After 17 of some of the most exciting weeks in NFL regular season history, the playoffs have officially arrived. The 2009-10 NFL Wild Card weekend looks more like an NFL Network Replay marathon of the Week 17 regular season schedule. This weekend will feature all season rematches, three of which are rematches from a week ago.
Before jumping into each game there is something that I wanted to point out about all of the games this weekend. Obviously with three immediate rematches, we have three teams that lost last week, four in all if you through the Pats in. Fans and teams can make excuses for their teams and in some games where starters sat, some of those excuses could be legitimate. Regardless of the reason, no team that made it to the final four in last season’s playoffs lost its final regular season game. That is great news for Packers, Jets, Ravens, and Cowboys fans.
This is about the only situation that the Eagles do not want to be in on Wild Card weekend. The Cowboys looked to have figured the Eagles out on both the offense and defense last week. The Eagles are a lot like the Philadelphia Phillies. The Eagles are a home-run or bust team. If McNabb can connect on those long bombs to Jeremy Maclin or DeSean Jackson, he and the birds will cruise easily to a win. Take those bombs away from McNabb and this team is in big trouble. God forbid Andy Reid actually has to coach and game plan for one week right?
While the Eagles didn’t get blown out earlier this season in their first meeting against the Cowboys, they were still shut down. I think the biggest issue here facing the birds is the Cowboys 3-4 defense. The defense takes away the screen, which the Eagles also love to play to death. The pressure from speedy linebackers and DeMarcus Ware on McNabb doesn’t allow him to sit back and wait for his receivers to get down field. It is truly a nightmare scenario for the Eagles. The only chance that the birds have at scoring points is to get a run game going early and open up the pass. Otherwise, the Cowboys will tee off on McNabb all day and we will see a replay of last week.
Finally, I have to bring up some intangibles here. There were several off-field incidents this week that hurt the Eagles badly. One, Donovan McNabb and DeSean Jackson have had words over what McNabb said in the post game last week. Two, Jackson has been tweeting some trash talk which is the same kind of stuff that worked against Freddie Mitchell when he talked trash on Rodney Harrison before the Super Bowl. Finally and maybe the most egregious act of all, Eagles employee and media man Dave Spadaro has a video on You Tube of himself spitting on the Dallas star at the new stadium. Not only should Spadaro be fired, as an Eagles fan I am irate beyond words that a little mole who doesn’t even play the game may be the intangible that fires up the Cowboys to go a little extra this week in practice, and destroy the birds on Saturday.
Before I anoint the Cowboys, I do want to bring up a few things. This is the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys have looked unstoppable every year that they have made the playoffs with Tony Romo, and have choked in every game. Between Romo’s fumble against the Seahawks and the inept offense against the Giants, there is something about this team that can’t get over the playoff hump. As a matter of a fact, the Cowboys haven’t won a playoff game since 1996. While the Eagles have choked in many NFC title games, their playoff record under Andy Reid is fantastic. The Eagles under Reid have never lost a first-round playoff game. Keeping all of this in mind, I am predicting a big upset in Big D and an Eagles’ win Saturday night.
Sticking with the NFC, the sexy Super Bowl pick going into the season were the Green Bay Packers. The Packers will travel to Arizona and play the Cardinals in the second NFC Wild Card game. Like the Eagles, these are two teams that you never know what you will get from week to week. As much praise as the Packers get from the media, they are also the same team that gave up over 500 passing yards to Ben Roethlisberger a few weeks ago. The Arizona Cardinals have also been red hot, yet were demolished by the San Francisco 49ers just a few weeks ago on Monday Night Football. Which team shows up is anyone’s guess.
I think it is almost comical that when people talk about this game they immediately rave about the Packers defense, while ignoring the Cardinals defense. This is almost an identical defense to the team that went to the Super Bowl last season. Remember last season when the Carolina Panthers rushing attack looked unstoppable? Not only did the Cards stop them, they crushed them in the post season. This season the team has very average stats, yet their rushing defense has been rather stellar throughout most of the season. It is not inconceivable to think that the Cards will bottle up the Packers rushing attack and turn this into an air-show.
The Packers are one of those teams that just when you think they are the hottest team in the NFL, they give you a Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay performance. Their passing attack is right up there with the best teams in the NFL, ranked number seven overall. Greg Jennings came on late, but has been a beast to contend with as the season came to an end. Jermichael Finley has been one of the most productive tight ends in the NFL since coming back from injury. Donald Driver has found the fountain of youth and has been a game killer to the oppisition. Aaron Rodgers always keeps this team in games even when it looks like the floor is falling out from under them like the Vikings game in Lambeau Field. This team definitely has all of the tools to make a serious Super Bowl run.
Even strength, I think the Cardinals beat the Packers. However, while the Packers are close to full strength, the Cards are not. The key to their defense, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will either sit out or play at less than 100%. Losing one of the best corners in the NFL against a team throwing Donald Driver and Greg Jennings at you is a recipe for disaster. On the offense, Anquan Boldin is hurt as usual and could miss the game. I don’t expect a team without two critical players like these guys to hang with such a dangerous team as the Packers. The only chance that the Cardinals have here is to get pressure on Rodgers and secure some turnovers. I don’t know if they can do that with receivers who are wide open and I don’t expect them too.
