The NFL playoffs are back. This has been one of the craziest and most wide-open seasons in recent memory, and predicting winners for the playoff matchups is almost a crap shoot.
In this crazy year, where 11-5 New England is staying home and 8-8 San Diego HOSTS 12-4 Indianapolis, anything is possible. For these first round matchups, it seems as though all the home teams are the underdogs. So, without further ado, here goes nothing...
Atlanta Falcons (11-5) @ Arizona Cardinals (9-7)
This game has been bugging me for awhile. I definitely think the Falcons are the better team, but the Cardinals are home, where their run-and-shoot offense can flourish. Also, the Falcons are only 4-4 on the road this year.
On the other hand, the Cardinals have struggled mightily against teams outside of their division. My head is spinning just thinking about the trends that are going to be broken no matter who wins.
I have made up my mind, though, and I think the Cardinals will squeak the game out. Home-field advantage is huge in the playoffs (although the Giants would argue that), and the Cardinals can pass the ball well under the ideal weather conditions of University of Phoenix Stadium. I think it will be back-and-forth, but the Cardinals will pull it out in the end.
Prediction: Cardinals 28, Falcons 24
Indianapolis Colts (12-4) @ San Diego Chargers (8-8)
Because of the NFL's wacky (and stupid) playoff system, a .500 team will play a home game in the playoffs against the NFL's hottest team. On paper, the Chargers have a team that can match-up with anyone, but they have not shown it very much this year.
The Colts already beat the Chargers in San Diego this year, and I think history repeats itself. Peyton Manning has played extremely well in leading the Colts to a 12-4 record, despite the fact that Joseph Addai has done very little this season.
The Colts are the hottest team in the NFL, and in the playoffs, that is probably the most important thing. The game should be close since it is in San Diego, but the Colts are playing too well right now to bow out in the first round.
Prediction: Colts 24, Chargers 17
Baltimore Ravens (11-5) @ Miami Dolphins (11-5)
This one is really confusing me. The Dolphins have played mistake-free football all year, and are the type of team that can surprise some people here in the playoffs. The wildcat offense can be extremely confusing for the opposition at times, and their running game is solid.
However, the Ravens have a tremendous defense, and their offense has been pretty good this year as well. Willis McGahee, Ray Rice, and Le'Ron McClain have all been up-and-down this year, but usually one of them is ready for a big day.
The home-field advantage means nothing here in terms of weather, so both teams can play straight-up. The one thing that scares me about the Dolphins though is that Chad Pennington has no arm strength.
The Ravens have trouble with long passes at times, but Pennington isn't the type of guy to challenge the defense vertically. The Ravens can bring eight to nine guys into the box and dare Pennington to throw long—which he can't. The Ravens' defense will dominate this game and the Ravens should be able to pull this one out.
Prediction: Ravens 17, Dolphins 10
Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1) @ Minnesota Vikings (10-6)
The Eagles are the NFC's hottest team. They are looking eerily similar to the Giants of last year, as they have stormed into the playoffs as the six seed. Much like the Giants last year, the Eagles get a first-round matchup against a team they should beat.
However, the Eagles have laid plenty of eggs this year, and I am a little nervous about this one.
The Vikings are at home, in one of the loudest places in the league (The Metrodome). They also have Adrian Peterson, who can single-handedly take over a game and win it. The Vikings have played well at home this year, so that factor is in their favor.
However, as much as Donovan McNabb makes me nervous, Tarvaris Jackson is downright frightening.
Jackson can go from playing a great game, like he did a couple weeks ago, to playing solid football and not making mistakes, to playing atrocious football where he can lose a game by himself. Looking at this game though, I think the Eagles are being a little overrated because of their win last week. I think Tarvaris will play a decent game, and let AP take over.
I think the Vikings' home-field advantage will come through big-time.
Prediction: Vikings 23, Eagles 13