NFL Playoff Predictions 2011: 10 Bold Predictions for the NFL Wild Card Games
NFL playoff predictions are in. Well, at least for the first round. And things don't look good for the home team.
The following predictions are bound to ruffle a few feathers, so please feel free to leave a comment explaining why you think I'm waaaaaay off-base and/or giving a bold prediction of your own for the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
Here we go.
Charlie Weis Will Depart for Florida Sooner Than He Wants
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After clinching the AFC West the week prior, the Chiefs had little to play for Sunday against Oakland.
And it showed, particularly in Weis’ offense. Matt Cassel had one of his worst games of the season, throwing for just 115 yards and two interceptions. Jamaal Charles, lynchpin of the NFL’s top rushing attack, ran for 87 yards, but 47 of that total came on one run.
Weis and his players will say the coordinator’s forthcoming departure for the University of Florida was not a distraction on Sunday, nor will it be on Saturday versus Baltimore.
It had better not be, or the Chiefs’ postseason stay will be abbreviated, and Weis will be recruiting for the Gators far earlier than he may have hoped.
Michael Vick Will Struggle as History Repeats Itself
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True, the game is at Lincoln Financial Field, but Michael Vick's heart hasn't exactly been at home this season.
Excluding the game in which he went down with an injury against Washington, Vick has played five home games versus six on the road. In those five home games, he has thrown for 500 fewer yards, nearly two fewer yards per attempt and an astounding 11 fewer touchdowns than the six road games.
Most telling perhaps is the discrepancy in Vick’s passer rating, which is more than 20 points higher on the road than at home (109.7 to 89.4).
That said, Vick had one of his best games of the season when thrust into action against Green Bay in the season opener. Albeit a 27-20 loss, Vick excelled in the absence of Kevin Kolb, who was knocked out of the game, throwing for 175 yards and running for 103 more to set the tone for the Eagles offense going forward.
[Note: Thanks to reader Kyle, who informed me of an error. I had originally wrote that Vick had thrown for 175 yards the entire game against Green Bay, implying that he had endured one of his worst games of the season.]
Drew Brees Will Throw for at Least 350 Yards
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Brees must be licking his chops right now. You’d never have known it by watching Sunday’s game against the Rams, but the Seahawks have the league’s 27th-ranked pass defense, allowing nearly 250 yards per game.
That much was certainly evident when these teams met in November, a 34-19 New Orleans win in which Brees threw for 382 yards and four touchdowns, in addition to setting the all-time franchise record for completions.
Brees will come close to those numbers on Saturday, as the Saints' arsenal of weapons on offense are too many for Seattle’s nondescript defense, which features an underwhelming pass rush.
The Colts Will Rush for 100 Yards on the Jets
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Much has been made over the Colts’ woes running the ball this season, and why not?
Indianapolis finished the regular season ranked 29th in the league in rushing yards. But the attack appears to be getting cranked up just when Peyton and the rest of the offense need it most. Joesph Addai is getting healthy, and the duo of Donald Brown and Dominic Rhodes has been plenty serviceable.
The Colts rushed for 100 yards or more in each of their final three games, including 191 in a huge road victory over Oakland in Week 16, and the momentum will continue against a Jets unit whose stout front seven Peyton can soften up for the run through the pass.
Matt Hasselbeck Will Replace Charlie Whitehurst by Half’s End
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Whitehurst was by no means bad in Seattle’s NFC West-clinching victory over the Rams, passing for 192 yards and a score, and he brings an added dimension to the offense with his ability to scramble and keep plays alive.
But he is not Matt Hasselbeck (hip), who, if healthy, should get the nod against New Orleans because of his postseason experience. But Pete Carroll opts to start Whitehurst, who caps a brutal half against the Saints’ underrated defense by taking over Hasselbeck’s seat on the bench.
The League’s Top Running Attack Will Be No Match for the Ravens
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It will be strength versus strength on Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead.
The Chiefs run the ball better than any other team, averaging more than 164 yards, but they’ve played only three games against teams which finished the season ranked in the top 10 in run defense. Two of the games were against San Diego, which held Kansas City to a total of 183 yards on the ground.
The Ravens, ranked fifth at 93.9 rushed yards allowed per game, will have little problem stopping the undersized Jamaal Charles, making the Chiefs offense one-dimensional and far too predictable.
DeSean Jackson Will Return a Punt in Eagles’ Loss
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Jackson returned only two punts for 14 yards in a Week 1 loss to the Packers. He’ll break one in the team's Wild Card matchup in Philadelphia on Sunday to give the Eagles a lead late in the third quarter, but that’s where his heroics will end.
Green Bay keeps Vick, and thus the Eagles passing game, in check, and Jackson barely musters more than the four catches and 30 yards he recorded in that season-opening flop.
Mark Sanchez Will Throw a Crucial Fourth-Quarter Pick
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Sanchez grew exponentially from year one to year two as a starter, and his success is in direct correlation with that of the team.
When Sanchez does well, the Jets win. When he doesn’t, well, you guessed it. In New York’s 11 wins, Sanchez threw for 16 scores versus six interceptions. In the team’s five losses, those numbers plummet to one and seven, respectively.
Granted, the Jets made a deep postseason run last season with Sanchez as a rookie, but little was asked of him. His role in the offense has expanded significantly in 2010, but unfortunately for the Jets, that won’t mean another spirited charge in January.
Sanchez throws two picks against the Colts, bringing his total to seven in the past six games, including one with New York up only three midway through the fourth.
Peyton Manning Will Deliver Another Late Game-Winning Drive
His team down 11 in the second quarter of the 2010 AFC Championship Game against the Jets, Peyton Manning led the Colts on three unanswered touchdown drives, including one in the fourth quarter to ice the game.
The Colts won’t face as big a deficit against the Jets this postseason, but they’ll need Manning just as much. And he’ll provide—again.
Indianapolis down three with seven minutes to play, the future Hall of Famer navigates the Colts offense 85 yards on 12 plays for the game-deciding score.
Lower Seeds Rule the Weekend
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The lone home team to emerge from the first round, Indianapolis, wins a see-saw battle against the Jets. The two sides exchange blows for three quarters, but the knockout blow is dealt when Manning capitalizes on a fourth-quarter mistake by Sanchez. Colts, 28-24
The Saints aren’t exactly hot entering the playoffs, but they’re good enough to win on the road at Seattle, which plays even worse than its 7-9 record. New Orleans’ pass rush frustrates whoever plays under center for the Seahawks, leading to frequent chances for Brees and Co. Saints, 35-14
Aaron Rodgers produces 300 yards through the air, but the Packers defense keys the victory with a workmanlike performance in which the unit holds Vick below 200 total yards. Packers, 24-16
The Ravens pull perhaps the biggest surprise of Wild Card weekend, stifling the Chiefs running attack en route to a blowout win on the road. Joe Flacco, who is yet to play at home in the postseason, throws for three touchdowns to improve his playoff mark to 4-2. Ravens, 26-6