Gregg Rosenthal

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Breaking down the Elite Eight

Monday, January 10, 2011

The best weekend on the NFL calendar awaits. For my money, nothing beats the Divisional Round for truly meaningful, memorable football gluttony. Say goodbye to your family Saturday afternoon, and hello again on Sunday night.

It's going to be tough to top the Wild Card games, but the Elite Eight slate of games looks pretty sweet. We get a pair of division rival games in the AFC for the first time ever. They happen to be the best two AFC division rivalries of the last decade.

Falcons-Packers already gave us one great game this season and features two of the best young quarterbacks in football. Bears-Seahawks looks like the weakest matchup of the weekend, but that's what we thought about Seahawks-Saints.

Here's our quick first look at one storyline to watch for the remaining eight teams.


Jets @ Patriots

Patriots try to forget 45-3.

We often hear that great cornerbacks and quarterbacks require a short memory. Quickly forget about your mistakes and move on to the next play. Selective amnesia can be helpful after major success too.

The Patriots are going to be built up all week as overwhelming favorites against the rival Jets. The 45-3 Week 13 shellacking will be brought up non-stop, and coach Bill Belichick knows it.

"I don't think the last game, the first game, I don't think that's going to have a whole lot of meaning," Belichick said Sunday.

New England is seen as unstoppable by man, but their defensive line has been decimated by injuries. They have young, unproven players throughout their defense and two rookie tight ends set to make playoff debuts.

The formula for the Patriots' dominance in the regular season was an insane +27 turnover margin. Belichick knows how difficult that pace will be to sustain in the playoffs. He also knows that one of his challenges this week is making his young team realize the last Jets-Patriots game doesn't matter now.

Can Mark Sanchez put together four quarters?

Mark Sanchez's game against the Colts was emblematic of his season. The second-year quarterback started very slow, and then came to life late with the game on the line.

The Jets haven't scored in the first quarter in eight of their last 12 games. They've scored 19 first quarter points in their last 13 games.

New England is a difficult team to come back against because their defense forces so many mistakes. The Patriots are also an underrated running team and will not stop being aggressive scoring points no matter the down and distance.

Rex Ryan's biggest worry this week will probably be where his pass rush comes from. But the best way to defend the Patriots is with a great offense. The Jets have a real chance to win; they just need Sanchez to play like the game is on the line all four quarters.

Ravens @ Steelers

The ultimate test for the Steelers offensive line

The Steelers are among the most complete teams in football – except their offensive line. That's why a matchup against the Ravens has to worry them greatly.

In both regular season matchups, the running games were basically non-factors for both teams. Baltimore's defense stifled Charlie Batch in the first game and had Ben Roethlisberger bruised, battered, and running for his life in the second contest.

Pittsburgh's big guys up front quietly improved over the last few weeks after the escape win over Baltimore. If that trend continues, the Steelers could avoid another nail-biter. Pittsburgh's improving young wideouts can victimize the Ravens secondary if Roethlisberger gets passable protection.

Ed Reed, Ray Lewis looking for one last legendary run

Ravens safety Ed Reed talks about retirement regularly and has struggled to stay healthy lately. Linebacker Ray Lewis turns 36 years old this offseason. This may not be the last title chance for the two future Hall of Famers together, but it could be their best shot.

I've said all season this Ravens defense isn't quite the same. They have had some defensive breakdowns against the run and in the fourth quarter. They could be peaking at the right time, however, after a five turnover effort against the Chiefs.

The Ravens pride themselves on having the best defense in the league, but the Steelers were better overall in 2010. Now Reed, Lewis, and the entire group can prove who is best on the field, and then possibly take out Tom Brady on the way to the Super Bowl.

That's the type of stuff legends are made of.

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Gregg Rosenthal has directed Rotoworld's football content since 2003. He co-hosts the NBC Fantasy Fix and covers the NFL for and Catch him on Twitter.
Email :Gregg Rosenthal

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