The final week of the regular season in the NFL was historic, and an important one for a few teams still treading water in the race for the last wild card spots.
I guess that first and foremost, I should just mention what many Bleacher Report articles have already touched on:
The New England Patriots are really good.
Now that that's out of the way...
Tennessee was able to pull out a victory in a win-or-go-home situation against the defending Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts. This happened much to the dismay of the 10-6 Cleveland Browns, who lost out on the tie-breaker due to the Titans' better record against common opponents.
The Washington Redskins were in a similar situation to the Titans: win, and they were in. Todd Collins and the rest of the Redskins didn't pass on the opportunity, as they cruised past the NFC's top seed on their way into the post-season. Little did they know that the Vikings and Saints weren't doing much push the issue, as they both lost games that could've put them in position had the Redskins failed to deliver.
But now, that's all history and it's time to look at the very near future. The Wild Card Round of the NFL Playoffs is this weekend. Let's take a look at the matchups and make some predictions:
Saturday, January 5th
Washington Redskins @ Seattle Seahawks: 4:15pm ET
This a good matchup between two teams who define the term "Wild Card". How these two teams are going to play week in and week out is never really a given.
The Redskins are still riding on the emotional wave following the death of their teammate Sean Taylor. Todd Collins has stepped in and been a great bus driver for an offense that was in desperate need of a spark, and Washington enters this game on a four-game win streak.
Seattle comes into this game after suffering a loss to the lowly Falcons, but that's neither here nor there, as they played their backups for a good part of that game. The Seahawks have the advantage here due to their recent playoff experience, and a very good passing attack, but they'll need some sort of a running game if they want to move into the next round.
Prediction: Redskins win this one in overtime by a score of 30-24.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers: 8pm ET
Doesn't that sound like an exciting game? Both of these teams lost meaningless matchups in Week 17, but it was more like a bye-week than anything for them.
The Jaguars appear to be the most playoff-ready team in the NFL, with a stellar running game and a good decision maker behind center in David Garrard. They're gonna need a good performance from all of their offensive weapons against the Steelers' defense.
Pittsburgh is third in the NFL against the run, allowing only 89 yards per game. If they can keep that up against Jacksonville, they won't need much from Najeh Davenport and the rest of the offense. The only problem is, I kinda doubt they'll be able to hold Taylor and Jones-Drew despite such a proven rush-defense. Fred Taylor was able to gather 147 yards against this same team just a few weeks ago. With Willie Parker on the sidelines, the Steelers may have trouble getting going on the offensive side of the football.
Prediction: Jaguars roll to the next round easily: 31-17
Sunday, January 6th
New York Giants @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 1pm ET
As in the other NFC Wildcard Matchup, these two teams are definitely worthy of the term "Wild Card".
What makes this game most interesting is that we will find out if the Giants can continue to play at the level they were on against the Patriots in Week 17. If they can, they might find themselves playing for a few more weeks. If they revert to the inconsistency they've shown us thus far, even in the NFC, they won't last long.
Tampa Bay is in the same boat. They need to develop some sort of consistency if they want to be taken seriously. One thing they do have going for them is that they're on top of the NFL against the pass, allowing only 170 ypg. That could be the most telling statistic in this battle.
Prediction: In a very sloppy game, the Bucs come away with a 13-10 victory.
Tennessee Titans @ San Diego Chargers: 4:30pm ET
If anybody can perform well against San Diego's pass rush, it's Vince Young. Unfortunately for the Titans, he strained his quad in their victory over the Colts in Week 17. So, even if he plays, he may not be himself.
Tennessee is fifth in the NFL against the rush, giving opponents a mere 92 yards per game. If they can contain Ladanian Tomlinson, and if Albert Haynesworth and Co. can get to Philip Rivers, the Titans have a better chance in this one than it would seem.
On the other hand, San Diego has won six straight games. They're one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now. This is a perfect opportunity for the front office to find out if their decision to get rid of Marty Schottenheimer will pay off or not.
Prediction: Tennessee defies the odds and defeats San Diego by a score of 34-24.
The Rest of the Month
New England over Tennessee
Dallas over Washington
Indianapolis over Jacksonville
Green Bay over Tampa Bay
New England over Indianapolis
Dallas over Green Bay
New England over Dallas
Tune in next week for updated predictions following the outcome of the Wild Card round. In the meantime, stop by my sports forums and say hello when you have a few minutes. It's free to join, and it only takes a minute or so to sign up. No activation email required.
Happy New Year!