I will say that this is the hardest round one to predict in recent memory. All the teams are match up well, are well coached and can beat anyone in the league.
To be completely honest, I would not be surprised if any one of the six made the Super Bowl, besides the Jets (I just can’t see Mark Sanchez winning three on the road, sorry Jets). It should make for a pretty exciting slate of games. Without further adieu, my picks for Wild Card weekend.
Jets @ Bengals
I know the Bengals weren’t trying hard last week and were playing “vanilla,” as the new cliché suggests (what does it mean if a team decides to play “butter pecan”?). But last weeks game should show some major red flags. Carson Palmer looked terrible. Ocho Cinco is banged up and they don’t have another good receiver to help. Their defense sorely misses Rey Maualuga (still upset that the Ravens didn’t draft him). All signs point to the Jets in this game.
That said, I’m still taking the Bengals and here’s why: Mark Sanchez. I just don’t think he’s ready to make enough decent throws against a good defense and win the game. Marvin Lewis isn’t exactly Vince Lombardi when it comes to strategy, but I think he’ll play this one well: overload the box, make Sanchez beat you. It a lot to ask a rookie, especially on the road in the freezing cold after taking a pounding all year.
To me, this Jets team is like the 2003 Ravens. Stout defense, great running game, benefitted from a week conference but can still beat anyone on the right day. Nevertheless, when Anthony Wright is your QB, Anthony Wright is your QB (and Wright was statistically better in 2003 than Sanchez was this year). Maybe Sanchez becomes the next Brett Favre. But not this year. And certainly not this Saturday.
Bengals 17-9 in a snoozer.
Eagles @ Cowboys
I have to go with Philadelphia. Don’t get me wrong, I saw last week’s game. Philly had a lot to play for and got their butts handed to them. It was embarrassing. Dallas has a lot of momentum going into this one, and as many people have noted, they seem to be built to beat the Eagles.
Still, Philadelphia is always well-prepared come playoff time. It’s a hallmark of an Andy Reid team. They’ve never lost in the first round. I know all streaks have to come to an end sometime, and this Dallas team seems prime for the Super Bowl, but Reid will game plan better than he did last week for the game.
Plus, one can argue that Dallas has more pressure on them, even if this is a playoff game. Sure, winning the division is a mini-success, but for a team with Super Bowl expectations, two home playoff losses in three years would be devastating, especially in their shiny new stadium.
I really believe this comes down to the quarterbacks. Do you like McNabb or Romo better? I think Romo’s done a lot of good things this year and has proven himself a solid QB. But I’m going with Donovan. He’s got better receivers and can make plays. He’s quietly had an MVP-caliber season (although I would vote for Manning). And I think he makes the difference Sunday.
Eagles win it 31-28.
Ravens @ Patriots
I’m not a homer. I was going to pick the Ravens to lose this week before the Welker injury. Even when they had Lardarius Webb, their secondary was not very good. And while Joe Flacco has had an okay statistical season, he’s been inconsistent when they needed him to make the big play, or not make a big mistake.
But the Welker injury changes everything. The man had 123 catches. I know Julian Edelman had a good game last week, but you can’t replace production like Welker’s that easy. He was probably their offensive MVP and they’re going to miss him big time against a team that can’t cover slot receivers well.
Plus, the Patriots had a hard enough time stopping Ray Rice in week four, and now that he’s savvier and better, I don’t see how that changes.
I don’t think the Ravens will roll through January. In fact, if they win this one I’m already prepared to write about the Colts beating them next week. But I think with Welker out, Brady seriously hurt and a non-threatening New England running game, the Ravens will be able to take advantage of these breaks and eek out a close one against a good team for the first time since they beat San Diego in Week 2.
Ravens advance 23-20.
Packers @ Cardinals
Craziest one on the board. This game is one that I really feel can play out any way possible, aside from defensive struggle. I could see Arizona or Green Bay blowing each other out or this becoming a classic shootout. Kurt Warner could revert to his Super Bowl-winning form or completely self destruct. Aaron Rodgers could make Wisconsin forget Brett Favre or could get sacked 10 times. I’m fascinated as a football fan to see this game unfold.
I’m leaning on Green Bay solely based on two things: their defense is good and Warner hasn’t been Warner the past few weeks.
In the olden days, I would lock in Green Bay because they dominated down the stretch so much, but these past few years have proven that matters little anymore. I think they’ve found the rhythm they have been capable of all year and are catching this Arizona team at the right time.
A month ago, the Cards looked like world beaters on that Sunday night against Minnesota. Now, I’m not sold on them as much. Of course, people were saying the same thing about Arizona last year and look what happened. Still, I will err along the side of caution.
Packers win again in Arizona, 35-24.