league, as they have made it to the Super Bowl five out of the last ten years. When it comes to win or go home games nobody comes up more clutch than Brady, as he has led the Patriots to six game winning drives in the playoffs, so I would trust him the most.
Seth Goldberg: I have to go with Peyton Manning. People may say that Tom Brady is more clutch and that Peyton hasn’t won the “big game” as often and that he has a tendency to play poorly in games outdoors. But this year, Peyton has defied the odds, he has come back from four neck surgeries, and he has done it playing better than ever. Manning has moved flawlessly into Denver. He is surrounded by young wide receivers that he has made even better and has possibly the best running game he has ever played with especially now that Willis McGahee is coming back. Say what you want about Peyton not being able to win the “big game”, he is the best quarterback the league has seen in the last 15 years. Better than Brady and Favre and Brees and Rodgers. If I need one game, I take Peyton.
Zach Schotz: Clear toss-up between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, and I’m going with the latter. Yes Brady has a lot more rings and Uggs, but Peyton has perseverance. Coming back from multiple neck surgeries and going back under center to put MVP numbers is beyond remarkable; there’s just no way he’s not finding a way to win this game. It might be annoying at times, but Peyton can read a pre-snap defense just as good or better than any QB to ever play the game. Anything the Ravens throw at him, he’ll be more than prepared for it.
2. Who ya got? Denver Broncos vs. Baltimore Ravens
Eric Huberman: A rematch of Week 15’s game which was played in Baltimore where the Broncos came away with a 34-17 victory. That game was a lot closer than it should have been though; Denver dominated every aspect of that game and went into the 4th quarter up 31-3. They nearly doubled the Ravens in time of possession and got a solid ground performance from Knowshon Moreno. That game was in Baltimore, this one is in the Mile High city. The Broncos enter the playoffs as the number one seed while riding a ten-game winning streak. Over their last three games their smallest margin of victory was 22 points! I know the Ravens are playing to prolong Ray Lewis’s career, but in Denver against Peyton Manning will be too much for a spirited team to overcome. Broncos win by double digits.
Jason Weingold: Broncos. Although I would like to see the Ravens move on, the Broncos are too much of a well-rounded team and are playing at home. Clearly Peyton Manning leads the Broncos offense, as he put up 4,600+ yards this season en route to 13 wins. Credit also has to be given to the Broncos personnel too. The receiving corps of Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, and Joel Dreessen has proven troublesome for many great pass defenses, including the same Ravens that they played in Baltimore, and won. I understand the Ray Lewis comeback and retire story, but the fact of the matter is the Broncos are rolling, and if anybody is going to stop them, it isn’t going to be the Ravens this week. The Broncos are working on an 11 game winning streak, and they have not lost since October 7. The Denver defense has been surprisingly stifling as well, as the team ranks third in both rushing and passing yards allowed. This will not bode well for the Ravens, as there are few holes to exploit. Denver is too strong to dethrone this early in the postseason. Check back with me next week, when they play the Patriots.
Patrick Keenehan: I’m picking the Broncos to beat the Ravens. Even though the Ravens are coming off of a nice win against the Colts, I can’t see them getting by the Peyton Manning and the Broncos. The Broncos are coming off of a bye, which may cool them off a little bit, but the Broncos have been extremely hot. They have won 11 straight games and I don’t see the streak ending against the Ravens. In week 15 these teams played against each other, and the Broncos won 34-17. I see this week’s rematch being very similar, and I think it comes down to the quarterback play for both teams. Manning has put up MVP numbers this season, while Flacco has been a disappointment, and facing the Broncos stiff defense will not be an easy matchup. The Broncos will move on to the next week to play in the AFC title game.
