St. Petersburg Times staff writer Tom Jones breaks down today’s NFL playoff games:
Baltimore Ravens at Kansas City Chiefs
Records: Ravens 12-4 overall, 5-3 on the road; Chiefs 10-6 overall, 7-1 at home
Weather: Possible snow, high 26Line: Ravens by 3Time/TV: 1 p.m.; Ch. 10
The Ravens will win if:
They can stay healthy in this one. A slew of stars — LT Michael Oher and S Ed Reed among them — are nursing injuries, and the Ravens can’t afford to play this game with a bunch of backups in key slots. Otherwise, the Ravens likely will stick to a formula that works well in the postseason — rush the ball, play solid defense and ask QB Joe Flacco to just not turn the ball over.
The Chiefs will win if:
They can run the ball. The Chiefs have the league’s best rushing attack, but the Ravens have an excellent run defense. The Chiefs need to run with some success so they don’t have to rely on QB Matt Cassel to win by himself. You can say this for every quarterback in football, but it really applies to the Chiefs offense: They need to have a lot of second-and-3 situations as opposed to second-and-10 and third-and-8 plays.
Ravens: With possible snow, cold temperatures and windy conditions, scoring might be at a premium in this game, and kickers could make the difference. That would be just fine with the Ravens. K Billy Cundiff was 26-of-29 on field goals this season and hasn’t missed since Nov. 7 — nine games ago.
Chiefs: QB Matt Cassel, who never even started a game in college at USC, has looked good in three years as an NFL starter but will be playing in his first NFL postseason game. There’s a huge difference between playing the Bills in October and the Ravens in January. One good sign is he protects the ball. He threw only seven interceptions this season, but playoff jitters could be a factor.
Chiefs coach Todd Haley, left, might not be the most likeable guy around, but his name is certainly in the mix for NFL coach of the year after taking the Chiefs from 4-12 last year to 10-6. On the other side, John Harbaugh quietly has become one of the game’s best coaches. He has gone 32-16 during the regular season over the past three years and is 3-2 in the playoffs. Those two losses came to teams that eventually went to the Super Bowl.e_SClBThree key matchups
1. Ravens LT Michael Oher vs. Chiefs OLB Tamba Hali
Everyone knows the story of Michael “The Blind Side” Oher, and he’s one of the top tackles in football. But he’s battling a sprained knee and ankle and will have his hands full trying to stop Hali, who recorded 141/2 sacks this year. The Ravens allowed 40 sacks this season, and that could be trouble against a Chiefs defense that has 19 sacks in the past seven games.
2. Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe vs. Ravens CB Josh Wilson
Wilson is suffering from a shoulder injury, and it’s not even a sure thing that he can play a full game. In that case, Fabian Washington, who was benched this season, will be forced into the lineup. Either way, the Chiefs might have a mismatch they can take advantage of with Bowe, who caught 72 passes and 15 touchdowns.
3. Ravens TE Todd Heap vs. Chiefs S Eric Berry
Heap is a significant part of QB Joe Flacco’s passing attack, having caught 40 passes and five touchdowns. When he’s rolling, it opens up room for WRs Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason. Berry, the fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft out of Tennessee, hasn’t played like a rookie. He picked off four passes during the season.e_SClBThree things you might not know
1. The Chiefs running back tandem of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones rushed for 2,363 yards, the fourth most for two backs on the same team in the history of the NFL. Charles’ 6.38 yards per carry just missed breaking Jim Brown’s NFL record of 6.40.
2. The Chiefs might have a great running attack, but the Ravens can stop the run. Baltimore was fifth best in the NFL against the run, and only three backs — Cleveland’s Peyton Hillis, Carolina’s Mike Goodson and Houston’s Arian Foster — rushed for 100 yards in a game against the Ravens this season.
