Put ‘ultra’ in front of competitive for Sunday’s NFL playoff games

Steve Brownlee

There’s a couple ways to look at this ultracompetitive conference championship round in the NFL playoffs.

There weren’t any real upsets in last weekend’s divisional round, which is a good thing in that it pretty much leaves only the best four teams in the league still standing.

We’re going to get a great Super Bowl matchup no matter what happens this Sunday.

One other thing that occurred to me in watching Saturday’s games — I was busy here at the Journal during Sunday’s games — is that it isn’t such a terrible thing that neither my Detroit Lions nor your (I’ll assume) Green Bay Packers didn’t really miss that much by not making the playoffs.

Would you have expected either of “our” teams to really give the Eagles or the 49ers a good battle?

I don’t, sorry to say, even if they might’ve gotten by Minnesota if they’d been lucky enough to draw them first.

Just to get in the playoffs would’ve made a nice story, sure, especially for the Lions who have been earning their picks near the top of the draft for almost all of the past two decades.

But I think we would’ve seen just how far they have to go to catch up with the league’s elite.

It wouldn’t have been any better in the AFC. Could you imagine Green Bay going into Kansas City or Detroit heading to Cincinnati with the full attention of those teams in the one-and-done atmosphere of the playoffs?

Let’s lick our wounds this offseason and maybe one or both teams can come back better next year.

Now onto this week’s picks, listed with the seeding, records, game time and TV network:


NFC No. 2 San Francisco (15-4) at No. 1 Philadelphia (15-3), 3 p.m. Sunday, Fox — As far as point spreads go, they’re saying these two games are the closest matchups in decades.

I see why. I can make what I feel is an exhaustive and convincing case for picking any one of these four teams.

So I was trying to boil it down to what will really make a difference on Sunday.

Here’s what I could come up with — each matchup has team strengths that are close enough for me to just plain ol’ cancel them out.

In the NFC game, it’s the defenses. San Fran has repeatedly been called the best defense in the NFL, then I hear that Philly is basically just as good.

Even if the 49ers do have a small edge, either one could rise up and take over the game.

Here’s what’s different — while Philly has a somewhat inexperienced quarterback in Jalen Hurts who’s also coming off a shoulder injury, San Fran has a QB with only a half season of the NFL under his belt and was completely unregarded as any kind of quality signal caller. I just heard Friday that he’s only played two road games, too.

Despite Hurts’ injury, I give Philly a decided advantage here, especially with the quality of defenses coming into play.

So give me, the Eagles, 24-19.


AFC No. 3 Cincinnati (14-4) at No. 1 Kansas City (15-3), 6:30 p.m. Sunday, CBS — This has to be the “sexier” matchup with explosive offenses just waiting to be ignited, maybe reminiscent of last year’s 42-36 overtime win by the Chiefs over the Bills in the divisional round.

Of course, Cincy spoiled the rematch by taking out Buffalo in snowy upstate New York last Sunday.

Here’s one where I think the QBs are on just about equal footing, and the offensive weapons surrounding them are also pretty potent, enough for me declare that part of it a draw.

Cincy has an advantage with what looks like a better overall defense and KC’s Patrick Mahomes hobbled with his ankle sprain.

The Chiefs get an advantage with a majority of the starters on the Bengals’ offensive line out.

That again seems to make the offenses about even.

So with the nod to Cincy’s “D,” I’ll take the Bengals, 34-28.


Last week — 4-0, 100 percent. Playoff total — 9-1, 90 percent.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.


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