Aqib Talib thinks he got Darrelle Revis paid

After Aqib Talib bolted to the Denver Broncos, the Patriots were set adrift in the secondary for a time without a top-tier cornerback.

Talib signed a 6-year, $57 million deal on March 11 with the Broncos, averaging $9.5 million per season.

The Patriots were lost without him for all of three days. On March 14, late in the evening, the Patriots had secured a deal for Darrelle Revis, whose hefty contract forced his departure from Tampa Bay, signing arguably the league’s best cornerback to a 2-year, $32 million pact. And only a day later, the Patriots signed Brandon Browner on a 3-year, $17 million deal.

Following Talib’s selection as the No. 79 overall player in the NFL Top 100, he responded to the turn of events and Revis’s contract.

“Bill sure didn’t want to give me that money,” Talib cracked. “So hey, he gave it to Revis. It is what it is.”

Read the rest of the post on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

5 takeaways from the Seahawks-Broncos Super Bowl

A key to Seattle’s huge victory over Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII was the Seahawks’ pass rush, particularly Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons. (Charlie Riedel / AP photo)

What happens when an unstoppable force hits an immovable object?

Well, now we know.

The Seattle Seahawks flattened the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, 43-8, proving that the top defense in the NFL could manhandle the league’s No. 1 offense — historically the league’s most prolific offense — with ease time and time again. The Seahawks then took the beatdown to historic heights, causing us to question whether the Broncos would be the first team to be shut out in Super Bowl history.

That’s the anticlimactic end to a year that coach John Fox, quarterback Peyton Manning, and the rest of the Broncos were not expecting. Fox is now 0 for 2 in the Super Bowl. Manning is 1-2. Their legacies are shaken.

So how did it happen? How did the Seahawks win so convincingly and the Broncos play so poorly when everything that matters was on the line? Let’s recap with one final “5 takeaways.”

1. All-around awesome — The Seahawks got contributions from all three phases of the game. That’s one we hear in New England quite a bit, given Bill Belichick’s penchant for peppering the press with those very same remarks. On Sunday it was clear what that talk means when put to action. The Seahawks scored by safety, two field goals, a rushing touchdown, a defensive touchdown on an interception, a kickoff return for a touchdown, and two passing touchdowns. No other Super Bowl team in history had scored in every phase of the game — and in every possible way. Describing it as a team effort doesn’t really catch the enormity of what was accomplished. The Seahawks were opportunistic, aggressive, and successful in everything they attempted to do. That kind of dominance is rare and most certainly unforgettable.

2. The pass rush was key — The Broncos accounted for four fumbles (two lost) and two interceptions. It was a bad day at the office for Manning (one lost fumble, two interceptions), wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (one lost fumble) and center Manny Ramirez (fumbled into the end zone, causing the safety) when looking at the turnovers alone. But a number of the game’s turnovers, particularly Manning’s interceptions, were the cause of pressure up front by Seattle’s Cliff Avril and others. Manning didn’t really see a clean pocket in the first half. When the Broncos quarterback got his first sustained drive going in the second quarter, he got hit by Avril while looking to throw the ball downfield to Knowshon Moreno. That pass was intercepted by Malcolm Smith, who promptly brought the interception back for a 69-yard touchdown. Avril was a nuisance all game. The Seahawks’ defensive line had tremendous penetration with three tackles for a loss. Given the pedigree of the Broncos’ offensive line, which had allowed the fewest hurries and sacks all season, the Seahawks’ front seven proved it could do what so many other teams had failed to do: get to Manning. Avril and Chris Clemons (1 sack), were the jewels of the bunch.

3. Ball control was on point — Russell Wilson’s first pass to Zach Miller was high and uncatchable, a sign of the second-year quarterback’s nervousness on the NFL’s grandest stage. But it didn’t take long for Danger-Russ Wilson to settle down and show exactly why Pete Carroll fell in love with him. He showed escapability, he made the easy throws, he ran it well, and he never put the Seahawks in a bad position. Between Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin, and Seattle’s receivers, there were no boneheaded mistakes with the football. It is, and always will be, the No. 1 key to winning football games: taking care of the ball. The Seahawks had zero turnovers while forcing four. And Wilson, despite his wayward pass, did not offer any lame duck passes for his opponents to snatch away. It was symphonic effort.

