Well, here we are. It’s been a long NFL season and we’re officially only a day away from planning Super Bowl parties, calling Vegas and stacking up on tortilla chips. It’s kind of sad to see the season dwindle down but I’ll save that story for another day. 5-3 on my postseason picks so far and although most of the games have been routes, this weekend has to be, better be and needs to be competitive. I’ll make my selections with caution because both games are far from locks.
The Jets will be everyone’s Cinderella for Sunday but they’re well-equipped to topple the Colts. The Vikings have proven over their last two games how strong they are, but they’re weak on the road and New Orleans plays above and beyond at home. Should be (better be) an incredible weekend and if the regular season is proof of a preview, the Vikings/Saints game will be insane. In a good way of course.
New York Jets (11-7) vs. Indianapolis Colts (15-2) 3 p.m.
It may not be the matchup that most viewers wanted but it’s certainly what they’ll get. The New York Jets will travel to Indianapolis to take on the top-seeded Colts in the always marketable battle of David vs. Goliath. The Jets, fresh off their upset victory over the second-seeded San Diego Chargers, defeated the Colts 29-15 in a week 16 meeting during the regular season but Indianapolis rested several of their starters after halftime of that game while New York was fighting for a playoff berth.
New York first year quarterback Mark Sanchez will make the third time in the last five seasons that a rookie quarterback has started in the AFC’s Conference Championship game.
The Baltimore Ravens Joe Flacco made his appearance last year while the Pittsburgh Steelers Ben Roethlisberger started as a rookie in the 2004 title game. Sanchez will be hoping for a better outcome as both Flacco and Roethlisberger lost their championship starts.
Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning will be making his fourth AFC title game appearance but 2009’s MVP will face a difficult task against defensive guru Rex Ryan. The Jets head coach has transformed New York’s defense into an aggressive blitz-heavy group, the kind of defense that Manning has struggled with in past playoff appearances.
The Jets defense is led by third-year cornerback Darrelle Revis, widely regarded as the best cornerback in the league. You absolutely don’t talk Jets without talking Revis and the corner’s play this season has been one of the headliners in the Jets’ success. His ability to handle marquee receivers one-on-one has been widely acknowledged across the league and it’s grown into a foregone conclusion he’ll shut down whoever he’s assigned to.
Revis will likely matchup with Manning’s top target Reggie Wayne and that battle will be critical towards the game’s outcome. Manning and Wayne have made a living of exposing secondaries this season but Revis’ presence could influence Manning to look elsewhere with the football.
While the Colts will be heavily favored, the Jets actually matchup extremely well with Indianapolis. The play of Revis and the Jets secondary could neutralize Manning and the Colts’ explosive passing attack while New York’s league-leading ground game could be problematic for an Indy team that notoriously struggles to stop the run.
On paper, the Colts should probably lose this game but the same could’ve been said last week when New York squared off against San Diego. The games aren’t played on paper and Manning will probably kick himself for the rest of his career if a quarterback of his stature loses to a rookie signal caller, regardless of how strong the opposing defense may be. Colts 20-10
Minnesota Vikings (13-4) vs. New Orleans Saints (14-3) 6:40 p.m.
The Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints have been the two best teams in the NFC all season so it’s only fitting that they meet in conference’s title game to settle things out. The Vikings have been dominant at home but vulnerable on the road, where their only losses of the season have come in embarrassing fashion at times.
The Saints started the year as a dominant home team before a couple of late season losses lightened up their mystique. Their 45-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals last week restored that mystique somewhat but Arizona was missing a slew of key players.
The Vikings will be mostly healthy and will make a strong push on the road to get All-Pro quarterback Brett Favre, 40, one last shot at a Super Bowl. The challenge will be daunting for the Vikings who will be up against a raucous Saints crowd hungry for the club’s first Super Bowl appearance.
Including their 34-3 over the Dallas Cowboys last week, the Vikings have outscored their last two opponents 78-10 and appear to be on the right track after a late season slide. Minnesota has all the ingredients needed to advance including a strong running game, smothering defense and experienced quarterback. The same ingredients the Cowboys used to cook up an upset victory of the Saints at the Superdome earlier in the season.
But when focused, New Orleans has been dominant at times this season and will undoubtedly be tuned in for their biggest game of the season so far. Their three-headed ground attack featuring Reggie Bush, Mike Bell and Pierre Thomas helped churn out a 171-yard performance against a pretty strong Arizona run defense. Controlling the line of scrimmage will be critical against the Vikings dominant pass rush.
Minnesota thrives on getting to the passer with just four rushers and the protection of Brees will be critical in the outcome. The Vikings secondary has been chop suey at times this year and if Brees has time, well, let’s just say that wouldn’t be good for Minnesota. But New Orleans defense isn’t the best and Minnesota can put up some points as well so a shootout could be in the making.