3. The Ravens are in the postseason for the third consecutive season — a franchise record. Meanwhile, the Chiefs hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2006 and haven’t won a playoff game since beating the Houston Oilers on Jan. 16, 1994.e_SClBGreen Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles
Records: Packers 10-6 overall, 3-5 on the road; Eagles 10-6 overall, 4-4 at home
Weather: Overcast, high 34Line: Eagles by 21/2Time/TV: 4:30 p.m.; Ch. 13
The Packers will win if:
They can stop the big play. Teams can shut down the Eagles for three quarters and all it takes is Michael Vick or DeSean Jackson busting loose for a quarter to ruin the efforts. That’s what happened to the Giants last month when Philadelphia overcame a 21-point deficit in less than eight minutes. The Packers can win if Vick has to put together long scoring drives, but those 80-yard strikes are backbreakers.
The Eagles will win if:
QB Michael Vick can throw the ball. Let’s assume the Packers are well aware of Vick’s ability to run and that they’ve likely studied tapes of how the Vikings held Vick in relative check (63 rushing yards and six sacks) in Week 16. Vick will have to make more plays with his arm as opposed to his feet.e_SClBHero/goat watch
Packers: CB Charles Woodson is one of those players who always seem to make the big play at the key time. The 2009 NFL defensive player of the year hasn’t been quite as dominant this season, but maybe that’s because his 2009 season was so remarkable with nine interceptions. He still is among the top five cover guys in the league, and his interception numbers were way down (only two this season) because so many offenses stayed away from him. You just have the feeling he’ll have a big pick today.
Eagles: Philadelphia’s kick and punt returners all have the ability to change field position (and momentum) in a flash. Plus, the Packers’ special teams are notably bad. DeSean Jackson is a threat to return a punt for a touchdown, and Eagles KRs Jorrick Calvin and Ellis Hobbs are dangerous. Look for a big return from one of them today.
The Eagles’ Andy Reid, left, might be the most under-appreciated coach in all of sports. He has taken the Eagles to the playoffs in nine of his 12 seasons. He has never won a Super Bowl, but his Eagles have won at least one playoff game in eight of Reid’s nine postseason appearances. Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy is 48-32 in five seasons but has won only one postseason game.e_SClBThree key matchups
1. Eagles WR DeSean Jackson vs. Packers CB Charles Woodson
Two of the most exciting players in football. Jackson is a main weapon in the Eagles offense. The Eagles lost four times this season when Jackson played, and in those four games, he had a total of 11 catches for 107 yards and no touchdowns. In the 10 victories, he averaged 94.9 receiving yards. Woodson, meanwhile, is one of the elite corners in football, and if he can handle Jackson one-on-one, the Packers can double-team another receiver or have a “spy” to follow QB Michael Vick.
2. Packers offensive line vs. Eagles defensive line
This seems like a generic matchup, but the Packers must protect QB Aaron Rodgers. During the season, Rodgers was sacked 39 times and suffered two concussions, including one last month. It might not take an especially big hit to knock Rodgers out of the game, and that would knock the Packers out of the playoffs.
3. Eagles RT Winston Justice vs. Packers OLB Clay Matthews
These two were briefly teammates at USC. Matthews, mentioned as a defensive player of the year candidate, had a monster season with 131/2 sacks. He’s tough against any opponent, but Justice might have real problems. Justice allowed seven sacks this season and was called for holding five times. If the Packers are going to get to Eagles QB Michael Vick, this might be the mismatch.e_SClBThree things you might not know
1. The Packers beat the Eagles, 27-20, in the season opener as Packers QB Aaron Rodgers threw a pair of touchdown passes. But that was when Kevin Kolb was the Eagles’ starter at quarterback. Michael Vick replaced Kolb late in the first half and played well with 175 yards passing and 103 yards rushing.
2. While everyone talks about how Eagles QB Michael Vick, top left, can run, so can Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. This season, Rodgers ran 64 times for a career-high 356 yards. His 5.6 yards per rushing attempt was second best in the league among quarterbacks. Then again, Vick’s 6.8 yards (100 carries for 676 yards) was the best among quarterbacks.
3. The Eagles allowed just less than 217 yards a game through the air, which isn’t that bad. But this is: They allowed 31 passing touchdowns. Only two teams allowed more.