PEWTERREPORT.COM STAFF STANDINGS

Scott Reynolds 162-98

Jim Flynn
151-109

Hugh MacArthur 142-118

LAST WEEK

Scott Reynolds 4-0

Jim Flynn
3-1

Hugh MacArthur 2-2

Indianapolis at Baltimore (Saturday 4:30 PM ET)

MacArthur – This looks like a gimme, right? The Ravens are 13-3 and four-point favorites at home against a Colts team that beat a self-immolating Chiefs squad in the Dome last Saturday, but otherwise couldn’t stop a nose from running on them. In the words of the immortal Lee Corso, “not so fast my friend.” Yes, the Ravens have the number one defense in the NFL, and yes their exotic blitz packages have befuddled opponents all season. Now, tell me, how many teams with a winning record did the Ravens beat all season? If you guessed three, you’d be right. So, for all of the great stats, their schedule was softer than the Pillsbury Doughboy. At least the Colts beat five winning teams. Also, the Ravens struggled with the Bengals the most. Cincinnati spread the Ravens defense out, threw the ball downfield off play-action, and managed to split the season series. The Colts can spread the field and run the ball much better than Cincinnati can, and Peyton Manning will not be flummoxed by exotic blitz packages. The Ravens don’t actually run the ball that effectively, as Jamal Lewis’ 3.6 avg. will attest. Look for a low scoring contest, and I love the four points, but I think these Colts will be galloping home with an outright win on Saturday. Indianapolis

Reynolds – Unlike Hugh, I’m taking Baltimore. Why? I’ve liked them all year and even before the season. I was very concerned about the Bucs’ season opener against the Ravens even though I picked Tampa Bay. Baltimore has had a week to sit back and watch Indianapolis gain some confidence, but that only means that the Ravens will rise to the challenge, especially at home. Peyton Manning does not play well on the road in the playoffs. Baltimore’s defense is too good and Indianapolis’ defense won’t get better overnight. Last week was an illusion. Despite a double-digit winning record, the Colts are a very inconsistent team. Baltimore

Flynn – The Colts did a nice job containing the Chiefs’ Larry Johnson, but I just don’t see their run defense repeating that performance on the road against Ravens RB Jamal Lewis and Steve McNair. Baltimore’s defense will get after Peyton Manning and will force him to make some costly turnovers. Unlike the Chiefs offense, the Ravens offense will make Manning pay for those mistakes. Defense wins championships. The Ravens have a great one. The Colts don’t. That will be the difference in this game. Baltimore  

Philadelphia at New Orleans (Saturday 8:00 ET)

MacArthur – These teams are virtual mirror images of one another, as their three-point contest earlier this year in the Dome demonstrates. They both run a version of the West Coast Offense, and both possess attacking defenses that are somewhat vulnerable to the run. Generally, I like the road team getting a second shot at an away venue after a loss, and the Saints haven’t exactly slammed the door shut to their house, posting a pedestrian 4-4 record at home. Jeff Garcia is managing the game very well for the Eagles, and Brian Westbrook will be the best player on the field for either team Saturday night. New Orleans had a fairy tale ride this season, but it’s time for clock to strike midnight and send Cinderella home.  The five and a half points are a gift, as I like the battle-tested road team outright. Philadelphia

Reynolds – Philadelphia really has some momentum on its side right now, and part of me wants to pick the Eagles. They may be the NFC’s team of destiny with Jeff Garcia doing his best Steve DeBerg impersonation when the 36-year old DeBerg was leading the Chiefs to the playoffs in the early 1990s. But then I think the Saints can stake that claim themselves. This game is more about the Saints than it is the Eagles. Do the Saints get overwhelmed by making the playoffs, securing a bye week and having a home post-season game and lose? Or do they ride the wave of a winning season and feed off a playoff-starved home crowd and win? I think they win, but the Saints defense has to come through big and pressure Jeff Garcia and contain Brian Westbrook. New Orleans

Flynn – The Eagles are playing quite well as of late with Jeff Garcia leading Philly’s offense, but Drew Brees is the better quarterback. While Garcia should be able to move the ball against the Saints’ suspect defense, Brees completed 27 of 37 passes and threw for nearly 300 yards and three touchdowns in his last meeting with the Eagles, and that was without a potent ground attack. This time around, rookie Reggie Bush has found his groove, and Deuce McAllister is playing well. New Orleans won its contest vs. Philadelphia by a field goal earlier in the season. This contest should be close again, and as long as Brees remains turnover free and the defense doesn’t fall completely flat, the Saints should be able to advance to the NFC Championship Game with a big playoff win at home. New Orleans

Seattle at Chicago (Sunday 1:00 PM ET)