Seth Goldberg: Broncos. Peyton has the offense rolling. He has made Demaryius Thomas a better receiver; Thomas has almost 3 times as many yards this year as he had last year (1434 vs 551). With Peyton as a big threat in the passing game, Knowshon Moreno has been able to put up respectable numbers while filling in for Willis McGahee. Also, the Broncos defense has been just as good as last year with Von Miller getting constant pressure on QBs and Champ Bailey roaming in coverage. I cannot see the Ravens playing as well as they did last week. I believe there will not be as much emotion in the game as there was last week with Ray Lewis playing his last home game. Broncos win, effectively ending Ray Lewis’ great career.
Zach Schotz: Well I was wrong about the Ravens as they took care of the Colts easily, but I think this is the week we are forced to say adios to the great Ray Lewis. If the Ravens have a chance I think it’s only if Bro Flacco can out-Manning Peyton, and that’s unlikely even if Flacco has hit his annual playoff stride. The Broncos have only lost when giving up 27 points or more, and the Ravens won’t reach that magic number as the Broncos are ranked 3rd in both passing and rushing yards against. I predict The Sheriff will take this game barring some sort of Ravens astronomical zodiac alignment.
3. Who ya got? Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers
Eric Huberman: Another rematch here, this one from Week 1. An Alex Smith led Niners team stormed into Lambeau Field and walked away with a 30-22 win. Aaron Rodgers looked like an average quarterback while Smith and Gore dominated throughout the game. Months later, both teams are completely different. The 49ers made a quarterback change to Colin Kaepernick, while the Packers have developed a running game with DuJuan Harris, Ryan Grant, and Alex Green. Aaron Rodgers is red hot and returns back to where he grew up, California. He has been known for playing with a chip on his shoulder for most of his career; well he is playing the team that passed on him for the number one overall pick in the draft. Rodgers will play outstanding, while Kaepernick will make a few rookie mistakes against this ball-hawk Packer secondary. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pack took some things out of what the Patriots did to stop Kapernick in the 2nd half of their game earlier in the season. Go Pack Go!
Jason Weingold: Packers. I can’t wait to watch this game. Yet, as much as I think the Niners can win this game – especially at home – what this comes down to is the quarterback position and playoff experience. Colin Kaepernick is just unproven and is rather ineffective when it comes to throwing touchdowns. Kaepernick threw only ten touchdowns in eight starts, and only rushed for five more. On the flip side, Rodgers threw for 39 touchdowns in 16 games. Although the 49ers boast a strong running game, the Packers are a different defense with Clay Matthews back in the lineup. When these two teams faced off in week one of the regular season, Matthews and cornerback Charles Woodson were inactive, and it showed, as the San Francisco offense rushed for 186 total yards and scored 30 points. With their healthy unit intact, I don’t think the 49ers can score enough points to beat the Packers again this week. I think Rodgers has a huge week while Kaepernick is mediocre, facing the best defense he has faced since he played the Seattle Seahawks, a game that San Fran lost and had trouble scoring in.
Patrick Keenehan: I’m picking the Packers to beat the 49ers. Of the four games this weekend I feel as though this game will be the closest of them all. The Packers just beat the Vikings with ease, and the 49ers have had two weeks to prepare for this game. When these teams faced each other in the regular season the 49ers won 30-22, but this was in week one, so I see the outcome being different this time. I think Aaron Rodgers will put up big numbers and give the Pack an early lead, which will ruin the 49ers game plan of running the ball and playing great defense. If the 49ers are down I can’t see Colin Kaepernick being able to put up the numbers to win this football game. Rodgers and the Pack will move on to play in the NFC title game.
Seth Goldberg: 49ers. The Niners offense opened a new dimension when Colin Kaepernick became the starting quarterback. While Alex Smith was playing great, Kaep actually has a better completion percentage and more yards than Smith had this year. Frank Gore is running the ball really well as he has his whole career and LaMichael James has taken on a new role in recent weeks adding a new dimension to the running game with his speed. With that being said, the 49ers defense is one of the most physical in the league. Aldon Smith and Justin Smith (if he is healthy) create one of the best pass rush tandems in the NFL. They should be able to get pressure on Aaron Rodgers and when the QB has no time to throw, the defensive backs seem to be playing better because they do not need to cover for as long.
