The NFL Gods can seem fickle, vindictive and cruel. The most predictable scenarios rarely come to fruition and the heroes hardly ever slay the dragons. Ask a certain 18-1 Patriots team whether stats win Super Bowls. With that being said, here is my road map for the 2009 NFL, AFC Playoffs; one that predicts the Colts frowning after a one and done playoff run.
The AFC Wild Card - The Jokers are on you. Injuries too.
Who are the Bengals? Their record says they are 10-6, but where was the seminal game of the 2009 season for them? They swept the Steelers and the Ravens but they lost in the gut-check game against San Diego. Then, they got punked by the Vikings in a lopsided December that saw them go 1-3. Now Ochocinco is nursing an MRI-worthy knee tweak and they lost their rookie LB. Just when the Jets are finding their "See!" legs. Sure the Jets may have played versus tackling dummies in their last two weeks of the regular season but they are the #1 ranked defense in the league (including #1 in points, yards and passing yards allowed and 8th against the run). And, now, more, importantly, the Jets are brimming with confidence while the Bengals are wracked with doubt after a season of off-season miseries and late seasons failures.
Ravens over the Patriots
The Patriots have been gutting out a season of ups and downs and the last note of the season was a harsh flat one. Losing Welker sticks a dagger into not only the heart of the Pats's offense but their very soul. Edelman is no slouch in the slot, but he isn't Welker, who led the the team in receiving yards for a team-best 7 outings (Moss had 6). Edelman had 2 top yardage outings for the team...but both were Patriots' losses. New England saw Baltimore in Week 4 and barely got out alive. Nursing a two field goal lead the Patriots narrowly escaped when Mark Clayton dropped a pass on 4th down with the Ravens driving in the red-zone. (http://www.nfl.com/gamecenter/2009100406/2009/REG4/ravens@patriots#tab:watch). The Ravens out-gained the Patriots on the ground and in the air that day and matched up at nearly every other stat (penalties and field goals being the exception). This time a limping Patriot team won't squeak by.
The AFC Divisional Playoff - Reaping low seeds that they have sown.
Chargers over the Jets
Let's not be coy. the Jets are an decent team but their end-of-the-season moxie is not going to be enough to propel them through the "firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station," (cue Emporer's laugh). The Jets have played spoiler to the Bolts before, and Lord knows Norv Turner could trip over a rainbow, but the current Charger roster is firing on all cylinders and comes steaming into the playoffs with an 11 game winning streak and a roster of steely-eyed playoff veterans.
Ravens over the Colts (That's right, it could happen.)
The Ravens are the sleeper team no one wants to meet and the Colts are the team who fell asleep. The irony is that by resting in Week 16, the Colts themselves may be responsible for the chain of events (seeding) that leads to their facing the Ravens. It's a Week 11 rematch, and last time a missed false start call, and a 4th quarter red-zone interception by Gary Brackett, saved the Colts from a 1 point loss. (http://www.nfl.com/gamecenter/2009112200/2009/REG11/colts@ravens#tab:watch). Should the Colts win this one? Yes, they are the better team, but the Ravens coming off a Wild Card victory in New England and finding their rhythm are poised to deliver a shocker. Especially to a drowsy Colts team, who come the Divisional Playoff week, won't have played a complete game in nearly a month. (and even that Dec 17th game was a clunker against lowly Jacksonville) Even I would like to see the Chargers versus Indy in the AFC Championship, it's an exciting match-up and a great primer for the Superbowl but when the NFL Gods shake their voodoo stick at this round, remember who told you so.
AFC Championship - Welcome to Sea Level.
Chargers over the Ravens.
I know, how can I pick the Ravens to miraculously survive road games versus the Patriots and the Colts and yet predict that they lose their way against the Bolts? Worse yet, in Week 2, Baltimore handed San Diego one, of only two, home losses this year punctuated by the most embarrassing play of the season for San Diego (A late game fourth down, red-zone run-stuff that posterized Darren Sproles and the Charger O-line. Cringe again here, http://www.nfl.com/gamecenter/2009092013/2009/REG2/ravens@chargers#tab:watch) The Chargers may falter here, but I think they have matured since Week 2 and now feature a mostly healthy roster (Hardwick and Vasquez, both missing from the O-line in the Week 2 loss, are back). Jackson and Merriman are back in the mix and the Ravens (who I admit are mentally tough) are ripe for a let-down. Dust your HDTV screen, this will be an AFC Championship for the ages and it will send the Chargers to the Super Bowl for only the second time in team history.
Note: Check back with me soon for my NFC Playoff road map where I explain how the Cinderella Saints break their glass slippers.
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