MacArthur – Well, the Tony Romo fumble-rooski to end last week’s game made a loser out of me on that selection, but I still don’t like the way the Seahawks are playing. The Cowboys weren’t that impressive, but they were in control of the game in Seattle late in the second half until bizarre safeties and other goings-on commenced. Rex Grossman still isn’t sure which team to throw to, but the good news this week is that he shouldn’t have to throw too much. The Bears will pound the football on the ground and play defense. And, because the bye was kinder to the Bears than any other top seed, they will actually be able to play defense. Tank Johnson, Nathan Vasher, Charles Tillman and Todd Johnson are all back and will start for the Bears. That’s a heavily-armed nose-tackle, both starting corners, and the starting strong safety for those scoring at home. Tommie Harris will still be missed, but not nearly as much, and the Bears will have enough to shutdown the still sputtering Seahawks. Chicago

Reynolds – If the Bears lose, it will be because Rex Grossman gave the game away. Chicago’s defense should be able to stuff the running game of Shaun Alexander and Maurice Morris, and apply pressure to Matt Hasselbeck. The Bears should also be able to run the ball with Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson. I think this game will be really close, but only because the Bears will be ultra-conservative on offense. I just think Seattle is too wounded and tired to overcome the playoff frenzy at Soldier Field. The Bears win by a field goal or so, but really outplay the Seahawks. Chicago

Flynn – The Bears crushed the Seahawks when these two teams met in Chicago earlier in the season. However, reality has smacked Rex Grossman and the Bears offense in the face, and it’s struggling to say the least. However, Seattle is extremely banged up on defense, and it’s not playing well on offense. As long as Chicago leans on Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson to move the chains and play ball control football, and Chicago’s defense plays like its dominant self, I don’t see how the Bears can lose at home. Chicago

New England at San Diego (Sunday 4:30 PM ET)

MacArthur – My friends, the game of the year has come early, and for those, like myself, watching these New England Patriots on the march to Miami and yet another Super Bowl title, the game comes bearing gifts in the form of five more points to the underdogs from Massachusetts. Yes, San Diego is a great team, scoring an unbelievable 176 points in the fourth quarter alone this season.  Yes, they have the best running back on the planet in LaDanian Tomlinson, he of the thirty-one touchdowns. Yes, they have an all-world tight end in Antonio Gates to take the pressure off Tomlinson. And, yes, they have a first rate defense with chemically-enhanced terror Shawne Merriman, Jamal Williams, and friends. What doesn’t this team have? Well, they don’t have the best football player on the planet, who wears number twelve for the Patriots, and they don’t have the best head coach on the planet, who wears horrific grey sweatshirts on game day that look suspiciously like they were plucked out of the dirty laundry basket that morning. The Patriots will win this game, and it will be no fluke. The one thing Bill Belichick does better than any other coach is to take away what another team does best. This year he has a healthy, hungry defensive line that will allow linebackers Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and company to pound Tomlinson and slow him down. Ultimately, Belichick will force the Chargers to put the ball in Philip Rivers’ hands to win. Rivers is talented, but he is a first-year starter, and will be going against a defense with its ears pinned back. This game feels like a replay of the AFC Championship Game during Big Ben’s first season at Pittsburgh a couple of seasons ago. Sorry Marty, you picked the wrong time to stop sniffing glue. New England

Reynolds – I think San Diego is ready for New England. The Patriots have been the class of the AFC for quite a while, but I look at this as Tampa Bay playing Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game. To be the best, you have to beat the best. That’s what San Diego will do. I think Marty Schottenheimer will study the Patriots-Dolphins game and build his attack on defense around that game. On offense, Schottenheimer knows the Patriots will come out wanting to stuff the run, so I think the Chargers will counter that by throwing the ball to LaDainian Tomlinson instead of handing him the ball. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tomlinson, the most complete back in the NFL, has 100 yards receiving in this game instead of 100 yards rushing. The only thing that could get in the way of the Chargers would be their youth and inexperience (QB Phillip Rivers, WR Vincent Jackson, LT Marcus McNeill, etc.). But I think the home crowd will be the equalizer. I view Rivers as a younger version of Brady. This is his time to come through with a breakout performance with the help of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. San Diego

Flynn – On paper, the Chargers should defeat the Patriots and advance to the AFC Championship Game and then to and through the Super Bowl. This team is extremely balanced. However, Marty Schottenheimer’s teams have a history of underachieving in the playoffs, and the three-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots aren’t exactly what the doctor ordered to remedy this issue. If the Chargers are going to win this game, they’re going to have to rely on L.T. and less on Phillip Rivers, who is entering unfamiliar territory in terms of the playoffs. Something just tells me that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have something up their sleeve and will keep Schottenheimer’s teams struggling in the post-season. New England

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