4. Playmakers seized the moment — Percy Harvin played in only one regular season game for the Seahawks. On Super Bowl Sunday, he showed up big time. Harvin had two carries for 45 yards, caught a pass for 5 yards, and returned a kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown. He took advantage of his opportunities and he wasn’t the only one. Wide receivers Jermaine Kearse (4 receptions, 65 yards, 1 TD) and Doug Baldwin (5 receptions, 66 yards, 1 TD) both made a little something out of nothing. Kearse bounced off three tacklers before running in a 23-yard touchdown. Baldwin avoided two tacklers to get in the end zone on a 10-yard reception. Running back Marshawn Lynch plowed his way into the end zone for a tough 1-yard score. There was a quality of grit and determination by each of Seattle’s playmakers to gain that extra yard and to make that extra move in order to seize the moment.

5. Perspective on history — Everything went downhill for the Broncos when they fumbled their first offensive snap of the game, which ended up becoming a safety. The Broncos were trailing 36-0 before they scored their first touchdown, a 14-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas to end the third quarter. That’ll help explain why Manning ended the game with an NFL-record 34 completed passes (34 of 49 for 280 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 1 fumble). The Broncos were forced to throw going into the second half down 22-0 and then down 29-0 on the Seahawks’ opening kickoff return in the third. So add an asterisk there because they abandoned the running game. They ran the ball five times in the second — twice to run the clock out in the waning moments. Demaryius Thomas’ 13 receptions are also a Super Bowl record. But it seems to all come back to the dire situation in which the Broncos found themselves. No playoff team wants to throw the ball 49 times. And similarly, no Super Bowl winner is going to only have 27 yards rushing.

Extras — One thing we’re not going to be talking about is Richard Sherman, who suffered a high ankle sprain in the fourth quarter. He had been a source of hefty chatter ahead of XLVIII with the hopes that he’d do something or say something that could live up to his outsized personality. Sadly that moment didn’t come. But he certainly forced Manning to look the other way for three quarters, so it wasn’t like his presence wasn’t felt. … Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith truly played a fantastic game. He recorded 9 tackles (five solo), an interception returned for a touchdown, and a fumble recovery. He joined Ray Lewis and Chuck Howley as the only linebackers to ever win Super Bowl MVP honors. And he’s also the youngest defender to ever do it at 24 years old and 212 days. … Former Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker is now 0 for 3 in Super Bowls. … Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who coached the Patriots from 1997-1999, became the third coach in NFL history to win a Super Bowl and a national college championship. He joins Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer to hold that distinction.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

I’ll take the Seahawks over the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII

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Lo and behold, the Seattle Seahawks are right where I thought they would be at the beginning of the season.

Let the chest beating begin.

Back in September, the Boston.com staff tried to forecast the New England Patriots record while offering their proposed Super Bowl matchup. Yours truly correctly called a 12-4 season for the Patriots and proffered a Seahawks-Bengals title matchup.

Obviously I must’ve been moved by Cincinnati’s appearance on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.”

But the Seahawks have lived up to everything I have expected, minus the turbulence Russell Wilson has provided. The defense has been monstrous, holding opposing offenses to a league-low 4,378 yards in the regular season, a league-low 2,752 yards passing, and a league-low 14.4 points per game. Stars like Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagner, Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, and Michael Bennett have made this a formidable group that doesn’t back down from the competition. Just look at how they handled the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship.

But they face one of the top offenses in NFL history with the Denver Broncos. It all starts with Peyton Manning and a quartet of fantastic wide receivers. Manning threw for an NFL record 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns. Demaryius Thomas (14 TDs), Eric Decker (11 TDs), Julius Thomas (12 TDs), and Wes Welker (10 TDs) are his four horsemen. The Broncos running game is nothing to smirk at either, with Knowshon Moreno (1,038 yards, 10 TDs) and Montee Ball (559 yards, 4 TDs).

In my view, this is an opportune game for the Seahawks to match up their star defenders with the Broncos’ playmakers. Sherman on Demaryius Thomas for starts, forcing Decker and Welker to have extraordinary games. I presume both the NFL’s top defense and top offenses to be rather average Sunday.

Instead, the Broncos defense, led by the likes of Terrance Knighton, Danny Trevathan, and Shaun Phillips will have to prove they can stop the fourth-ranked rushing attack in the NFL. Marshawn Lynch, who has broken more tackles than any other running back in the league (75), is bound for at least one game-changing run.