It will be the third meeting between Favre and Saints quarterback Drew Brees with their personal series tied at 1-1. It will also be Favre’s second NFC title game appearance in the last three seasons. The experience and the pressure for one last Super Bowl run before he calls it quits will weigh heavily in Favre’s corner. This is what he came back for and he’s only a game away from the ultimate goal. Regardless of how good the Saints have been this year, Minnesota is stocked full of talent and riding off in the sunset is a motion picture just waiting on Favre to sign off on and he won’t let New Orleans turn off his Swan song. Vikings 30-28
I’ll take 3-1. I mean, I don’t really have a choice now do I? Another dull weekend in the playoffs but the Jets/Chargers game made up for an uncompetitive second round. 5-3 so far this postseason with a huge weekend coming up. Not trying to get ahead of myself but I have to. Three games last week ended in teams getting outscored 99-20, so calling the weekend noncompetitive is an understatement. In case you missed anything you didn’t miss much. Just read along and you’ll see what I mean.
Arizona Cardinals vs. New Orleans Saints
What I predicted …
What I said would happened …
“The Saints have had a couple of weeks to go over their gameplan and whip themselves back into shape. How well that preparation will hold up against a scary Cardinals team is a tricky question. New Orleans has proven they can’t stop the run but Arizona doesn’t really run the ball with any conviction. The Cardinals are at their best when Warner is sitting back flinging it. While New Orleans hasn’t won a game in over three weeks, they’ll be fired up over the fact that they’re only two games away from a Super Bowl. After seeing Arizona’s defense shredded to pieces against Green Bay, it’s impossible to pick them with any confidence.”
What actually happened…
The Saints won 45-14. Facing one of the better offenses in the NFL with a full cast of healthy defenders just a week ago, the Arizona Cardinals allowed 45 points in their own backyard to the Green Bay Packers. The Cardinals tried their luck again against the high-powered New Orleans Saints albeit minus two starting members of their secondary. Their absences proved to be costly and the Saints steamrolled the Cardinals 45-14 in front of a raucous Superdome crowd in New Orleans. Arizona QB Kurt Warner was banged up before halftime after taking a serious shot on an interception return but returned to start the second half.
My reactions …
Funny how far things can fall in just a year. Just last season, the Cardinals (11-7) were looked upon as one of the brightest up and coming teams with a roster stacked full of young talent. The talent is still in place but with whispers of Warner’s retirement growing louder and louder and the continuing gripe between the Cardinals’ front office and Anquan Boldin, Arizona could be without two megastars to begin next season. Allowing 90 points in two games is proof enough that defensive help is needed but with Warner’s likely departure and the club’s disbelief in backup Matt Leinhart, a shift in philosophy could occur next year.
And the band will march on for the Saints. Their demolishing of the Cardinals proves New Orleans (14-3) is indeed focused on the bigger picture for this season but it should be noted Arizona was missing several star players. Nevertheless, the Saints took care of business and will take themselves to the NFC Championship game with all the swagger and confidence that they possessed during their magical start to the season when they were just slaying teams.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Indianapolis Colts
What I predicted …
What I said would happen…
“This won’t be a slam dunk for the Colts and weeks’ worth of rest could have negative ramifications. Baltimore will enter Saturday’s game loose and full of confidence with the pressure resting solely on Manning and his crew. The Colts beat the Ravens 17-15 in a late November clash but ask any Raven fan and they’ll tell you that game was one Baltimore should’ve pocketed. The Ravens have already avenged one painful loss this postseason and could very well make up for another. But I can’t pick against Manning at home, although I want to.”
What actually happened…
The Colts won 20-3. The Ravens (10-8) turned the ball over four times, drew seven penalties and couldn’t convert in the red zone. Even when things went right for Baltimore, they went wrong. Ed Reed’s interception of Peyton Manning midway through the third quarter was returned 38 yards before he was stripped of the ball and Indianapolis (14-2) recovered. Reed would strike again five plays later with another interception but his 54-yard return was nullified after officials called pass interference on Corey Ivy.
The offseason plan is simple for Baltimore: Go get some playmakers. The Ravens (10-8) are solid on both lines but the lack of threats at the wide receiver and cornerback positions leave them vulnerable against some of the more explosive teams. Rumors should continue about the possibilities of landing Denver wideout Brandon Marshall or even the Cardinals Anquan Boldin. Either addition would greatly improve an up and coming offense and if Baltimore can land a solid starting corner, they’ll definitely be back in the playoff hunt next season.
Indianapolis (15-2) didn’t do anything different against Baltimore except what they’ve done for most of the season which is find a way to win. The offense wasn’t overly explosive but the defense put some serious clamps on the Raven offense. This may be the best defense that Manning has ever had during his tenure in Indy and that’s saying a lot considering Bob Sanders and a few other defenders are out for the season. The Colts and the Vikings are the only two teams remaining in the postseason now that can beat you with either offense or defense. What a sight it would be to see those two in the Super Bowl. Stay tuned…
Dallas Cowboys vs. Minnesota Vikings
What I predicted…
What I said would happen…
“These might be the two most complete teams left in the postseason as both Minnesota and Dallas can beat you in a number of ways. Both are strong rushing teams and both can beat you with the aerial assault. If you’re looking for any edge breaker, it’s worth noting that Favre is 0-3 all-time against Dallas in the playoffs but then again, Romo didn’t win his first playoff game until four days ago. If there was a tossup game for the week, then this is definitely it. Both teams are eerily similar with the only advantage being the Vikings opening at home fresh from a week off. Similar feeling like the Colts/Ravens and I’ll take Favre at home, although I probably shouldn’t.”
