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Michael Taylor 14th Jan 2011 - 14:35

Saturday’s Divisional Playoffs previews

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers

The two regular season games between these big AFC North rivals told us little that we didn't already know.

Back in October the Ravens took advantage of Ben Roethlisberger's suspension as they limited fill-in quarterback Charlie Batch to just 141 yards, while Rashard Mendenhall didn't get much out of Ray Lewis and big defensive end Hagoti Ngata.

Baltimore scraped through that one by three points, 17-14, thanks to a late drive that saw Joe Flacco find TJ Houshmandzadeh for a 18-yard touchdown reception with just 32 seconds left on the clock.

The Steelers gained revenge though when they visited Baltimore in a brutal week 13 match-up.

Big Ben was back but it was his defensive line that took the plaudits after limiting Ray Rice to and Willis McGahee to 39 rushing yards between them.

Isaac Redman did his best Houshmandzadeh impression, scoring the winning points with a nine yard reception with 22 seconds left in the fourth - good enough for a 13-10 win.

So, surprise, surprise two sides known for tough defence produced two breathtaking defensive showings - the chances of a third in three look highly likely, this the 37.0 total points spread.

Even with the smallest total points spread of the divisional round I think you'd be mad to take the over considering neither regular season clash even came close to toppling that, so under at 10/11 is where my money would be heading.

The money line is a much tougher one to call.

There was no home-field advantage in evidence with both going to the road team, for me though the edge has to go with Pittsburgh, and for just one reason - Ben Roethlisberger.

If neither side can get the rush going then it'll come down to which quarterback can throw the ball the best, a battle Flacco has yet to prove he can win when it comes to the crunch.

It's probably the closest one to call this week but I have to take the 10/17 about the Steelers progressing while evens about the Ravens +3 on the spread might be worth a punt.

Green Bay Packers @ Atlanta Falcons

It's been several years of growing for the Falcons but it seems Mike Smith finally has himself a legitimate Super Bowl contender in Atlanta.

The NFC's number one seed had a few shaky moments on the way to compiling a 13-3 record, including a week 17 loss to South rivals New Orleans, but they did enough to suggest a playoff run isn't beyond them.

Michael Turner has been the star of the show but if it wasn't for Matt Ryan's big play threat then the Pro Bowl starter would have come nowhere near his haul of 12 touchdowns.

The secret behind their success is balance and while they don't rank particularly highly in many areas, they're good to solid in every area, including stopping the aerial bombardment that the Packers are likely to come at them with.

Aaron Rodgers is the poster boy for a stylish Green Bay offence but without the injured Ryan Grant it hasn't always clicked for them, in a season where expectations were sky high.

Expectation is on the rise after last week's culling of the highly fancied Philadelphia Eagles but I can see them coming unstuck against the more reliable and solid offence and defence on offer from Atlanta.

The best news is the Falcons are still under-rated, in my opinion, so should be snapped up 20/29 to win this and 10/11 with a small -2.5 handicap on the spread.

I also really like them at 11/2 to win the Vince Lombardi with the hard hitters in the AFC likely to bang each other up while the weaker NFC winner should have far easier passage.



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