Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cohen's Divisional Week Selections

Some consider divisional weekend in the NFL playoffs the best week of football since it pits the so- called top seeds against some red hot wild card winners from the week before. This is the week people start to look for upsets. Which top seed will go down? Which wild card team will run the table? These questions and more will be asked in this weekend, as the NFL paints the pitcure for the final four.

RAVENS (12-5) @ TITANS (13-3): Eight years ago the Ravens were in a very familiar position. After winning their wild card game against the Denver Broncos that year, the Ravens traveled to Tennessee to take on the defending AFC champion Titans. Everyone expected Tennessee to run all over the Ravens; instead, the lasting image from that divisional playoff game is Ray Lewis running back a Steve McNair interception for a touchdown as Baltimore romped Tennessee en route to their first ever Super Bowl title.

This year, Baltimore is hoping for similar magic. The Ravens defense is as nasty as that group from 2000. A week ago against the Dolphins, the Ravens forced five turnovers, including four interceptions from Chad Pennington. The Ravens are a group that creates a lot of confusion at the line for opposing offenses and are the most physical team in the league when it comes to defending the pass.

That does not bode well for a Titans team that has a soft offense. Sure Chris Johnson and LenDale White have had good years running the football, but it is the Titans passing game that is suspect. With a receiving corps that includes Justin Gage, Justin McCareins and Brandon Jones, as well as a bad big game quarterback in Kerry Collins, clearly the Titans have concerns for this game.

Still, the Titans possess a very good defense. The Titans D was sixth against the run and ninth against the pass this season. They were also second in the league in points allowed (234). This does not bode well for the Ravens offense. Last week, rookie Joe Flacco was pathetic against the Dolphins, completing only nine passes for the entire game. If Flacco and the Ravens are to score any points in this game, they will need to find a way to get around a group that beat up the Ravens in week five. Flacco was dreadful against Tennessee in week five, throwing two interceptions and 153 yards in the effort.

Don't forget, Titans coach Jeff Fisher was the Tennessee coach eight years ago when Baltimore beat the Titans in the playoffs and does not want to see a rerun. Expect a low-scoring brawl. PICK:RAVENS 15, TITANS 12.

CARDINALS (10-7) @ PANTHERS (12-4): If you have something better to do on a Saturday night, do it. Maybe go to one of those Academy Award nominated movies, or go out to eat, or maybe slip in a DVD ... do anything but watch this disgraceful matchup. The Cardinals beat an equally lousy team a week ago in the Atlanta Falcons and will have to hope that their sixth trip to the East Coast pays some dividends. The Cards are 0-5 in games they have played on the East Coast this season, and it should not get any better against a red hot Carolina Panthers team.

The Cards run the ball only sparingly and rely mostly on the big, but risky, arm of Kurt Warner. Warner did have a nice season, but expect him to get ripped apart against a good Panthers defense.

As for Carolina, they boast the best one-two punch at running back in the NFL. DeAngelo Williams is flat out explosive when he gets into space and between the tackles, while Jonathan Stewart is faster than Williams, which is saying a lot. The Cards have a suspect defense, so expect Carolina to ram it down the Cardinals throats all night long. Jake Delhomme will hit Steve Smith and Mushin Muhammad for a couple of touchdowns and this game will be over at 8:30 pm. PICK: PANTHERS 48, CARDINALS 21.

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