What actually happened…
The Vikings won 34-3. Smothering defense and big plays in the passing game has been the formula for success for the Vikings this season and they stuck to that plan in sacking Dallas quarterback Tony Romo six times while receiving four touchdown passes from the reinvigorated Brett Favre. Favre hooked up with third-year receiver Sidney Rice for three touchdowns before finding Morgan State alum Visanthe Shiancoe for the final score of the game.
Though the season didn’t end in spectacular fashion, it has to be viewed as a positive for the Dallas Cowboys (12-6). They finished off December strong after seasons of fading and they won their first playoff game since 1996. The Cowboys will need to retool the offensive line and a grab another wideout or two to fortify their offense. Their defense played poorly against the Vikings but their offense didn’t help them out at all. The defense remains strong and will benefit from another year under Wade Phillips’ tutelage. Dallas remains a talented team, just a few patch jobs will do the team wonders.
The Vikings (13-4) flexed the kind of muscle they had demonstrated earlier in the season when they appeared to be unstoppable. Their defeat of the Cowboys was probably the most impressive victory of the weekend considering the strength of their opponent. Dallas came into the game relatively healthy and the Vikings took it to them. Minnesota was sound on both sides of the ball and they’ll definitely be tuned in for the NFC title game and a chance to send Favre to his third and probably last Super Bowl. Stay tuned…
New York Jets vs. San Diego Chargers
What I predicted…
What I said would happen…
“With Sanchez at pilot, the Jets have no chance trying to outscore the high-flying Chargers. Their best bet would be to make Sunday’s game an all-out defensive slugfest but that’ll be hard to do against an offense that averaged 30 points an outing over the course of their 11 game win streak. It’s the ultimate David vs. Goliath matchup but David might be too small in this one. Revis is a fantastic corner but with the Chargers’ ability to spread the ball around and Rivers’ penchant for getting the ball to the best-suited target, New York will have trouble keeping up.”
What actually happened …
The Jets won 17-14. New York limited an explosive Charger offense to just 14 points while forcing two turnovers and benefitting from three critical missed field goals by Chargers All-Pro kicker Nate Kaeding. Kaeding missed from 36, 57 and 40 yards, making him the first kicker to miss all three of his field goal attempts in a playoff game since 1995. New York received a strong performance from rookie running back Shonn Greene for the second consecutive week. Greene’s 23 carries for 128 yards featured a 53-yard run, the longest rush in team playoff history and his five-yard run in the closing minutes set the Jets up for a manageable fourth-and-one that New York converted easily to seal the game.
The Chargers (13-4) have suffered some tough post season losses over the past few years and this may have been the most disappointing of them all. Aside from San Diego’s 14-2 season in ’06 when they loss to the New Patriots, losing to a rookie quarterback and first year head coach has to sting. San Diego was garnering serious consideration as a Super Bowl favorite and with so many key players scheduled for free agency, this may have been their last shot at a Super Bowl with their core group. Rivers is still the franchise quarterback and San Diego will obviously build around him but they’re destined to lose a lot once free agency hits.
With their surprising win, New York just became the official Cinderella of the NFL playoffs. Similar to a team in March Madness, the Jets continue to string together victories with gritty play. Revis and the defense keeps them in every game and the running game and Sanchez make just enough plays to squeak by. While their style isn’t pretty, it’s been enough to keep advancing them through the playoffs. The task of winning an AFC Championship as a rookie quarterback is one that Sanchez’s predecessors have failed at. Both Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger’s clubs were constructed similarly with power running games and stingy defenses but when they were matched up against Super Bowl winning quarterbacks (Flacco vs. Roethlisberger in ’08 and Roethlisberger vs. Brady in ’04), they came up short. Who will Sanchez get in the AFC title game? Just Peyton Manning. Not the easiest matchup but there’s no turning back now. Stay tuned…
We’re down to the elite eight in the NFL and this week’s round of playoffs promises to be more entertaining than the last. The top two seeds in each conference will be on display but their competition won’t just be any ol’ body. Both conferences’ lower seeds are playing excellent football right now which makes this week’s round of picks another tossup. I went 2-2 in my analysis for last week and another mediocre weekend could be on tap. It’s kind of ironic that aside from San Diego, three of the top four seeds finished a combined 5-7 over the last month of the season. Compare that to the combined 11-5 record of all four Wild Card teams over the last month and things could get interesting this weekend. Here’s what I think:
Arizona Cardinals (11-6) vs. New Orleans Saints (13-3) Sat, 4:30 p.m.
Getting right into it. The number one team in the NFC against last year’s conference champion. Two explosive offenses laced with top flight signal callers and electric playmakers. Both defenses are shaky but who cares right? While defenses win championships, we’re only in the divisional round so give us plenty of offense and hold off on the defensive stands please.
After allowing 35 points in the second half of their 51-45 win over the Packers last week, the last thing the Cardinals probably wanted to see was Drew Brees and his band of high scorers but you can’t make your own schedule in the postseason. Arizona will have to employ a different defensive approach if they want to pull the road upset this week but the possible return of receiver Anquan Boldin will give quarterback Kurt Warner another bullet in the clip if his defense isn’t up for the task.
