As we reach the Divisional round of the playoffs, all eight remaining teams will be in action.  The Wildcard round had its share of upsets as three out of four road teams came away with victories and both of last year’s Super Bowl teams were eliminated.  Both the AFC and NFC sixth seeds, the Jets and Packers, advanced and will face the first seed Patriots and Falcons while the underdog Seahawks beat the reigning Super Bowl champion Saints and will take on the second seed Chicago Bears and the Ravens head into Pittsburgh to slug it out with the Steelers.  We’ll take a look at each game and predict a winner based on market activity.  Fox Business has evaluated the win/loss and stock market statistics over the past 20 seasons of playoff games for each team and come up with a ranking based on their playoff record and the prior week’s market activity.

To recap the week on Wall Street, the major indexes saw weekly gains with the Dow Industrials gaining 0.96%, now on a seven-week winning streak.  The S&P 500 was also up closing out the week with a 1.71% gain also up seven weeks in a row.  The markets overcame larger than expected jobless claims and continuing European debt concerns as well as wholesale inflation concerns.  Tech stocks rose higher after Apple’s iPhone deal with Verizon.  Commodities also drove the markets higher as agriculture stocks rose on lower corn and soybean supplies and energy stocks gained as oil hit two year highs.  Successful debt auctions by Spain and Italy later in the week also helped allay European debt worries.

 

AFC Game 1 – Ravens @ Steelers

The Baltimore Ravens advanced after drubbing the Kansas City Chiefs in last week’s Wildcard game and now take on the second seed Steelers in Pittsburgh.

This one is going to be a big defensive battle.  In the last meeting LB Terrell Suggs sacked Ben Roethlisberger one and a half times and had five hurries not to mention DE Haloti Ngata breaking Roethlisberger’s nose.  S Ed Reed is also back with the team after dealing with family issues and solidifying the defense that only allowed 16.9 points per game this year. Offensively, the Ravens need to get RB Ray Rice moving early.  He’s had a fantastic season but in the last meeting with Pittsburgh, he had less than ten carries.  If Baltimore can put at least some ground threat in play, it will open some downfield passing opportunities. 

The Steelers are coming off a first round bye and should be well rested.  S Troy Polamalu is still nagged by a sore Achilles tendon but was responsible for a key strip of Flacco in their earlier win and the Ravens will have to account for him.  Second year WR Mike Wallace had a great year and is fifth in the league with 1,257 yards receiving and combined with veteran Hines Ward will make for difficult coverages in the Baltimore secondary.  RB Rashard Mendenhall had 1,273 yards rushing this season and will be a big test for the Ravens normally stout run defense.

Over the past 20 years, the Ravens have played 13 playoff games and have a playoff rank of .667 when the Dow closes the prior week up and .714 when the S&P 500 is up giving them a final rank for this week of .691.  During the same 20 year period, the Steelers have played 22 Playoff night games and have a rank of .636 when the Dow is up and .636 when the S&P 500 is up giving them a rank this week of .636.

Fox Business.com picks the Baltimore Ravens to win and advance to the AFC Championship game.

AFC Wildcard FBN Staff Picks:

Chris Cotter

What can you say about Ravens and Steelers. As much a toss-up as any matchup in recent memory. The only edge I see here is that it is being played at Heinz Field so I will go with the Steelers.

 

 

Robert Gray

Oddly, these two teams split the season series by each winning on the other team’s field. Steelers Quarterback Big Ben Roethlisberger missed the home loss to Baltimore. His presence plus the Steel Curtain defend the home turf in the rubber match as the Steelers take a hard-fought battle against their heated divisional rival.

 

AFC Game 2 – Jets @ Patriots

The sixth seed New York Jets pulled off an upset of the Indianapolis Colts last week but now head into Foxboro to take on their arch-nemesis New England Patriots, the AFC’s first seed.

The Jets running game came alive with a resurgence of LaDanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene who combined for 152 yards on the ground.  QB Mark Sanchez continued his inconsistency but pulled out another late game drive that put the team in position for a game winning field goal at the end of regulation.  Sanchez, who was picked off three times in the 45-3 mugging in the last meeting with the Patriots will have to raise his game to have a shot at this one.  WRs Santono Holmes and Braylon Edwards are sure to try and exploit rookie corner Devin McCourty who had a great year but is playing in his first post season game.  Also expect to see more blitzing against the Patriots young offensive line.

Patriot’s QB Tom Brady may be playing the best football of his career with a league leading passer rating of 111.0 and no interceptions in the last 355 passes.  Rookie TEs Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski have combined for 16 touchdowns and will test the ability of the Jets to cover the passing game along with WRs Deion Branch and Wes Welker.  Watch for RB Danny Woodhead, who was cut by the Jets this season to get his share of touches along with BenJarvus Geen-Ellis.

Over the past 20 years, the Jets have played 13 playoff games and have a playoff rank of .667 when the Dow closes the prior week up and .667 when the S&P 500 is up giving them a final rank for this week of .667.  During the same 20 year period, the Patriots have played 20 playoff night games and have a rank of .545 when the Dow is up and .600 when the S&P 500 is up giving them a rank this week of .636.

