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Division-round game picks

Lofa Tatupu, Jordan Babineaux

Seattle Seahawks players Lofa Tatupu (51) and Jordan Babineaux (27) celebrate after the Seahawks sacked Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler for a safety in the second half of an NFL football game in Chicago, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010. (AP Photo/John Smierciak)


Last week, Rosenthal and yours truly generated identical picks for the wild-card weekend games. Picking the Saints and Colts left us at 0-2 for Saturday; relying on the Ravens and Packers made us 2-2 for the weekend.

I’m still four games behind him in the full-season chase. And now it’s time to close the gap.

Or watch it get really, really wide.

Ravens at Steelers

Florio’s take: Way back in May, I picked the Ravens to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. And with Saturday’s rubber match between Baltimore and Pittsburgh presenting a coin-flip proposition, honoring a past prognostication is as good a reason as any to help me finally make a decision. Expect fifty-six minutes of hard-fought football followed by 240 intense seconds during which one of the AFC finalists will emerge. Look for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to finally beat the Steelers when Ben Roethlisberger plays, and for Baltimore to extend their road playoff record since 2008 to 5-2.

Florio’s pick: Ravens 23, Steelers 20.

Rosenthal’s take: The best game of the weekend comes first. The only game that wasn’t a nail biter between these two teams in their last seven matchups was the ’08 AFC Championship. I worry for Ravens fans the result Saturday could be similar. Going on the road on a short week is a huge disadvantage. So are the Ravens’ slow receivers going up against tight man coverage. Look for the Baltimore’s defense to wear down in the fourth quarter, like they did for much of the year.

Rosenthal’s pick: Steelers 24, Ravens 16.

Packers at Falcons

Florio’s take: Several weeks ago, in an SNF Extra online chat, someone asked me for a revised Super Bowl prediction. I wanted to stay true to the prediction made in our season preview magazine: Ravens and Cowboys. But since the Cowboys were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs at the time, I opted for the Falcons instead. Thus, I’ve got to stick with that well-reasoned selection I made with barely an instant of thought and while trying to type with one hand and wolf down a tin-foil container full of chicken with spinach and mushrooms and some sort of cheese in the other. Besides, everyone else is picking the Packers. And that will likely make the Falcons even more motivated to justify their 13-3 season by winning their first playoff game of the post-Vick era.

Florio’s pick: Falcons 24, Packers 20.

Rosenthal’s take: The first Packers-Falcons game was an entertaining matchup marked by long drives and two failures by the Packers inside the 10-yard line. Green Bay had no running game then, but now James Starks could be the key to the game. Starks should find running room because Atlanta’s secondary – especially Dunta Robinson -- can be vulnerable without help in coverage. The Packers have more offensive talent, the better defense, and the coach more likely to make a Caldwell-like brain fart. In the end, the Packers have more ways to win.

Rosenthal’s pick: Packers 28, Falcons 24.

Seahawks at Bears

Florio’s take: Sometimes, football makes no sense. Last week, a clearly superior Saints team went to Seattle and lost. This week, the Seahawks return to Soldier Field with plenty of confidence and a lot of momentum, against a Bears team that isn’t as good as the Saints team that the Seahawks beat last weekend. Sure, the Bears are the safe pick. The Bears are the smart pick. The Bears also may be the right pick. But I’m four games behind Rosenthal with seven games to go, so it’s time to start flailing for a knockout. Besides, the Bears could be tight and the Seahawks could catch them flat-footed and Seattle could do that which no one -- including the Bears -- expects them to do.

Florio’s pick: Seahawks 23, Bears 20.

Rosenthal’s take: Can the Seahawks win? Of course. They already did once in Chicago without the help of turnovers and special teams. Is it likely the Seahawks win? No, because the regular season has to mean something. Seattle lost nine games this year by 15 points or more, the most in the NFL. Carolina was next with seven such losses, the Cardinals six, and the Bills five. That’s the company Seattle kept for 17 weeks. It’s going to show up in January eventually.

Rosenthal’s pick: Chicago 27, Seahawks 13.

Jets at Patriots

Florio’s take: Early in the week, I planned to pick the Jets. The Pats ran up the score when the two teams played in December, hoping to spark a tailspin that would wash the Jets right out of the playoffs. But the Jets have been chattering too much, and the Patriots will now be even more motivated to repeat the outcome of the Monday night massacre. Though it won’t nearly be so lopsided this time around, these two teams have different agendas. The Jets are determined to beat the Pats, and the Pats are determined to beat the NFC representative in the Super Bowl.

Florio’s pick: Patriots 30, Jets 21.

Rosenthal’s take: Until the 45-3 whitewash, Rex Ryan’s Jets gave Tom Brady problems. Brady’s numbers in his first three games against Ryan as Jets coach: 57% completion, 6.24 yards-per-attempt, three touchdowns, and three interceptions. Don’t be shocked if the Jets defense makes life difficult on Brady for a while. My concern for New York is more about Mark Sanchez’s wild throws against a turnover-crazy Patriots defense that held opponents under 10 points four times in New England’s last five games.

Rosenthal’s pick: Patriots 27, Jets 14.