Divisional round weekend: CSN's picks


Divisional round weekend: CSN's picks

By Ray Didinger

Breaking down the NFL's Divisional Roundweekend:

4:30 p.m. CBS

If you like old-fashioned, blood-and-guts football, this is the game for you. The Ravens and Steelers have a genuine rivalry, a real dislike for each other, primarily because they are so similar. They play twice every season in the AFC North, so there are no secrets or tricks. It's all about socking the other guy in the mouth for 60 minutes.

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They play close, low-scoring games six of the last seven have been decided by four points or fewer and there is no reason to expect this to be any different. But the Steelers have two big things going for them: they are playing at home and they will have Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. The Ravens last three victories in the series came when Big Ben did not play.

Baltimores defense, led by middle linebacker Ray Lewis, is very good, but Pittsburghs defense is better. It allowed the fewest points in the NFL this season, led the league in sacks (48) and allowed an average of just 62.8 yards rushing per game, the lowest figure since the 16-game schedule was adopted in 1978.

Didinger's pick: Steelers 17, Ravens 13

GREEN BAY (11-6) at ATLANTA (13-3)
8 p.m. FOX

The Falcons are the No. 1 seed in the NFC and they have a formidable home-field advantage, but the Packers come into this game with momentum and confidence. While the Falcons coasted down the stretch, the Packers played three elimination games to get here. They had to defeat the Giants and Chicago to get into the playoffs then they had to win last Sunday in Philadelphia to advance to the divisional round.

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The Falcons defeated the Packers in the Georgia Dome in Week 12, but it was a close game (20-17) decided on a late field goal by Matt Bryant. The Packers are playing better now than they were then. Linebacker Clay Matthews, their defensive catalyst, played on a bad leg in that game and did not register a sack. He is healthy now. Also, the Packers are better because they found a running game in rookie James Sparks who ripped through the Eagles for 123 yards in the wild card game.

The best way to slow down the Green Bay offense is to put a heavy rush on quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but the Falcons arent a great pass rushing team (31 sacks). A key match up is defensive end John Abraham, Atlantas best pass rusher, working against the rookie tackle Brian Bulaga.

Didinger's pick: Packers 30, Falcons 24


SEATTLE (8-9) at CHICAGO (11-5)
1 p.m. FOX

This is the weekend's "no-respect" matchup. No one believes the Seahawks, a team with a losing record, are still alive in the final eight and few people outside Chicago believe in the Bears despite their No. 2 seed in the conference. But they are going to play anyway so well see what happens.

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The Seahawks defeated the Bears in Chicago in Week 6, 23-20, but that was when Mike Martz, the offensive coordinator, was calling plays like he was on a sugar high. He made Andy Reid look like Woody Hayes. In that game, Martz called 45 passes and just 14 runs and the Seattle defense teed off on quarterback Jay Cutler, sacking him six times. Martz has come to his sense since then and now mixes in enough runs by Matt Forte to keep the offense somewhat in balance and the Bears are a much better team.

Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is coming off perhaps the best game of his career, throwing four touchdown passes in an unlikely 41-36 upset of New Orleans in the wild card round. Wide receiver Mike Williams had a monster game (10 catches, 123 yards) in the regular season win over the Bears. Can the Seahawks surprise us two weeks in a row? Not likely.

Didinger's pick: Bears 27, Seahawks 17

N.Y. JETS (12-5) at NEW ENGLAND (14-2)
4:30 p.m. CBS

Another matchup of bitter division rivals, this one with the verbal spice added by Jets coach Rex Ryan who this season talked enough trash to turn Staten Island into a landfill. Ryan has been talking Super Bowl for months and on Sunday, he faces his biggest hurdle when he meets the Patriots, the team with the best record in football.

Clickhere to see who predictionmachine.com picks to win the Patriots-Jets game,with complete statisticalbreakdown

The two teams split their regular season meetings. The Jets won at home in Week 2, 28-14, as they intercepted Tom Brady twice (two of just four interceptions Brady threw all season). But since then the Patriots have reinvented themselves, trading away Randy Moss and turning the offense over to some youthful no-names (Danny Woodhead, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez) and trusty veterans (Wes Welker and Deion Branch).

