AFC Wild Card Weekend Coming Into Focus: Quick Predictions
The NFL regular season concluded Sunday with Seattle grabbing the last NFL playoff spot with their win over the Rams that clinched the NFC West.
As a reward, they receive the pleasure of hosting Drew Brees and the Saints.
The AFC playoff matchups were decided much earlier, however, with Adam Vinatieri's game-winning FG as time expired.
The Jacksonville Jaguars were eliminated from playoff contention by the Houston Texans, making Vinatieri's kick pretty much academic (if not only for playoff seeding). The Colts were the last team to clinch in the AFC, but by doing so and doing it with a win, AFC Wild Card weekend is shaping up to offer some very intriguing matchups.
Indianapolis Colts vs. New York Jets
By virtue of winning their division, the Colts will host the Jets at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday. The early line out of Vegas has the Colts as a three-point favorite, a number that may very well be a fair estimate.
The Jets defense hasn't been the same in recent weeks. They did only let up seven points today, but shutting down the Bills is nothing to brag about.
They have also recently let up 38 points to the Bears in a shootout and 45 in the debacle in Foxborough. The defense played fairly well against Pittsburgh (22 points allowed in a win) and Miami (10 points allowed in a loss), but the same "swagger" hasn't been there for the vaunted Jets defense.
Most obvious is the loss of safety Jim Leonhard, and this very may well show again vs. Peyton Manning.
The Jets are not going to take down the Colts in a shootout. To beat Peyton and company, the old defense will need to rear its head or they could be in trouble.
Manning has been limiting his interceptions and making better decisions over his last few games and Joseph Addai has returned at just the right time. The running game that was so nonexistent for Indy is finally starting to turn around and the offense is becoming more complete.
Rex Ryan can talk his mouth off all he wants, but the bottom line is that the defense needs to come to play.
Mark Sanchez should be healthy after basically a week off against the Bills. In his last four full games, the results have been split.
He played very well against Chicago and Pittsburgh, but not so well versus New England and Miami (as an understatement). If Freeney and Mathis can get pressure on Sanchez and force him to make mistakes, bad Sanchez will come out. And the Jets don't do too well with bad Sanchez.
It should be a tight affair, but in the end, the game goes a little more high scoring than the Jets would like. Indy covers the spread and takes it, 27-21.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Baltimore Ravens
This game offers up another intriguing matchup. The Ravens bring their squad into Arrowhead in a 12-4 vs. 10-6 matchup.
The Chiefs will need to turn it around after being dominated at home against the Raiders and Matt Cassel will need to be much, much better. His two interceptions against the Raider's defense won't do next weekend, especially with a healthy Ed Reed lurking.
Up until today you could make the argument that the Chiefs always win at home, so they should have a decided advantage. Today might make you think other wise.
Sunday wasn't too encouraging for the Ravens either, as they were about three yards away from losing to the Bengals. The offense will need to find its way after scoring only 13 points against a maligned Cincy defense. Joe Flacco has showed great development this season and he will look to exploit a solid but young KC defense.
I think this game will be closer than most expect. Kansas City has been revitalized under the instruction of Todd Haley and half of the Patriots old organization, and their young players in Cassel, Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe blossoming into all-stars.
For all their offensive struggles, the Ravens have allowed just 17 points over their last two games. If Ray Rice can play like 2009 playoffs Ray Rice and Flacco can get the offense back into the 20s and 30s like they were before this week, the defense should be more than good enough to beat the Chiefs.
Getting to the playoffs was a tremendous accomplishment for the Chiefs this year, but I don't like the matchup they have against Baltimore. While I do think it will be a lot closer than people expect, I do think the Ravens take the game and advance.
They do so to the tune of 30-21.
What It Means
If these results come to fruition, we would see two matchups that would be the definition of playoff football. The Colts would have the pleasure of travelling into hostile Heinz Field, while the Ravens would get another shot against the Pats in Foxborough.
Both matchups offer a plethora of storylines and are potentially very close games.
Playoff football is back, and it's as exciting as usual.
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