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Divisional Playoffs Pick'Em

Ah, 3-1 last week. Not bad, but boy was I wrong about the Giants and Panthers. Going for 4-0 this week.

New England over Denver
I saw big chunks of their regular season matchup. The Broncos race out to a 28-3 lead. The Patriots try a comeback and get within 28-20. The play that sticks with me comes at about the six minute mark. Tom Brady drops back on a third and long and finds one of his receivers running free in the deep middle. In the long past words of Keith Jackson, "he was so alone, he was lonesome." Brady leads him perfectly. It looks like the Pats will get new downs inside the 20 or a TD and a chance to tie the game.

The guy drops the ball. Pats punt. Game over.

That was then. That Pats defense was held together with tissue and paper clips. Richard Seymour -- out; Rodney Harrison -- out; Tedy Bruschi -- out; the Pats secondary -- putrid. New England still has a weak secondary but nobody can run on it of late. The front seven is healthy. The pass rush has returned.

On the other hand, the Broncos have looked a little soft down the stretch. The Cowboys should have beaten them. The Chiefs did. The Ravens took them to the final gun. They got two easy ones at the end against two teams, the Raiders and Chargers, who were done.

I don't know if Denver can flip a switch and turn it on again. Moreover, I don't know how they can switch on a pass rush they never had this year. Denver racked up just 28 sacks and needed strong production from its linebackers and SS John Lynch to even get that many. If Denver has to bring six and seven men to get heat on Tom Brady, it's playing into the master's hands. I see 28-20 again, but with the teams reversed.

Colts over the Steelers
I saw their regular season matchup too. Indy had too much speed for Pittsburgh, on both sides of the ball. The only way I see the Steelers winning is if they can control the ball for 36 to 38 minutes and get a little turnover help from Peyton Manning and his friends. Pittsburgh's defense looked shaky against the Bengals. They're playing a better offense and a better defense this week.

Seahawks over Redskins
I also watched their first game back in October. It was the week after Joe Gibbs' comeback against Dallas and his guys pulled one out here too. I've read a lot of reviews this week on the big sites. They all point to Washington's defensive dominance. What the reporters miss was that Washington played a reversal of the Cowboys game -- they controlled most of the game and let Seattle back in it late. Seattle ran a 14 play, 91 yard drive up Washington's gut to tie it late. They then intercepted Mark Brunell two plays after the kickoff and had first and ten just outside the Washington 30 with 49 seconds to go.

That's when Mike Holmgren went Marty Schottenheimer on us. Instead of trying a bootleg pass or some play that could get his offense within the 25, he hammered Shaun Alexander twice inside and tried to position the ball in the middle of the field.

You know the rest, right? Josh Brown clanked his kick off the left upright. The Redskins scored in overtime and went crazy again.

The stat lines were balanced then. I don't expect that to happen Saturday. Washington's offense has disappeared since Brunell injured his knee against the Giants. They had to sweat out a game against a backup Eagles team and were shut down completely by the Bucs. Monte Kiffin showed the world how to gameplan. Stack the line, shut down Clinton Portis, take away Chris Cooley's waggles, rotate your free safety to Santana Moss' side and wait for the punts.

Washington has won its last two games on turnovers. Gregg Williams is on an incredible steak of late, calling defenses that match his opponent perfectly. But injuries may finally have worn his margin for error away. DE Reynaldo Wynn was lost with a broken arm. The secondary is playing on fumes. You know the Seahawks will try to bait Sean Taylor after his spitting fine.

Let's put it this way: the Redskins can win by forcing more turnovers and scoring with their defense, but right now, it's the only way they can win. And it's asking a lot for them to do it three weeks in a row, all on the road.

Panthers over the Bears
Note to self -- if you pick a team to win the Super Bowl, don't pick against them come playoff time.

I picked the Panthers to win it all back in August. So I pick the Giants to take them out. Foolish me. The Bears handed the Panthers their worst beating in week 11. The score was only 13-3 but Chicago manhandled the Panthers line, sacking Jake Delhomme eight times. The pressure was all from Chicago's front four. That should favor Chicago again, right?

Not really. The Bears got two early gifts from Delhomme. One pick let Chicago drive 8 yards for the game's only touchdown. A second Delhomme pick inside his 35 gave Chicago a field goal. That was the game. The Bears were able to tee off on Delhomme the rest of the way.

Their offense didn't do much either, amassing just over 250 yards. The Panthers just shut out an explosive Giants offense last week. Their job should be easier this week, against a one-dimensional Bears O.

Deshaun Foster, who ripped the Giants front seven last week, averaged 4.6 yards a carry back in November. But he only got nine carries, as his team was playing catchup. If Foster gets off to a decent start, look out. The Bears had no answer for Steve Smith then, as he caught 14 passes for 169 yards. If Carolina mounts any early rushing attack, we're looking at a replay of the Giants win, where play action to Smith broke New York's back.

That's my take. It's your turn.

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