Daily Blog • January 15, 2011



4:30 PM CBS


The Steelers own 19 division titles S/'79 with 4 in the AFC North since realignment. Mike Tomlin's Steelers are 26-9 at home going 5-3 TY. PIT outgained foes by an avg of 47 ypg (6th) at home TY (+10 TO's) with a 23.1-16.6 avg score. Counting playoffs, Tomlin is 6-3 vs BAL with a 21-16 avg score. They split the series TY with BAL getting a 17-14 win vs PIT without Roethlisberger in Wk 4. With Roethlisberger, the Steelers came away with a 13-10 win on the road. BAL had a 10-6 lead with 3:00 left but Flacco was sk'd and fmbl'd and it was ret'd to the BAL9. PIT scored 3pl later and forced BAL to go 3&out then ran out the clock. BAL is 6-3 on the road TY where they have outgained foes by 27 ypg (+1 TO's) with a 22-16 avg score.

Under OC Cameron BAL has established its approach to the season as they emphasize the pass until early Dec. Cameron noted that he does this to push Flacco's development as much as possible so when the weather turns bad he can field healthy RB's and a hot QB. After a rough 1st 2 gms, Flacco settled in and finished the year with a 24-5 ratio (7.82 ypa) going 137 str passes without an int. RB Rice has logged B2B seasons of 1,200 yds rush/500 yds rec. He joins WR's Bolden/Mason with 60+ rec's, but BAL did not have a 1,000 yd rec for the 1st time S/'06. BAL has been fairly stable on the OL with the same starting combo for 13 of 16 TY all'g 1 sk for every 12.8 pass att. The truth is BAL has a good but not great D at this point with solid leadership (Lewis/Reed) that has made up for shortcomings in the secondary. Ngata is a dominant force on the DL who can play any spot up front for a unit that has given up 94 ypg (3.9) rush TY. BAL has had the advantage of a healthy Suggs after a down '09 and he's posted 11 sks for a D that earns 1 every 22 att. In the 1st 6 gms without FS Reed, BAL only had 3 int but with Reed who leads the team with 8, BAL pulled in 16 the rest of the way. BAL has my #12 ST's with a good year by Koch (39.2 net, 39 punts In20).

PIT opened 2010 3-1 without Roethlisberger thanks to some great defensive work which held foes to 289 ypg with a 21-12 avg (+7 TO's). With their QB, PIT outgained foes in 10 of 12 gms (NO/NE) in the reg ssn by 98 ypg (2nd overall) with a +9 TO mark (24-15 avg score). Thanks to the bye week and easy lead in gms vs CLE/MIA Roethlisberger finished with a 17-5 ratio not throwing more than 1 int in a game. PIT has been very balanced with a 348-398 run-pass mix since his return thanks to Mendenhall who is the team's first 1,200 yd rusher S/'07. Mendenhall had 26% of PIT's offense TY with Moore being a standout 3rd Dn back again. Wallace has evolved into the primary rec option finishing 5th in rec yds and 2nd in ypc in the NFL. Ward is now the possession WR here with excellent blocking skills and Miller is the prototype balanced TE. PIT is used to dealing with a patchwork OL in recent years with only LT Adams and star rookie C Pouncey starting all 16 gms for a unit that gave up 1 sk every 12 att's with Roethlisberger. PIT missed being the #1 overall D by 84 yds but finished 1st vs the run (62.8, 3.0), sks by with 48 (1 every 12.4 att's) and pts all'd (232). PIT has long set the standard for 3-4 LB's with Woodley and Harrison again combining for 20 sks. After giving up a 22-12 ratio LY, PIT's #12 pass D is one of 3 to have more int than TD TY. PIT finished 18th in my ST's rankings TY improving their coverage units from LY but the PR is weaker.

Two of the top defensive teams in the AFC matchup and recent history shows that the defenses have dominated. The L/3 gms between these rivals have been decided by exactly a FG and in the 2 games TY they've totaled 530 and 571 yds. Both teams prefer to run the ball which will, of course, shorten the game. I'll call for the upset here with the Ravens getting revenge for the blown 4Q lead in the last meeting.