Fox Business.com picks the New York Jets to win and advance to the AFC Championship game.

AFC Wildcard FBN Staff Picks:

Chris Cotter

Patriots. But a whole lot closer than it was last time around. Just can’t bet against Belichick and Brady.

 

 

 

Robert Gray

The Jets defense must make the trip to Foxboro (they were MIA in the 45-3 drubbing in week 13), especially after publicly provoking New England QB Tom Brady and Head Coach Bill Bellichick. Pats are the pick as they respond on the gridiron with a victory.

 

NFC Game 1 – Packers @ Falcons

Rookie RB James Starks’ 123 rushing yards helped move the Packers pas the Eagles last week and down to Georgia to take on the first seed Falcons.  Green Bay’s leading receiver Greg Jennings was fourth overall with 1,265 yards this season and will look to test a Falcons defense that gave up an average of 226.6 passing yards per game, 22nd in the NFL.  Corner Charles Woodson did a great job of containing Michael Vick and the Packers should be able to generate a good amount of pressure against the Falcons.

The Falcons come off a first round bye into third year QB Matt Ryan’s first playoff game.  The Falcons are 7-1 at home in no small part due to RB Michael Turner who was third in the league with 1,371 yards and WR Roddy White who was second in the league with 1,389 yards.  White’s numbers could be dented this game as the Packers bring excellent pressure which could force Ryan to dump off to short yardage.  Defensively, the line will keep the Packers on their toes as DE John Abraham and DT Jonathan Banineaux have combined for 17 sacks this season.  Special teams may be a factor as Falcons WR Eric Weens is averaging over 27 yards per return and the Packers have had coverage difficulties this year.

Over the past 20 years, the Packers have played 22 Playoff games and have a playoff rank of .667 when the Dow closes the prior week up and .583 when the S&P 500 is up giving them a final rank for this week of .625.  During the same 20 year period, the Falcons have played 10 Playoff  games and have a rank of .334 when the Dow is up and .334 when the S&P 500 is up giving them a rank this week of .334.

FoxBusiness.com picks the Green Bay Packers to win and advance to the NFC Championship game.

NFC Wildcard FBN Staff Picks:

Chris Cotter

The Falcons are so good at home, although their loss to the Saints three weeks ago may have tarnished some of that mystique. Still, Falcons win and advance.

 

 

Robert Gray

The Falcons have flown under the radar nationally and are looking to make a statement by beating Green Bay twice this year at home. They will make a good showing, but Aaron Rodgers and the Packers avenge the earlier loss and Green Bay’s road warriors advance.

 

NFC Game 2 – Seahawks @ Bears

The Seattle Seahawks advanced through the Wildcard round’s most stunning upset knocking off the defending champion Saints and moving on to take on the second seed Chicago Bears.

The Seahawks have their work cut out for them in Chicago and they have not been particularly good on the road.  The good news is they did upset the Bears once already on October 17.  Getting to the QB like they did in that game where they sacked Jay Cutler six times will be the key.  Getting Cutler to dump off quickly will put him in a position to turn the ball over.  While the Seahawks did put up over 400 yards against the Saints, the Chicago defense is arguably a stronger unit and if RB Marshawn Lynch and the running game can come close to the 150 yards against the Saints, Seattle can control the tempo of the game.

On the other side, Jay Cutler finally makes his first post-season appearance and look for him to throw it often against a Seahawks defense that gave up 249.6 passing yards per game, 27th in the league.  Defensively, the Bears had the second best rush defense in the league which should slow down Seattle’s ground game.  With DE Julius Peppers breaking into the back field and MLB Brian Urlacher controlling the center the Bears are going to look to shut down Hasselbeck and the Seahawks offense.  Two of the league’s most dangerous return men will be facing off as Seattle’s Leon Washington and Chicago’s Devin Hester take the field.  One of them is bound to break a big one and that could just decide the winner.

Over the past 20 years, the Seahawks have played 10 Playoff games and have a playoff rank of .400 when the Dow closes the prior week up and .500 when the S&P 500 is up giving them a final rank for this week of .450.  During the same 20 year period, the Bears have played 9 Playoff games and have a rank of .500 when the Dow is up and .250 when the S&P 500 is up giving them a rank this week of .375.

Fox Business.com picks the Seattle Seahawks to win and advance to the NFC Championship game.

NFC Wildcard FBN Staff Picks:

Chris Cotter

After the other three stellar match-ups, picking this game just doesn’t seem right. Seattle is hot right now, but going into Soldier Field in January is never fun. Plus the Bears are playing better football of late. Chicago wins.

 

 

Robert Gray

Seattle reminded fans that in the postseason all teams have a 0-0 record and proved it is worthy of a playoff berth by knocking off the defending champ Saints last week. But the Hawks historically don’t travel well, and winning in Chicago twice this season is a tall order. Da Bears defense is da difference.