This Patriots defense isnt as good as the ones coach Bill Belichick assembled during their earlier Super Bowl runs, it is younger and more prone to breakdowns, but with the way the offense is playing (averaging 32.4 points per game during the regular season) it almost doesnt matter.

The Jets are looking for revenge for the 45-3 embarrassment the Patriots inflicted on them last month on Monday Night Football, but I dont see it happening.

Didinger's pick:Patriots 30, Jets 20

New eating habits help Knighton start strong with Patriots

New eating habits help Knighton start strong with Patriots

FOXBORO -- Terrance Knighton knows the scouting report on his game has been well established after seven years in the league. 

He's an anchor in the middle of the defensive line. He occupies double-teams. He...

"...Eats up space," he said on Saturday, finishing off the standard bullet-point description of his skill set. 

While the 350-pound defensive tackle signed by the Patriots this offseason knows that holding his ground to clog running lanes is one of his strengths, he's trying to prove that he's a better athlete than he gets credit for. 

During one 11-on-11 repetition on Saturday, it was Knighton's mobility down the line of scrimmage that stood out. He sniffed out a stretch run to his right, pursued James White toward the sideline, and put a solid thud on the running back as the first defender to the ball.

Knighton said after practice that he's happy with his conditioning, and he's comfortable in the Patriots defensive playbook. As a result, he thinks he may be playing faster. 

"I take pride in it," Knighton said. "I'm in better shape than I've been in. I'm understanding the defense a lot better now so maybe I'll play faster than I did earlier in OTAs. Of course, I hear the criticism. And obviously, I feel like a guy with my skill set keeps playing on different teams. I obviously want to make a name for myself somewhere and make a home for myself, and I just want to eliminate that me being a one-type of guy and more of an all-around player."

Knighton has put in plenty of conditioning work since his arrival to the Patriots. He's already very familiar with head strength and conditioning coach Moses Cabrera and The Hills behind the Gillette Stadium practice fields. 

But he explained that part of the reason he feels as though he's in better shape is because his diet has changed since changing teams. 

"All my meals are cut to a T based on my body type, my blood type," he said. "I'm getting extra treatment. I'm getting extra workouts in. I have an in-home chef, something that they've set up for me. Everything's set up on point."

And it's not just his meals. It's his snacks, too. There was a time when Knighton would down a Snickers or a bag of Doritos in a meeting just to help him stay alert. He said that the Patriots, whose nutrition program is led by team nutritionist Ted Harper, have helped him find healthier alternatives.

"It's become maybe sunflower seeds, or maybe pecans or walnuts or grapes," he said. "Something where you know I can eat a lot of it and get something out of it at the same time. It's tough. It's tough. But it's only going to help me out here because I would feel it all. I would be mad about those Doritos if I had them today."

Knighton had a strong day during the Patriots' first padded practice. He won decisively in the lone one-on-one matchup I saw him participate in, and he showed some power during periods focused on the inside running game. 

His strengths are his strengths, but if he can continue to exhibit the athleticism he flashed Saturday, Knighton should only continue to get plenty of training camp reps, even when Alan Branch (on the non-football injury list) returns to practice. 

With a new team and a changed diet, Knighton seems to be embracing everything being thrown at him. In New England, he's in a structured environment that he feels may help him improve his game -- even when many feel as though they have it figured out. 

"At all times of the day, I have something to do productive whether it's staying in shape, whether it's getting stronger, or whether it's getting rest," he said. "They set it up for you so that you're always doing something. At the end of the day, you're always doing something that's productive and not going backwards."

Terrance Knighton doing everything he can to prep for training camp

Terrance Knighton doing everything he can to prep for training camp

Mike Giardi joined by Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry to discuss Terrance Knighton's performance with the Patriots. Also, a look at rookie Joe Thuney and Marcus Cannon's future.