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Rating the AFC Wild-Card Contenders

BALTIMORE - DECEMBER 20:  Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens passes against the Chicago Bears at M&T Bank Stadium on December 20, 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
Larry French/Getty Images
Craig RondinoneCorrespondent IDecember 25, 2009

The AFC wild-card race is tighter than Anderson Silva’s Muay Thai clinch, and the field is more crowded than a Sarah Palin book signing.

So which two teams are going to come out of this muddled, mediocre mess as the AFC’s Wild Cards? Here is a look at each contender’s pros and cons:


Baltimore Ravens

Why They Will Be a Wild Card

Because they are a step up on most of the pack with an 8-6 record and should win in Week 17 when they play against JaMarcus Russell’s Oakland Raiders.

Baltimore is also the one team of the group with no glaring weaknesses. The Ravens can pass the ball (Joe Flacco), run the ball (Ray Rice), and play above-average defense (second in points allowed, fourth in total defense thanks to Ray Lewis and Co.)


Why They Won’t Be a Wild Card

Because Baltimore has to play a road game against their biggest arch-rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, who also have plenty to play for. And that road game at Oakland won’t be easy. Just ask other playoff contenders Philadelphia, Denver, and Pittsburgh.


Denver Broncos

Why They Will Be a Wild Card

Because Denver is also a nose above the majority with an 8-6 record and has a gift-wrapped win waiting for them after the holidays when the Broncos host dreadful Kansas City on the last week of the season. Plus Brandon Marshall might catch 35 passes over the next two weeks.


Why They Won’t Be a Wild Card

Because Denver is faltering down the stretch just like the team did in 2008. New head coach, new players, same story. Kyle Orton has never been known as a big-game quarterback, Knowshon Moreno has some Tiki Barber-like fumble phobias, and Denver’s defense is slowing down like a unit full of zombies.


Miami Dolphins

Why They Will Be a Wild Card

Because Miami has the power to elevate itself while dashing the playoff dreams of two of its competitors since the Dolphins play home games versus Houston and Pittsburgh to end the season.

Chad Henne has proven that he can throw for 300 yards when he has to, even if he is throwing to the worst receiving crew in the NFL. And Ricky Williams has proven he can carry a Wildcat-less offense on his bong, I mean back.


Why They Won’t Be a Wild Card

Because playoff teams don’t lose the games the Dolphins lost earlier this season to New Orleans, Indianapolis, and even last week’s tilt against Tennessee.

Miami’s defense is aging up front and too inexperienced in the back. The Dolphins seem to be a player and a year away from making the jump to Super Bowl contender.


Tennessee Titans

Why They Will Be a Wild Card

Because Tennessee is the hottest team in the NFL, winning seven of its last eight games, its only loss coming at undefeated Indianapolis. The Titans also have the best running back in football in Chris Johnson and the most improved quarterback in the league, Vince Young.


Why They Won’t Be a Wild Card

Because they just lost two starting linebackers, Keith Bulluck and David Thornton, to season-ending injuries. The Bulluck injury is exceptionally painful considering he was the heart and soul of the defense. They will have a ton of fun stopping San Diego’s acrobatic offense this week with a thin linebacking corps.


New York Jets

Why They Will Be a Wild Card

Because New York has the No. 1-ranked defense and the No. 1-ranked running game in the NFL. A strong running game and a staunch defense usually wins December games. The Jets are also my personal favorite team, and I have been a good boy, so Santa might reward me.


Why They Won’t Be a Wild Card

Because Mark Sanchez is the quarterback. The rookie is having one of the worst statistical seasons for a quarterback in the past decade. Sanchez enjoys throwing into double coverage as much as Brett Favre enjoys audibling, and his interceptions are always costly.

Another reason is that the Jets have a knack for losing close games in innovative ways. They have lost in the final seconds or minutes to Buffalo, Miami (twice), Jacksonville, and Atlanta, so why this week would they beat Indianapolis, a team that wins every close game it is in?


Pittsburgh Steelers

Why They Will Be a Wild Card

Because they are the defending Super Bowl champions, and no other team on this list has the collective experience in must-win games that the Steelers have.

Ben Roethlisberger showed last week he could win games when his back is against the wall, as he torched a talented Green Bay defense for 500 yards and three touchdowns. When the Steelers are playing at their best, they can defeat anybody in the NFL.


Why They Won’t Be a Wild Card

Because their Troy Polamalu-less secondary couldn’t cover a field full of corpses in a cemetery. If their vaunted pass rush doesn’t reach the quarterback, then you can just pencil in the completed pass. You would think Flacco and Chad Henne should have field days against the secondary in the next two weeks.


Jacksonville Jaguars

Why They Will Be a Wild Card

Because Maurice Jones-Drew runs like a bowling ball with legs, David Garrard is a two-way threat that makes plays with his arm and his feet, and receiver Mike Sims-Walker is emerging as a top-flight pass catcher.


Why They Won’t Be a Wild Card

Because Jacksonville could have already sown up a berth but, instead, failed miserably. Three losses in the past four weeks to San Francisco, Miami, and Indianapolis have now dropped them from front runners, and they now face the prospect of having to win at New England this week just to have a chance. Just like a shady lawyer or a crooked politician, the Jaguars cannot be trusted.


Houston Texans

Why They Will Be a Wild Card

Because Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson are playing like they are determined to reach the postseason. Houston’s defense has totally transformed itself as well ever since picking up safety Bernard Pollard off the scrap heap, so now the offense isn’t forced to score 30 points every week to win.


Why They Won’t Be a Wild Card

Just like New York, Houston finds ways to lose games in the fourth quarter. A couple missed field goals by Kris Brown, a couple shoddy coaching decisions by Gary Kubiak, and a couple of poorly thrown balls by Schaub have put them in a tough spot.

Houston also has a whole host of tiebreaker problems. They are going to need more help than Jay Cutler would in a QB rating contest to slip into a wild-card slot.



Baltimore and Miami make the playoffs, and everyone else gets to prepare for the Pro Bowl or devotes more time to winning their fantasy basketball and hockey leagues.

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