Oh yeah and then there is that Super Bowl loser jinx. Not since the Buffalo Bills in 1994 has a losing team repeated in the Super Bowl. That is not to say that the Cardinals can’t make it back to the title game, but the odds just aren’t in their favor. Between that and the Madden Curse, I don’t see them getting far. The Cards are great at home which plays in their favor and these are two long trips back-to-back for the Packers. However at the end of the day I think the Cards are too hurt at the wrong time to make this a game. I am going with the Packers.
The New England Patriots host the Baltimore Ravens this weekend in the AFC Wild Card round. This is the only rematch this weekend of a game that wasn’t played last week. These two teams met in a thriller earlier in the season which saw the Patriots squeak out a win against the Ravens.
When the story this week for the Patriots is about a guy named Edleman, you know you have problems. The big storyline of the game is the loss of Wes Welker for the Patriots. Welker was injured last week in a routine play and will miss the playoffs, and possibly the beginning of next season. The loss of Welker makes the Patriots a very different team on offense. With Welker, the Pats gave defensive coordinators nightmares. Without him, the Ravens will concentrate on Randy Moss and pressure Tom Brady. This is going to be a much tougher game for the Pats than their first meeting and if not for a Mark Clayton dropped pass in the end zone, they probably would have lost the game.
The Ravens always play the Patriots tough. Even in their destructive 2007 season, the Ravens were seconds away from beating the Patriots. Joe Flacco has been in the playoffs before so this is nothing new to him. Flacco and the Ravens established one of the most dynamic running games in the NFL throughout the season. Ray Rice has turned into the new Brian Westbrook/Marshall Faulk dual receiving/running threat. Willis McGahee turned it on at the end of the season and the two became arguably the best one-two running punch in the NFL. The Ravens are not a team to take lightly at all.
Everyone always says never to bet against Bill Belichick in the playoffs. They are right. He is 15-4 in the postseason with a .789 winning percentage. He missed the playoffs for the first time in years last season, so you know he is hungry for a big run here. If there is any Wild Card team that I would put money on, it would be the Patriots. I know that Welker is done, but the Eagles lost Terrell Owens in 2004 and made a successful playoff run without him. As much as I admire what the Ravens defense has done this year, there are a lot of older guys that aren’t as fast and give up big plays in the secondary. I look for Brady to exploit that with or without Welker and advance to the second round with a win.
Finally, the least appealing game to me takes place first as the Cincinnati Bengals host the New York Jets in a rematch of last Sunday’s marquee game. The Jets spanked the Bengals hard on offense and defense last week. In back-to-back weeks, the Jets beat the Indianapolis Colts and the Cincinnati Bengals. Favorable situations or not, that is quite impressive. However before New York fans are ready to crown the Jets, they are forgetting about one incredibly key factor to last week’s game. The Bengals played without Cedric Benson and Benson is back and with a week of rest this weekend.
I think the storyline that amazed me most this week was the idea that the Bengals are falling apart. Yes, it is definitely not a good thing to be sliced and diced like they were by a team you have to play the following week. Carson Palmer and the Bengals offense were stopped on all facets of the game by Rex Ryan and the Jets. However, I find it amazing that the same people ready to call it a night for the Bengals barely mention the loss of Benson. This would have been like the Jets playing without Thomas Jones against a full Bengals squad. The Bengals are a running team and set the pass up with the run. I don’t take a thing away from last week’s game knowing that Benson was on the bench.
I have always liked the Jets and I like Rex Ryan. Yet I think the Jets are the biggest frauds entering the playoffs. The Jets were handed gifts with the Colts pulling their starters two weeks ago and Benson sitting last week. I know Darrelle Revis shut down Ochocinco, but Ocho was the only thing that the Jets had to worry about. Thomas Jones was a beast, but it will be much different for the Jets who won’t be getting the ball in the great positions they found themselves in last Sunday night. I may be dead wrong, but I think the Jets are in way over their heads this weekend.
I look for a big rebound by the Bengals. I do believe that a great running game and a great defense win championships. The Bengals have both. I am very curious to see how Mark Sanchez handles his first turnover, as I do expect a few. I think this game will be a lower scoring affair (can’t score any less if you are the Bengals). There is always at least one blowout game on Wild Card weekend. I think it is this one. I look for a big day out of Cedric Benson, some Sanchez turnovers, and a very exciting game next weekend when the Bengals travel to Indy to play the Colts.
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NFL Wild Card Picks!
I had my worst week of the season going 7-9 with my picks. Keep in mind you had a lot of strange things going on like Cedric Benson, Philip Rivers, and Kurt Warner sitting. Overall I was 162-96 on the season which I think is a very respectable record. Now for the NFL Wild Card Picks (Picks in BOLD) –
New York at Cincinnati
Philadelphia at Dallas
Green Bay at Arizona
Baltimore at New England
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