The Saints haven’t really been up to any task over the last three weeks. Losers of their last two home games and three straight, New Orleans is on the verge of one of the biggest collapses in NFL history after blazing to a 13-0 start. The Saints finished the season as the highest scoring team in the league with an average close to 32 points a game. Over their last three games, the Saints have only scored 44 points for an average of 14.6 per so things could get really interesting if the Cards put some points on the board early.
The Saints have had a couple of weeks to go over their gameplan and whip themselves back into shape. How well that preparation will hold up against a scary Cardinals team is a tricky question. New Orleans has proven they can’t stop the run but Arizona doesn’t really run the ball with any conviction. The Cardinals are at their best when Warner is sitting back flinging it. While New Orleans hasn’t won a game in over three weeks, they’ll be fired up over the fact that they’re only two games away from a Super Bowl. After seeing Arizona’s defense shredded to pieces against Green Bay, it’s impossible to pick them with any confidence. Saints 35-24
Baltimore Ravens (10-7) vs. Indianapolis Colts (14-2) Sat, 8: 15 p.m.
The Ravens already exorcized one demon when they beat the Patriots last week for the franchise’s first-ever win against New England. Against Indianapolis, they’ll try to notch the franchise’s first road win against the Colts. But it won’t be easy. Indianapolis jumped to a 14-0 start behind this year’s MVP, Peyton Manning, and an ability to adapt to any style of game. Whether they had to outscore a team, outdefend a team or outperform a team, Indianapolis simply outdid every team they went up against until they decided to take it easy the last few weeks of the season.
Manning and Co. will be game for a rematch with the scary Ravens but they’ll have to be prepared for any and everything against a sneaky coach in Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh’s tutelage of the young Ravens has made them into a team that’s exceptionally strong in all three phases. Their offense is now equipped to score. Their special teams are one of the best groups in the league and the defense is still a formidable bunch. A 3-1 postseason road record over the last two seasons proves that they can win in hostile environments. Baltimore slayed last year’s top AFC team, the Tennessee Titans, and wiped out the New England Patriots on their own home turf just last week. The Colts better be ready against the Ravens or they could find themselves at home quick.
But Indianapolis doesn’t play to sit at home in January. The presence of Manning ensures that they’ll be in every game and although the Colts tend to struggle with pressure defenses in the post season, their own defense is formidable enough to keep them in games until the offense comes around. People have tended to overlook the Colts this year because they’re not as talented as some of their past squads. Bob Sanders is injured (again), the offensive line isn’t a strong run blocking unit and Indianapolis has been devoid of a complimentary outside receiver ever since Marvin Harrison was injured last season. And even with all of that, they still finished as the best team in the league this season.
This won’t be a slam dunk for the Colts and weeks’ worth of rest could have negative ramifications. Baltimore will enter Saturday’s game loose and full of confidence with the pressure resting soley on Manning and his crew. The Colts beat the Ravens 17-15 in a late November clash but ask any Raven fan and they’ll tell you that game was one Baltimore should’ve pocketed. The Ravens have already avenged one painful loss this postseason and could very well make up for another. But I can’t pick against Manning at home, although I want to. Colts 21-20
Dallas Cowboys (12-5) vs. Minnesota Vikings (12-4) Sun, 1 p.m.
Hmmmm. That’s the sound of a writer extremely unsure of how this game will play out. Sure Minnesota has Brett Favre, a living legend. Sure they have Adrian Peterson, one of the best players in the league. And sure they have a menacing defense and probably the best defensive line in the league. But the Cowboys have confidence and a winning streak on their side.
Those are a few things you haven’t been able to say about Dallas over the last 13 seasons. After flushing their December woes and clipping a 13-year playoff drought, the ‘Boys are ready for more and would love nothing better than to march their way to the Super Bowl by knocking off the top two NFC seeds in the same season. They already snuck one in against the Saints and beating the Vikes on the road would have the world singing “How ‘Bout ‘Dem Cowboys?” Quarterback Tony Romo is playing extremely well and his defense is playing even better. The ‘Boys will need both to bring it this week if Dallas is to pull off the upset.
At one point in the season, I was ready to crown the Vikings as the best team in the league but losses against Chicago, Carolina and Arizona were not only concerning but embarrassing. The Vikings were blown out against the Panthers and Cards and trailed the Bears at one point 23-6 before mounting a comeback. Although Minnesota tripped up down the stretch, they’re still plenty talented. Their 44-7 dismantling of the New York Giants in the season finale was much needed to restore some confidence around Twin Lakes and a week of rest was certainly needed for old man Favre and his workhouse Peterson.
These might be the two most complete teams left in the postseason as both Minnesota and Dallas can beat you in a number of ways. Both are strong rushing teams and both can beat you with the aerial assault. If you’re looking for any edge breaker, it’s worth noting that Favre is 0-3 all-time against Dallas in the playoffs but then again, Romo didn’t win his first playoff game until four days ago. If there was a tossup game for the week, then this is definitely it. Both teams are eerily similar with the only advantage being the Vikings opening at home fresh from a week off. Similar feeling like the Colts/Ravens and I’ll take Favre at home, although I probably shouldn’t. Vikings 24-23
New York Jets (10-7) vs. San Diego Chargers (13-3) Sun, 4:40 p.m.