I also expect Wilson to make a few plays with his feet, a possible weakness for the Broncos. So I think you get the drift where I’m headed. And yes, there’s still quite a bit of chest beating to be done.

Seahawks (+3) vs. Broncos (-3)
My pick: Seahawks

Postseason: 3-3
Regular season: 123-133

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.

W2W4: Patriots at Broncos

DENVER — The AFC Championship won’t be like the Patriots’ last matchup with the Denver Broncos.

The weather in Denver, expected to hit a high of 60 degrees, won’t resemble the wintry conditions felt on Nov. 24, 2013 when the temperature at kickoff was 22. The Patriots won 34-31 in overtime with the weather feeling closer to 6 degrees thanks to the wind chill. Winds were gusting up to 22 miles per hour.

That heavy wind led to some interesting decision-making by the Patriots, who elected to kick off in overtime after winning the coin toss. But it also likely led to some keen decisions by the Broncos as well, who ended up running the ball 48 times.

That likely won’t be the case Sunday, making for one-on-one matchups to carry greater importance for the AFC Championship tilt.

Here’s what we’ll be watching:

1. Jamie Collins against Julius Thomas — The Patriots rookie linebacker will be tested against one of the NFL’s top tight ends in Julius Thomas. Thomas did not play in the first bout between the Patriots and Broncos. But after he caught 65 passes for 778 yards and 12 touchdowns in 14 regular season games, he is a well-known threat. With Thomas at 6-5 and 250 pounds, Collins (6-3, 250) may be the only Patriots player with the size to cover and compete with him.

2. Aqib Talib vs. Demaryius Thomas — Demaryius Thomas caught four passes for 41 yards and a touchdown last time around against the Patriots. He got the best of Aqib Talib in that matchup, catching three of those passes with Talib in coverage, including the touchdown. But he made sure to make things difficult for Thomas in overtime, denying him a pass on 3rd and 14. How Talib handles one of the league’s top boundary receivers in Round 2 will have huge implications on the game.

3. Containment of Shaun Phillips — Denver’s outside linebacker has replaced Von Miller as the team’s top pass rushing specialist. He tallied two sacks against his former team, the San Diego Chargers, in the AFC Divisional round and 10 sacks this season. Containing him should be a point of emphasis for the Patriots’ offensive line.

4. Peyton Manning’s foibles — The league’s top quarterback has had well-known meltdowns in the postseason. His 10-11 record in the playoffs is littered with games in which he has thrown an untimely interception, was unable to convert on a key play, or failed in the red zone when his team needed a touchdown most. For as much as this game is about how the Patriots can somehow limit the league’s top offense, led by the league’s top quarterback, it’s just as much about whether Manning can maintain his high level of play at a time when the best is expected of him.

5. Bill Belichick’s gamesmanship — Whether the goal is to shut down the Broncos’ passing attack or somehow rein in their running game, which was prolific in Week 12, the Patriots coach’s game plan has to somehow confuse and confound Broncos coach John Fox and Manning enough to render the best offense an average counterweight. In the Patriots and Broncos’ first meeting, there was an open-door sign for the Broncos to run on every down, with the Patriots benefiting greatly from the wind and Manning taking a backseat to Knowshon Moreno (224 yards). By the time the Broncos really started attacking the Patriots through the air, New England had already scored 28 straight points. That sort of gamesmanship, while successful against the Broncos with Jack Del Rio at the helm, likely won’t work twice. But that doesn’t mean Belichick won’t have something else up his sleeve.

To see the rest of this post, view the original on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

AFC, NFC championship picks

There’s a sharp contrast between the AFC and NFC Championship games, with the former featuring the league’s hallmark quarterbacks and the latter featuring the game’s up-and-coming stars.

It’s hard not to notice when considering the juxtaposition that will arise in the Super Bowl, whoever the contestants are. It’s also hard to ignore that given the talent of each team, and the rivalries between each opponent, Sunday’s conference championships are much harder to pick than usual. One could, with a simple coin flip, make an argument for either and have some pretty good numbers to back them up.

But when you look at the line, there’s a clear divide between the AFC Championship and the NFC Championship. And that helps guide my conference championship picks.