Zach Schotz: Schotz: Here’s a week 1 rematch that could easily suffice as a legit Super Bowl matchup. I think this game is going to come down two critical things: Pace and turnovers. Rodgers needs to have quick bang-bang drives and commit less than 2 turnovers (as a team). While the Niners need to gain momentum starting with their defense and consistently breakdown the Pack with Kaepernick and Gore.The majority of my loyal bandwagonning Packers fans/friends are going to disagree, but I’m taking the Niners as they contain the Discount Double Check and take advantage of a weaker Packers D.
4. Who ya got? Seattle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons
Eric Huberman: There is not one team in the playoffs that wants to play this Seahawks team. With their star running back, along with their relentless defense, and a rookie quarterback who has shocked the nation there is too much to handle. How awkward it will feel for Matt Ryan when he steps onto the field Sunday and realizes he is playing a rookie who already has more playoff wins than him. Matt Ice is 0-4 in the playoffs, and regardless of how good this team was in the regular season I just can’t see them beating this fundamentally sound Seattle squad. I think the bye week hurts Atlanta here and thus exposes some rust for not playing in two weeks. Seattle is the pick.
Jason Weingold: Seattle. I’m finally on the Seahawks bandwagon, after they beat the Redskins last week. Frankly, I was more impressed by Washington over the end of the season than I was by Atlanta, as the Falcons lost two of their first four games. I think I speak for everyone when I say that Matt Ryan exceeded expectations this year, but he’s going to be facing Seattle’s sixth ranked pass defense. One of the best ways to open up passing lanes is through play action and a strong rushing game, but Atlanta’s 29th ranked rushing attack isn’t going to help at all. In order for the Falcons to beat Seattle’s defense, Ryan will have to put together one of the best games of his career and I just cannot see that happening. On the other side of the ball, Marshawn Lynch is Marshawn Lynch. And the Falcons 21st ranked rushing defense is the Falcons 21st ranked rushing defense. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.
Patrick Keenehan: I’m picking the Seahawks to beat the Falcons. The Seahawks remained the hottest team in the NFL last week as they put up 24 straight points against the Redskins to win 24-14. The Falcons looked terrible in the last game they played in week 17, and took that into their bye week. The Falcons don’t have any momentum and the Seahawks are rolling. The Seahawks will stick to their game plan of running the ball and playing stellar defense. The Falcons have a great passing game and could cause the Seahawks to change their game plan if they were to take an early lead, but I think the Falcons will have conservative play calling balancing the pass with the rush which the Seahawks will feast on. If the Falcons were to use Matt Ryan to his full potential with the weapons he has I think the outcome could be different, but in the end Russel Wilson and Marshawn Lynch will expose the Falcons weak rush defense and the Seahawks will move on to play the Packers in the NFC title game.
Seth Goldberg: Seahawks. I have been on the Russell Wilson bandwagon since last year when he was at Wisconsin and I have been on the Seahawks bandwagon since about midseason. Wilson, along with Marshawn Lynch have led the Seahawks offense, and Wilson should have been getting more recognition for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Although they lost Chris Clemons to a torn ACL against the Redskins, the Seahawks will plug in rookie Bruce Irvin, a move that could actually benefit them because Irvin is a quicker and more athletic defensive end. Pete Carroll has a young team rolling and playing with confidence. Also, Atlanta has not been very good in the postseason with Matt Ryan and Mike Smith and I believe that will continue.
Zach Schotz: Coming into this game the Seahawks have much-needed momentum on another big road test. Out of all the teams we saw play last week, they look the hungriest and it seems like they love to be the underdog. On the other hand, the Falcons got time for Matt Ryan to get a nice break to prepare for his so-called kryptonite, the playoffs. The Falcons are arguably labeled as the most overrated team in the playoffs, but they have one huge thing going for them, they’re playing a big game at home. Despite going up against a genuinely scary defense, I expect the Falcons to step up at home like they did against Broncos on Monday Night and against the Giants when they shut them out.