One of my Super Bowl favorites (Green Bay) is already at home this week so it’s nice to know that my other (San Diego) will be taking the field with the chance to help redeem me this weekend. The Chargers enter the post season as the hottest team in the league, winners of 11 straight. The Jets will enter this weekend with the best defense remaining in the postseason and the only team with a rookie signal caller (yikes).
Not trying to bad mouth Mark Sanchez but a rookie’s a rookie. But Sanchez hasn’t had to be the Sanchise (as he was called earlier in the year) lately. New York has ran for 630 yards in its last three games while holding teams to a laughable 9.6 points per game. Head coach Rex Ryan has become America’s most quotable coach and cover corner Darrelle Revis (you can’t talk Jets unless you talk Revis) has become America’s best cornerback. The trio of Revis, Ryan and Sanchez has made for an underrated but dangerous ball club that will punch you in the mouth if you’re not looking.
The Chargers have their eyes square on the prize after their last three trips to the postseason have left unsatisfying tastes in their mouths. San Diego should have learned a thing or two after being upstaged by the AFC’s last two Super Bowl representatives. The Chargers are finally healthy in the postseason (something that has eluded them in their last three playoff appearances) and fully expect more than another postseason exit this time around. San Diego will counter the Jets’ Revis with a smorgasbord of towering offensive treats and a quarterback in Philip Rivers who has etched himself into one of the league’s elite at the position.
With Sanchez at pilot, the Jets have no chance trying to outscore the high-flying Chargers. Their best bet would be to make Sunday’s game an all-out defensive slugfest but that’ll be hard to do against an offense that averaged 30 points an outing over the course of their 11 game win streak. It’s the ultimate David vs. Goliath matchup but David might be too small in this one. Revis is a fantastic corner but with the Chargers’ ability to spread the ball around and Rivers’ penchant for getting the ball to the best-suited target, New York will have trouble keeping up. Chargers 24-13
Well, the weekend didn’t go quite like I expected but I’ll take a 2-2 split. Looking back at a few of the games, they were actually terrible. Luckily, the Packers/Cardinals game saved the day as the two teams played possibly the most entertaining game all season. A lot of lopsided games this weekend and you usually don’t get that in rematches. If you missed all the action, you didn’t miss much except for one game and if you didn’t catch that then read on.
New York Jets vs. Cincinnati Bengals
What I predicted…
What I said would happen…
“Regardless if Ochocinco plays or not, it’s a lose-lose scenario for the Bengals. If he does play, he’ll have Revis draped all over him. If he doesn’t play, Revis will just be draped all over the Bengals’ next best wideout, reducing Cincy quarterback Carson Palmer’s list of targets even more. The Bengals have lost three of their last four games and are backing their way into the playoffs without anything clicking. The once-stingy defense has allowed 26 points per game over the last four contests and Palmer has only passed for more than 200 yards in three of the last seven full games that he’s played. Things don’t look good for Cincy.”
What actually happened…
The Jets won 24-14. The rookie trio of Sanchez, Ryan and running back Shonn Greene helped extend Cincinnati’s 19-year playoff winless streak with a few big plays on offense and stifling defense. Greene’s 39-yard run at the top of the second quarter tied the game at 7-7 before Sanchez found tight end Dustin Keller for a 45-yard score to put the Jets (10-7) ahead for good.
The Bengals (10-7) will have to pack up and get ready for next year. A weak offensive line and lack of quality playmakers at receiver limited Cincinnati to one-and-done this season. What once used to be one of the top receiver trios in the league has been reduced to the power of one. Cincinnati lost both T.J. Houshmanzadeh and Chris Henry essentially in one year and will need to reload if they want to challenge for a title.
New York (10-7) has arguably the best defense left in the playoffs and it all revolves around lockdown cover corner Darrelle Revis. His ability to blanket receivers gives the Jets a huge advantage on defense while they punish foes on offense with a stout running game. How far they can go with the rookie Sanchez at QB is anybody’s guess. Stay tuned…
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys
What I predicted…
What I said would happen …
“The Eagles will need to force turnovers from Dallas if they want to pull the upset on the road in Big D but as long as the Cowboys stick to a run-heavy formula, turnovers will be hard to come across for the Eagles. Dallas has been known to force the passing game on certain occasions and could feel compelled to get into a shouting match with Philadelphia if the Eagles score early. It’s hard picking a team to lose its third game in a season to one opponent but if Dallas sticks to the formula, they should handle Philadelphia with ease.”
What actually happened…
The Cowboys won 34-14. The Cowboys exploded for 27 points in the second quarter, capitalizing on a slew of Eagles mistakes. A 40-yard pass interference call on Philadelphia set Dallas up for their first touchdown of the game on an one-yard score before consecutive fumbles by the Eagles late in the second quarter led to a 10-0 Cowboys run to end the half.
For the last few seasons, the Eagles (11-6) have had a reluctance to stick to their running game, electing to try to outshoot their opponents. Against Dallas however, they faced a defense that has every bit as much speed as they do offense. The Cowboys are now the kings of the NFC East and if the Eagles want to challenge then they’ll have to seriously consider the way they do their offensive business next year.