49ers (-3) at the Seahawks (+3) — The Seattle Seahawks have won four of their last five games against the San Francisco 49ers at home, including this season’s matchup. In those five games, they’ve outscored the 49ers 139-58. Seattle is 16-1 at home in the past two seasons. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick not only has troubles at Seattle’s noisy CenturyLink Field, but every time he’s faced Seattle’s sterling No. 1 defense. He’s 2-2 against the Seahawks, completing 50.54 percent of his passes while throwing two touchdowns and five interceptions. Every time he sees these guys, he just doesn’t do well. The 49ers need him to play at his best, which I just don’t think is possible given the opponent and the location.
My pick: Seahawks

Patriots (+4) at the Broncos (-4) — After the Patriots stormed back to beat the Broncos 34-31 in overtime in Week 12, helped in part by conservative play-calling in 22-degree weather and Rob Gronkowski (7 receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown), they’re facing a different climate and mindset in Denver going into Sunday’s game. Peyton Manning, who is 4-10 against Tom Brady, aggressively attacked the San Diego Chargers last week, throwing the ball down the stretch despite having the lead. That’s a huge change from what the Patriots previously saw and could affect the dynamics of the game should the Broncos procure another lead. But Denver has been notorious for allowing opponents an opportunity to steal the game away, much like they did for the Chargers, who had the Broncos stuck at 3rd and 17. The Patriots can certainly steal a win against the AFC’s No. 1 seed if Brady and the passing game gets going against a diminished Broncos secondary. The injury to Denver cornerback Chris Harris certainly opens things up. I expect it to go down to the final possession. Maybe even a field goal.
My pick: Patriots

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Broncos game

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots 34-31 overtime win over the Denver Broncos was the team’s largest comeback victory in franchise history.

Let that sink in.

It was a bizarre game, marked by the cold (22 degrees at kickoff, a record at Gillette Stadium for a regular season game) and 11 fumbles – none bigger than Tony Carter’s, who was hit by a bouncing football in overtime while working on the punt return unit. (Wes Welker frantically tried to get him to move away.) Nate Ebner recovered, setting up Stephen Gostkowski’s game-winning 31-yard field goal.

Down 24 points to the league’s top offense, and more specifically to quarterback Peyton Manning, the Patriots seemed doomed. But something clicked during halftime that allowed the Patriots to turn a page. And in doing so, they toppled the best team in AFC and likely the NFL.

Here’s my takeaways from the game:

1. The Patriots take the wind, win the game — To start overtime, Bill Belichick instructed his captains to defer, putting the Patriots in the awkward position of having to defend against Manning and the NFL’s top-ranked offense, a move that could very well have been a self-inflicted wound. But it was clear that Belichick had opted to have the wind at his back because of how the gusts, which reached up to 20 or more miles per hour, had affected the game.

“The wind, it was a strong wind,” Belichick explained. “We just had to keep them out of the end zone, obviously. I just felt like the wind would be an advantage if we could keep them out of the end zone on that first drive. We were able to do that. The wind was significant in the game, it was definitely significant.”

The Patriots were able to hold the Broncos in OT twice before their special teams error gave way to Gostkowski’s game-winning kick.

“The wind was pretty good and anytime the temperature is lower and the wind is higher, the harder it is to kick,” Gostkowski said. “Luckily we had the wind behind our back on that last kick. Obviously you could tell, kickoffs going one way were going five yards out of the end zone and they were going to the 10 [yard line] the other way. It’s tough, but it was a lot of fun. Ryan [Allen] and Danny [Aiken] did a great job on the last kick, the line obviously blocked really well. It was just sweet. Definitely going to enjoy this one for a couple days.”

2. Wes Welker’s return minimized — The former Patriots receiver caught four passes for 31 yards, but he’ll more likely be remembered for dropping a pass on third and 8 in overtime that would’ve given the Broncos a first down and field goal position, and then failing to step up to catch the muffed punt.

“I felt like there was a lot of traffic and it was a high ball,” Welker said of the game’s fateful play. “I didn’t want to get into a situation where someone was running into me or something else, and I ended up with the situation I didn’t want to happen in the first place. I have to do a better job of getting up there and getting those guys out of the way and making sure it doesn’t hit them.”

Patriots punter Ryan Allen said he tried his best to let the ball hang, making it more difficult on the Broncos’ return game. The hanging punt certainly created this situation, where Welker’s decision-making was more prominent in his first return to Foxborough than any heroics.