Note: If you’re not excited to watch the Falcons WRs go up against Seahawks CBs, then you’re probably Peerless Price or Ken Lucas missing the glory days.
5. Who ya got? New England Patriots vs. Houston Texans
Eric Huberman: Unless JJ Watt has the game of his life, and he could, the Texans are not going to win this football game. When you score 19 points versus the Bengals and barely squeak out a victory at home to them, you’re just not going to beat Brady in Foxboro. The recipe to beating Brady is pressure, which Houston can bring, but you also have to score in the high twenty’s at least, which I don’t think the Texans are capable of doing. These two teams played each other in Week 14, but that game was over early, just like this one will be. Brady threw for four scores as the Pats cruised to a 42-14 win, but more importantly this vaunted Texans defensive line was limited to one sack. Keep Brady clean and the score won’t be close. Patriots will cruise once again, and set up the rematch we have all been waiting to see. Peyton vs. Brady winner goes to New Orleans.
Jason Weingold: Patriots. I don’t think it’s a secret how much I love the Patriots this year. I think they’re unbeatable with the trade for Aqib Talib. This trade solidified the New England secondary. Add in the linebacking core led by Jerrod Mayo, and the defensive line anchored by Vince Wilfork, and the Patriots have a formidable defense, something that hasn’t been associated with New England for a while. I do think that the Patriots’ defensive unit will struggle with the Texans high power offense, but not more than the Texans will struggle with the Patriots offense. The Patriots are dynamite with the ball. Tom Brady is the best quarterback in the league in my mind (see above) and he has a receiving core that could rival any in the league. The healthy tight end duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski is enough to throw off a defense. Factor in Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, and the rest of the New England wide outs, and Tom Brady can have a field day throwing the ball. More importantly, the Patriots embarrassed the Texans already this season on Monday Night Football in week 14. Although I don’t expect as lopsided of a blowout, expect the Patriots to blow past the Texans on their way to the Super Bowl.
Patrick Keenehan: I’m picking the Patriots to beat the Texans. Out of the four games this weekend I felt as though this was the easiest to pick. Yes, the Texans did look good against the Bengals last week, but that was the Bengals not the Patriots. These two teams matched up this season and it was a disaster for the Texans, losing 42-14. I don’t think this game will be as much of a blow out but I think the result will be the same. Tom Brady will lead the way and expose the weak spots of the Texans defense. The only chance the Texans have in this game is to put pressure on Brady and to get him moving out of the pocket, but the Patriots offensive line has been very good this season so I can’t see that happening. With Rob Gronkowski finally getting healthy, Brady will have all of his weapons and the Patriots will move on to face the Broncos in the AFC title game.
Seth Goldberg: Patriots. Tom Brady once again has the offense hitting on all cylinders. The game is in Foxboro where the Patriots have been so good in the postseason with the Belichick-Brady combination. Gronk and Hernandez both had another week to get healthy after finally playing together this season. Danny Woodhead and Stevan Ridley have given Brady a running game he hasn’t really had since Corey Dillon. On defense, Jarrod Mayo and Brandon Spikes have been monsters at middle linebacker and Vince Wilfork is still doing a great job stuffing the running game in the middle of the defensive line. The addition of Aquib Talib midseason has really improved the Pats secondary. In addition to what the Patriots have, the Texans looked very unimpressive against the Bengals last week, and the Patriots are certainly better than the Bengals.
Zach Schotz: The only case I can argue for the Texans is that everybody thinks they’re going to lose, and somehow when this happens we get the unexpected big time upset. However I don’t think Houston can go into New England and stop Tom Brady. New England demolished them in their last meeting and they clearly know they’re better. Don’t be surprised if we find out Bill Belichick has all the Texans plays on his iPad.