PHIL’S FORECAST: baltimore 17 pittsburgh 14


8:00 PM FOX


For the 1st time in franchise history the Falcons have 3 straight winning seasons thanks to Mike Smith with their 1st Div title since 2004 (4th overall). ATL's 20-4 mark at home is 2nd to only NE and tied with BAL/IND since 2008. TY ATL outgained foes by 26 ypg (12th) with an impressive +12 TO's which is tied with NE for #1 while outscoring foes 28-19. This includes a 20-17 win vs GB TY. GB had a large edge in yards (418-294) but ATL was content to control the tempo of the game with a balanced attack. Both QB's had solid games but the difference was ATL RB Turner whose 110 yds (4.8) along with a Rodgers fumble on the ATL 1 which changed the momentum of the game.

GB and NO are the only teams to finish in the top 10 on off in each of the L5Y. Rodgers is an elite QB ranking 4th in pass yds, pass TD and QBR since he took over as the st'r in '08. TY he was 78 yds short of being the 1st QB to throw for 4,000 in each of his 1st 3 yrs. He has had to cope with the loss of RB Grant (brkn ankle in opener) and TE Finley (knee, 5th gm) who was a huge loss for 3rd down pkgs. As a result GB used its run gm to set up the play action and serve as an extra pass protector. GB has 5 plyrs in the top 100 for rec's with Jennings finishing in the top 10 rec yds (1st time in career). Unlike LY, GB has enjoyed stability on the OL as they've had the same lineup for 12 str after Bulaga was installed at RT. LY Rodgers was sacked once every 11 att, TY it's once every 15. GB has capitalized on pts off takeaways (#2 w/111) which has helped them make up for a beat up front 7. After starting 1 gm LY, Raji has been a beast as he's the only DL with 16 sts and his 6.5 sks are the most by a NT S/'90. Despite a nagging hamstring inj Matthews is the 1st in GB hist with 10+ sks in his 1st 2Y. However, GB is very thin at the other OLB spot having started 4 diff plyrs. GB has had good health in the secondary (#5 pass D) with 3 of 4 st'rs together for all 16. This will be the 4th time in 5 yrs that GB's ST's have finished 24th or lower in my rankings with the return units (7.9 PR, 20.1 KR) being the main culprit TY.

Balance. Many coaches give lip service to it on offense but ATL's 54/46 pass to run ratio shows how dedicated they have been under OC Mike Mularkey. One of the NFL's next gen QB stars, Ryan has been at his best at home with a 15-3 ratio (99.1 QBR) as the dome's speed plays to the Falcons strengths. He's also worked with arguably the best WR in the NFL TY as White led the league in targets, catches and finished 2nd in yards accounting for 25.4% of ATL's offense. Despite a Hall of Fame career, this will only be Tony Gonzalez' 4th playoff game (0-3) as he finished with the 4th most rec's by a TE TY. The rest of the receiving unit are in the supporting cast with Jenkins being the intermediate weapon, Douglas being the slot option and RB Snelling being the 3rd Dn back. After a down 2009, Turner rebounded by giving ATL the power run option finishing 3rd in rush yds TY with 26.7% of ATL's offense. He's also been helped out by an ATL OL that started all 16 reg season games together TY allowing 1 sack every 24.8 att's. ATL's #16 def ranking is its best finish since 2004 (14th). The Falcons defense is specifically designed to cope with passing teams like NO and is one of the faster units in the NFL overall. However they are very young and have a tendency to overpursue. While they were 10th vs the run their 4.63 ypc was 27th on the year. On the DL, Abraham regained his 2008 form thanks to some solid play by Biermann TY who is evolving into a tenacious speed rusher. After starting 4 different players at LCB and 2 at RCB LY the Falcons had their entire secondary together for 2010. Despite the #22 pass def ranking they did improve the ypa slightly (7.5 to solid 6.9) and pulled in 7 more int than LY with Robinson solidifying the unit. ATL's LB's are headed by MLB Lofton who is an excellent player who doesn't get much press due to the offense. ATL has my #6 special teams TY thanks to a great year by the return units (#9 PR/#6 KR).

I think the Packers are the better team and this year they've beaten 3 playoff teams on the road and in the losses outgained NE by 120, ATL by 124, and CHI by 103. The Falcons have hosted three playoff teams and have been outgained by 78 ypg. At this stage of the playoffs I'll take the superior defense that is road tested and has proven they can stand toe-to-toe vs anyone.

PHIL’S FORECAST: green bay 23 atlanta 20