For the rest of my takeaways, visit Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

What to watch for as the Patriots host the Broncos

FOXBOROUGH — This game just might be a shootout, the first one of the year for the Patriots.

In 10 games, the Patriots have crossed the 30-point threshold only three times. No opponent has scored more than 31 against New England, including the vaunted New Orleans Saints (27). Which begs the question …

1. Can the Patriots keep up? — The Broncos are the No. 1 offense in the league, as you might’ve heard. They’re dropping 39.8 points per game on opponents. Peyton Manning has an astonishing 3,572 yards and 34 touchdowns through 10 games. He’s throwing 350 yards a game and his team is averaging 455.5 yards of total offense. While Tom Brady is fantastic in most regards, his team has been nowhere near that prolific. So we’ll see if the Patriots utilize all of their opportunities and minimize their use of punter Ryan Allen, the likely harbinger of a loss.

2. How will the injuries catch up to the Patriots? — Last week, Aqib Talib (hip) couldn’t finish against the Carolina Panthers after missing the past three games. Kyle Arrington (groin) appeared to be shaken up and never appeared to be at his best. Alfonzo Dennard (knee) missed after reportedly going through a procedure. And Steve Gregory (thumb) was also out after being injured against the Pittsburgh Steelers two weeks prior. All are listed as questionable for today’s game, with Dennard the only one not expected to play. That’s a lot of players at less than 100 percent that are going up against the top offense. How will they handle the job?

For the rest of this entry, visit Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

Patriots-Broncos predictions

Patriots predictions
I expect the Patriots to win and I expect them to win big.

Editor’s note: This originally appeared on Boston.com.

The Patriots are facing what appears to be a tough opponent, a stingy defense and an unconventional quarterback. But there’s a mirage playing out in the Centennial State. As 14-point favorites going into Saturday’s divisional playoff game, the onus is on the Patriots to live up to their own expectations and kill the Broncos’ hallucinations of an AFC Championship trip. The following are bold predictions for Saturday’s game, one which we very much believe the Patriots will win.

Tom Brady will eviscerate Tim Tebow’s Broncos
Let’s not beat around the bush here. Tom Brady is a competitive monster. Despite what he says in the media, he’s taking into account every slight that “Tebow magic” and “Tebow time” has taken away from his own glory. This is a three-time Super Bowl champion facing an overhyped, under-skilled, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants, fad of a QB. After the Tebows go down, the Broncos’ organization will be set back another five years.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the horse to ride on
Bill Belichick has done quite a bit of tinkering with his running backs rotation. So much so that one wonders from week to week how the carries will break down. How do you utilize Danny Woodhead (77 carries, 351 yards, 4.56 avg.)? Stevan Ridley (87 carries, 441 yards, 5.07 avg.)? Green-Ellis (181 carries, 667 yards, 11 touchdowns, 3.69 avg.)? Kevin Faulk (17 carries, 57 yards, 3.35 avg.)? Expect Green-Ellis to be the go-to back on first and second downs, with Woodhead locked in solidly on third down. The game film speaks to Green-Ellis’ experience finding holes and making things happen out of nothing.

Expect a full dose of #Powwwww
Brandon Spikes, whose signs his Tweets with #PoWwWwW, missed a large stretch of the regular season, including the Patriots’ 41-23 win over the Broncos in Week 15. As a run-stuffing linebacker, his presence was missed. The Broncos pounded away at the Patriots in the first quarter for 167 yards on the ground en route to 252 yards on the day. Sure, the Broncos were felled by turnovers and penalties, but they had a solid gameplan. Enter Spikes. With the colorful linebacker on board, the Patriots will have some added toughness in their front seven to slow down any Broncos rushing attack.

Deion Branch will be the X-factor
In Week 15, when the Patriots beat the Broncos in the regular season, Deion Branch missed the game with a groin injury. In his absence, Chad Ochocinco caught his first touchdown as a Patriot. We’re not proposing some flip-flop here of successes, but do expect Branch to take a greater role this time around. What Ochocinco showed in that Week 15 game, on a blown coverage pass from Tom Brady, was that the Broncos have a tough time with fourth- and fifth-option receivers. Branch is in a prime position to have a great game.