Just last year, the Eagles blasted the Cowboys (11-6) in the season finale 44-6. Ironically, that was the turning point for Dallas. They shed all their haywire clown acts over the summer and refocused things on football. Not only did they end their December woes but they annihilated Philadelphia to break their 13-year playoff drought and extract a little revenge in the process. The Cowboys are officially the hottest team in the NFC and they’ll be a tough out for any team remaining in the playoffs. Stay tuned…
Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots
What I predicted…
What I said would happen …
“Road playoffs games aren’t anything new to Flacco, who went 2-1 on the road in last year’s postseason but Patriots coach Bill Belichick loves to turn up the heat on young signal callers in the postseason and he’ll make no exception for Flacco and Co. Both the Patriots and Ravens are evenly matched throughout their teams but the postseason is all about quarterback play. In a game between Flacco and Brady… well …. you can never go wrong with taking a three-time Super Bowl winning quarterback over a three-game postseason signal caller.”
What actually happened…
The Ravens won 33-14. Baltimore wasted no time in punching the Patriots in the mouth on the way to the franchise’s first ever win against the Pats. Baltimore jumped to a 24-0 first quarter lead behind second-year running back Ray Rice’s 83-yard run on the opening play of the game. The Ravens forced three first quarter turnovers that led to consecutive scores for Baltimore.
There has been talk that this might be the last hurrah for the Patriots (10-7). Brady doesn’t have the time to just sit in the pocket anymore, Randy Moss’ play continues to reflect his beard (yuck) and their best offensive player, Wes Welker, just suffered two tears in his knee. The defense is shaky and the once brilliant Bill Belichick has been outcoached several times this season. So if rumors are spreading that this is New England’s last hurrah, well, maybe I believe them.
Baltimore (10-7) continues to pile up impressive playoff victories with sophomore QB Flacco under center. Although Flacco only passed for 34 yards, it was a total team effort that blitzed the Patriots this past Sunday. The Ravens are now the most scariest team in the AFC playoffs and a season of tough losses could help propel them to their second Super Bowl appearance since the 2000 season. Stay tuned…
Green Bay Packers vs. Arizona Cardinals
What I predicted…
What I said would happen…
“If it’s two teams in the NFC that I love, it’s Arizona and Green Bay. While neither team is the ideal picture of healthy right now, it’s hard to go against the grain of a hot Green Bay team. I think if Rodgers has time, he could put up 30 against any defense remaining in the playoffs and with the Cardinals’ best corner ailing, Rodgers will be ready for an encore.”
What actually happened…
The Cardinals won 51-45. Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby returned a fumble 17 yards in overtime to end an offensive slugout. Arizona led 31-10 at the top of the third quarter before Green Bay outscored the Cardinals 35-14 over the next quarter and a half to tie the game 45-45 with just over ten seconds remaining in regulation.
If I’m a member of the Packers, I can’t wait until next season gets started. Green Bay (11-6) will have two key defenders in Aaron Kampman and Al Harris returning, the offensive line should get better and stud QB Aaron Rodgers will have another season and the sting of a tough playoff loss under his belt. With a solid front office and franchise QB in place, the Packers are a team on the rise. Usually a team that finishes as a Wild Card at 11-5 is in store for huge things the following season. Stay tuned…
The Cardinals (11-6) are the defending NFC champion and that makes them a team to be taken serious. Arizona will probably get starting receiver Anquan Boldin back for next week and when Kurt Warner plays at a high level, the Cardinals are one of the best teams in the league. Sunday’s shootout with Green Bay exposed a lot of their problems on defense but their offense proved even without Boldin, it can go toe-to-toe with the best of them. With Boldin scheduled for a return, keep the fireworks on standby. Stay tuned…
After a winding season, the NFL playoffs are set to begin this Saturday. While the top two seeds in both the AFC and NFC will be home resting this week, teams ready to begin Wild Card play enter the postseason hotter than some of the league’s higher seeds.
The Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints earned first round byes after both teams combined to go 25-9 on the season but both squads ended the regular season on sour notes. The Vikings lost three out of their last five games and the Saints lost three straight to close their campaign. While the Vikings showed signs of life with a 44-7 demolition of the reeling New York Giants in their season finale, a power struggle between head coach Brad Childress and quarterback Brett Favre casted a dark cloud over the last quarter of the season for Minnesota. With Favre, 40, tiptoeing the line of retirement, it’s officially Super Bowl or bust for the Vikings this year.
The Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals will hit the ground running. For the Cowboys and Packers, they wouldn’t have it any other way. Winners of three straight, the Cowboys will be gunning for their first playoff win since 1996. A road win against the once undefeated Saints and back to back shutouts have the Cowboys flying high while they attempt to reverse their recent trend of late season woes.
The Packers have won seven of their last eight games and will open their playoff run against a Cardinal team they just annihilated 33-7 in Arizona’s home finale. Green Bay ranks second in overall defense and their do-it-all cover corner Charles Woodson is a defensive MVP finalist. Second year signal caller Aaron Rodgers is at the top of the quarterback list in most sporting circles.
