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NFL Pro Football 2010 Divisional Picks

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Fearless Rick's NFL Divisional Picks - Early Games

Rick Gagliano | January 15-16, 2011

All times Eastern - Click here for late games.

Saturday, January 15

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3, 37) 4:30 pm - The Steelers, the #2 seed in the AFC, had last weekend off while the Ravens went about the business of demolishing the upstart Chiefs in Kansas City, 30-7.

These two AFC North foes have meet twice annually during the regular season with the Ravens winning at Pittsburgh, 17-14 in Week 4, though the Steelers were without QB Ben Roethlisberger for that game, and Pittsburgh winning at Baltimore in Week 13, 13-10, so there exists a very real possibility that this game could be decided by a field goal.

Both teams enter the fray with incredibly talented, focused and disciplined defenses. Pittsburgh is the top-ranked defense in the league in points allowed, at 14.5, while Baltimore's 16.9 points per game is good for #3. In terms of yardage, the Steelers were #2, allowing 276.8 yards per game. Baltimore drops down to #10 in this category, giving up an average of 318.9 per game, though the Ravens are road warriors who step it up annually in the playoffs, so there's little to separate these two on the defensive side of the ball.

The Steelers are magnificent against the run, yielding an unheard of 62.8 yards per game on the ground, easily the best in the league. The Bears were second, at 90.1. Pittsburgh also has an edge in turnovers, picking off 21 passes and forcing 20 fumbles. The Ravens compare with 19 and 12, respectively.

Neither team is particularly explosive on offense, but the Steelers tend to be more of a grinding type of team, running the ball with stud back Rashard Mendenhall, who carried 324 times for 1273 yards during the regular season. When he's not churning the middle for yardage, Roethlisberger can go to a bevy of sure-handed receivers like Hines Ward, tight end Heath Miller or Antwaan Randle El, or go deep to swift Mike Wallace, who led the team with 1257 yards on so catches.

Pittsburgh also has a speedy return man in Emmanuel Sanders, who also sees some time as a slot receiver.

Baltimore is led by QB Joe Flacco, who threw for 3622 yards, 25 TDs and just 10 picks. At 6'5", Flacco is, like Roethlisberger, difficult to bring down, and a little bit more mobile. His running back combo of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and LeRon McClain combined for nearly 1700 yards during the regular season, with Rice getting the bulk of the carries and 1220 yards.

Flacco is also blessed with talented, strong receivers in Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and tight end Todd Heap, who had a big day against the Chiefs last week and is a perennial all-pro. There's little separating the Steelers and Ravens in what should be a hard-hitting display of pro football.

Give Pittsburgh a slight edge, both for being at home and having a slightly better defense. And while Roethlisberger will make plays, Mendenhall might break a run or two against an aging Baltimore defense. Even if he doesn't, his constant pounding should wear down the line somewhat and prove decisive in the final minutes.

Prediction: Steelers 23 Ravens 17


--- Story continues below ---


Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons (-2 1/2, 44) 8:20 pm - It's easy to believe that the winner of this game will move on to the Super Bowl, as the Flacons and Packers appear to have the best teams in the division. While Atlanta captured the top seed in the NFC with a 13-3 record, the Packers had some bumps in the road to the playoffs, finishing with a 10-6 record and the final wild card spot. They won on the road last week in Philadelphia, beating the Eagles, 21-16, in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the score indicates.

The Packers bottled up Michael Vick all day long and Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes on the back of a surprisingly strong running game led by unknown rookie James Starks' 123 yards. The Packers looked in control all day.

Between Rodgers and Atlanta QB Matt Ryan, Rodgers is probably the better pure passer, but he's not far ahead of the player Atlanta fans call "Matty Ice" for his cool demeanor in pressure situations. Rodgers threw for 3922 yards, 28 TDs and 11 picks, while Ryan had 3705 yards, 28 and 9.


Be.


Atlanta receiver Roddy White is as tough and physical as they come, and he leads the Falcons with 115 receptions for 1389 yards, second most yards in the league. Ryan also has Tony Gonzalez at tight end and Michael Jenkins as another receiver, plus he likes Jason Snelling out of the backfield.

Green Bay has a wider assortment of lanky receivers, including Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson. Andrew Quarless repacled injured Jermichael Finley after Finley went down in Week 4, but doesn't get many touches. John Kuhn has blossomed into a great short-yardage runner and can catch out of the backfield.

The difference in this game may be Atlanta RB Michael Turner, who burrowed and clawed his way to 1371 yards during the regular season. He's strong and durable and defending the run isn't a strong statistic for Green Bay. They give up an average of 114.9 yards pre game.

Both defenses are solid. The Packers were the second-stingiest team in the league, allowing just 15 points per outing, while the Falcons gave up 18. Green bay also has an edge in yards allowed - 309.1 - compared to Atlanta's 332.4. Ryan will have to be careful throwing against the excellent Green bay secondary, which nabbed a conference-best 24 interceptions, though Atlanta's less-heralded quietly picked off 22 errant passes.

The game figures to be close, based on the result of a November 28 meeting in Atlanta where the Falcons prevailed over the Packers, 20-17 on Matt Bryant's 47-yard field goal with nine seconds remaining. While it might be another low-scoring slog, the Packers could change that with their quick-hitting offense and tight defense. The Falcons did have the best record in the conference and have won 9 of their last 10, but the Packers overcame a lot of adversity, won when they had to, have positive momentum and might be the team with the ball as time winds down.

Prediction: Packers 27 Falcons 24

All times Eastern - Click here for late games

Copyright 2010, 2011, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.

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