The Patriots will mix coverages
Last year, when the Patriots played and lost to the New York Jets in the divisional playoffs, Tom Brady was bombarded with a mix of coverage so indescribable it was eventually labeled “chaos.” Last week, when the Broncos beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild-card 29-23, the Steelers were cheating up with their safeties in the box so blatantly they forced Tim Tebow to fire away throughout the game. Expect the Patriots to give Tebow varied looks, and confuse the quarterback as much as possible. Mind games will be paramount.

Secondary thoughts
In an anybody’s guess secondary, one thing we do know is that the Patriots will rely on the talents of defensive back Devin McCourty, ballyhooed by his success in the final two games of the regular season, either at the corner or safety position. With a big target to defend like Demaryius Thomas, and a slippery one like Eddie Royal, the Broncos will provide the stage for McCourty to reclaim his good name. As a tough tackler and instinctive ball hawk, McCourty fits perfectly into a defense that’s up against an offense as run-oriented as the Broncos.

There will be trick plays
NFL teams often have gimmick plays installed and ready to go every week with a “break glass in emergency” attitude about their implementation. Not the Broncos. This is a team that depends on reverses, half-back passes, and fake kicks almost as much as its patented play-action. So expect some trickery. Just don’t expect the Patriots to be fooled.

There will be no ‘Tebow Time’
This game is not going down to the wire, as is the case for most Broncos games. Turnovers may, or may not, be at fault. It doesn’t matter. The Patriots, led by Tom Brady and a renewed focus on run defense, will make sure this game sewed up by the fourth quarter with a two-touchdown lead.

My divisional playoff picks: Patriots, 49ers, Texans and Giants

Are you shocked already? You should be. I’m going on a limb here, both because of a rookie quarterback, some new faith in Alex Smith and the New York Giants.

Make no mistake about it, this is a weekend in which a lot of faith is necessary. The 49ers will not have an easy go of it against the New Orleans Saints. There’s no team hotter in the NFL right now. What Drew Brees can do with a football makes my eyes light up like a little kid. But the same can be said of the 49ers’ defense. There’s no team like it in the NFL, and also in that sense, there’s no team like the 49ers that changes the offensive strategy of an opponent. Opposing teams literally have to give up their running game. With an eye on defense, and the unbelievable possibility that Alex Smith will surprise, I see the one of three big upsets occurring in the divisional playoffs. Yup, I went there.

Saints at 49ers — See above.
My pick: 49ers

Broncos at Patriots — I happen to think that the Patriots are a better team than the Steelers offensively in every fashion. So much better than the Steelers, and Broncos, that I believe Denver’s defense will find itself on its backside by midway through the second quarter. The onus will be on Tim Tebow to save his team by helping the Broncos put up more than 30 points, something they haven’t done since early December. The Patriots average 32.1 points per game, almost two touchdowns more than the Broncos (19.3). In the last go round, everything came down to turnovers. This time, everything will be much more offensively oriented. At least that’s my prediction. (Depending on how you look at it, that could mean defensively oriented.) The Patriots win that battle.
My pick: Patriots

Texans at Ravens — On the road against a rested and feisty Baltimore Ravens team, I envision the T.J. Yates led Texans beating the Ravens. Not because of the rookie though, but because of its phenomenal defense (amazing effort against the Bengals) and the lack of a passing game that has come to characterize the Ravens’s offense (No. 19 in the NFL) in the final weeks of the season. I don’t believe a weekend away from the gridiron can correct their problems. On the other hand, there’s game film on these two from Week 6, a 29-14 win for the Ravens, when Joe Flacco was still pitching like a top-flight quarterback and Matt Schaub was healthy. The difference now, it seems to me, is that one team is hot and the other is not. Any team that struggles with the Cleveland Browns and falls to the San Diego Chargers isn’t deserving of going forward from this point. But then I also said any team that loses three in a row to end the season is bound for a plane ticket home too.
My pick: Texans

Giants at Packers — It is my humble opinion that when an awesome defense faces an awesome offense, and a very good offense faces a mediocre-to-poor defense, the team with the awesome defense will win. What we saw in wild-card weekend was an awesome defense, fiery and dominant in every respect. The Packers are an amazing team, but even in their 38-35 win over the Giants in Week 13, they allowed an alarming amount of points. Imagine if the Giants can wipe at least one touchdown off the board? Don’t imagine it. It’s going to happen.
My pick: Giants

Last week: 2-2
Regular season: 135-83 (61.9 percent)