The Cardinals and Eagles couldn’t have ended their seasons on poorer notes. With the NFC East crown on the line, the Eagles’ 24-0 loss to the Cowboys was definitely a setback but their prior six-game winning streak is evidence they can turn things around.
Turning things around isn’t something the AFC’s second seed needs to worry about. Winners of eleven straight, the San Diego Chargers have become most sporting pundits “sexy” pick to reach the Super Bowl. Quarterback Philip Rivers earned his third trip to the Pro Bowl and he leads a remarkable cast of athletes on a talented Chargers team.
San Diego will be one of the favorites to advance out of the AFC especially since they’ve had the top ranked Indianapolis Colts number for quite some time. The Colts blazed to a 14-0 start this year but losers of consecutive games could be cause for some concern. Their bigger concern could be a Charger team they’re 1-3 against in the last two seasons including two postseason exits courtesy of Rivers and company.
While the Chargers have had the Colts number, the New England Patriots have had theirs, going 3-1 against San Diego since the 2006 season and knocking the Chargers out of postseason play twice over that span. The Patriots will be down a man however after leading receiver Wes Welker tore both his MCL and ACL in the season finale against Houston.
Welker isn’t the only leading receiver to suffer an injury in the season finale as the Cincinnati Bengals Chad Ochocinco bruised his knee in warm-ups prior to the Bengals finale against the New York Jets. Ironically, both teams will open the playoffs against each other as the first game on Saturday. The Bengals will be seeking revenge after getting blanked by the Jets 37-0.
The fifth seed Baltimore Ravens round out the AFC’s playoff pool. The Ravens won three of their remaining four games to earn consecutive trips to the playoffs and will try to make amends after falling one game short last season of making the franchise’s second Super Bowl appearance.
This year’s playoff pool of participants is deep and talented and all offer something different to the table. Teams like New Orleans, San Diego and Green Bay offer explosive offenses while squads like Baltimore and New York bring stingy defenses with them. The Packers and Dallas Cowboys may be the most well-rounded teams in this year’s tournament while the Minnesota Vikings and Chargers are probably the most talented.
I expect the Chargers and Packers to end up facing off in the Super Bowl with the Bolts edging the Pack narrowly in a close thriller. It’s the Chargers’ year after back-to-back playoff exits to the eventual AFC Super Bowl representative. The Bolts are the hottest team in football and you’re not going to find a pair of 6-5 and over cover corners to match up with their shooting guard-sized receivers. Rivers has quietly put together an MVP season and he’ll join classmates Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning to form the most prestigious quarterback draft class ever after he captures his first Super Bowl and solidifies the QB class of ’04.
I know I’ve been absent for the last couple of weeks but you know how it is around the holidays. Family and friends absolutely don’t believe you work and if they do believe you work, well… they don’t think your job is all that important anyway but regardless, 30-18 on the regular season and I guess you could say I get a clean slate for the postseason.
Well at least I think I should. I returned just in time for the best weekend (in my opinion) of the playoffs. Wild Card weekend always packs a bunch of surprises and spectacular plays. Ironically, this weekend will feature four rematches from the regular season and three rematches from last week alone.
If your favorite team was on the winning side of last weekend’s matches then football follower beware. It’s typically difficult to beat a team in back-to-back weeks and teams can turn faces quick in the playoffs. Regular season powerhouses turn into first round exiters and mediocre teams turn into giants. Should be fun either way. Read along and enjoy the best weekend (in my opinion) of the playoffs.
New York Jets (9-7) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) 4:30 p.m. Sat
Say what you want, but 37-0 isn’t something that just happens. You don’t just get walloped 37-0 and expect to bounce back and beat the same team that smacked you 37-0 the very next week. As tough as it sounds, the Bengals will attempt to recover from a season finale shutout to the hands of quietly solid Jets.
New York has won five out of their last six games and will enter the playoffs on a defensive tear. Aside from finishing the season as the top overall unit, the Jets have allowed just 47 points in their last six games, good for a paltry 7.8 points per contest in the last month and a half of the year. Nobody, I repeat: NOBODY gets open when third-year coverman Darrelle Revis locks horns with them and head coach Rex Ryan has transformed his defensive troops into a lockdown unit.
The Jets have the league’s top running game and everything sets up perfectly to wheel rookie QB Mark Sanchez along slowly. New York will implement the same principles when they square off against the Bengals in the opening postseason game and that could spell trouble for the once-hyped Bengals. While the Jets don’t allow teams to score, the Bengals don’t score much at all anyway. Cincinnati has averaged just 15.7 points per game in their last nine contests and could be without the services of leading receiver Chad Ochocinco, who bruised his knee in warm-ups last week against the Jets.
Regardless if Ochocinco plays or not, it’s a lose-lose scenario for the Bengals. If he does play, he’ll have Revis draped all over him. If he doesn’t play, Revis will just be draped all over the Bengals’ next best wideout, reducing Cincy quarterback Carson Palmer’s list of targets even more. The Bengals have lost three of their last four games and are backing their way into the playoffs without anything clicking. The once-stingy defense has allowed 26 points per game over the last four contests and Palmer has only passed for more than 200 yards in three of the last seven full games that he’s played. Things don’t look good for Cincy. Jets 23-16
Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) vs. Dallas Cowboys (11-5) 8 p.m. Sat
Say what you want, but 24-0 isn’t something that just happens. You don’t just get walloped 24-0 and expect to bounce back and beat the same team that smacked you 24-0 the very next week. Although you’ve read it before, last Sunday’s loss against the Cowboys pointed out the obvious for the Eagles: they don’t match up well with the ‘Boys.
Philly built an 11-5 record this season on big plays and an opportunistic defense. The last two meetings that they’ve encountered the ‘Boys, Dallas has used a ball control offense and paid close attention to the Eagles’ aerial attack to take their big-play offense out of the game. The Cowboys have tried to bait Philly into transforming into a running team by focusing heavily on defending their passing attack.
Because of the Eagles’ plethora of playmakers at the receiver position, it’s worked perfectly for Dallas in both games as the Eagles became too bored to stick with a grind-it-out gameplan. Expect Dallas to stick to the same strategy this weekend as they go for the always tough three-game sweep of the Eagles. Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid is never going to be a pound and ground coach as long as he has Donovan McNabb at the quarterback controls and DeSean Jackson at the wing but he’ll need to counter this week.
The Eagles will need to force turnovers from Dallas if they want to pull the upset on the road in Big D but as long as the Cowboys stick to a run-heavy formula, turnovers will be hard to come across for the Eagles. Dallas has been known to force the passing game on certain occasions and could feel compelled to get into a shouting match with Philadelphia if the Eagles score early. It’s hard picking a team to lose its third game in a season to one opponent but if Dallas sticks to the formula, they should handle Philadelphia with ease. Cowboys 27-17
Baltimore Ravens (9-7) vs. New England Patriots (10-6) 1 p.m. Sun
Playoff rematches of regular season matches are always so intriguing, especially when you get two dominant teams like the Patriots and Ravens. New England will have to adjust after they lost the NFL’s leading receiver Wes Welker to a blown knee in their season finale against the Houston Texans.
While the loss of Welker is a definite blow, his replacement, rookie receiver Julian Edelman, has posted 21 catches and 221 yards in the three games that Welker has missed this season, proving that he is more than capable of picking up the slack. The Patriots Tom Brady and Randy Moss will also attempt to pick up the slack in Welker’s absence and that’s never a bad pair of helping hands but Brady may need a helping hand himself after showing up on the injury report in the past few weeks with broken ribs and a finger injury on his throwing hand.
Playing against the Ravens is never an ideal scenario for a banged up QB but Baltimore hasn’t been the same ferocious unit of years’ past. The Ravens ranked 18th in sacks this season and New England’s recent reemphasis on the running game could help nullify Brady’s lingering injuries. Baltimore’s sophomore backfield of Ray Rice and Joe Flacco has been pretty special all season and they’ll be expected to once again lead the Ravens in a tough game.
Road playoffs games aren’t anything new to Flacco, who went 2-1 on the road in last year’s postseason but Patriots coach Bill Belichick loves to turn up the heat on young signal callers in the postseason and he’ll make no exception for Flacco and Co. Both the Patriots and Ravens are evenly matched throughout their teams but the postseason is all about quarterback play. In a game between Flacco and Brady… well …. you can never go wrong with taking a three-time Super Bowl winning quarterback over a three-game postseason signal caller. Patriots 24-21
Green Bay Packers (11-5) vs. Arizona Cardinals (10-6) 4:40 p.m. Sun
Wow! Well… when we last left the Cardinals they were getting blasted to the tune of 33-7 in their season finale to hot Packers BUT that was on a 4-for-6 performance from starting QB Kurt Warner who was pulled from the game early. Nevertheless, the Packers never let up as they went ahead by as much as 33-0 at one point in the game.
The Cardinals may face a consecutive postseason with a hobbled Anquan Boldin, who left the game with an ankle injury. While Boldin’s loss would be huge, the Cardinals were dealt a triple blow when starting corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and starting defensive lineman Calais Campbell were forced out of the game with serious-looking injuries. If all three are forced to miss any time, Arizona’s chances at a repeat Super Bowl appearance would take a significant dent.
The Packers aren’t without their own significant injury concerns as do-it-all- defensive back Charles Woodson suffered a shoulder injury that left him wrapped up on the sidelines during the game’s closing moments. Woodson is expected to play and against Arizona’s remaining healthy receivers such as Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston, Green Bay can ill-afford for Woodson to miss any time. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is well-equipped to handle the duties of carrying Green Bay regardless of who misses time for the Packers but keep in mind, it’s a team sport.
And nobody knows the team sport better than the Packers’ Rodgers. Rodgers has found nine different receivers in his 30 touchdown mark and his reluctance to key on one receiver forces defenses to account for every member of the Packers offense. The Cardinals have a formidable secondary when Rodgers-Cromartie plays but with DRC’s status in question, Rodgers could be open for a field day.
If it’s two teams in the NFC that I love, it’s Arizona and Green Bay. While neither team is the ideal picture of healthy right now, it’s hard to go against the grain of a hot Green Bay team. I think if Rodgers has time, he could put up 30 against any defense remaining in the playoffs and with the Cardinals’ best corner ailing, Rodgers will be ready for an encore. Packers 28-23