This weekend ranks right up there with March Madness, the NBA Finals and the MLB trading deadline in terms of anticipation and excitement. That's right, it's the beginning of the NFL playoffs!
Eight teams will play this weekend in four exhilarating match—ups (well, at least three). But who will make it to the divisional round?
Here's a preview of the four games this weekend and my pick for will win.
It's almost fitting that this is the first game of the wild card round. It gives football fans an extra three hours to sober up/pregame for a playoff game that is actually worth watching.
The 11—5 Saints just missed out on a first-round bye, but getting to play the 7—9 Seattle Seahawks in a playoff game is pretty much the same thing.
These two teams met a few weeks ago and the Saints pounded the Seahawks into submission, 34—19. Brees carved up a Seattle pass defense that ranked 27th in the NFL to the tune of 382 passing yards and four touchdowns. He did all this without running backs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas, or tight end Jeremy Shockey, two of whom are expected back for this rematch.
Seattle only managed 38 yards rushing in this game against a Saints rush defense that ranks just 16th in the NFL, which isn't good news for a Seahawks team that can't really throw the ball either.
The Saints have way too many offensive weapons, and the Seahawks don't have nearly enough good defenders to stop them. Seattle has given up 260 points in their last seven losses, and they'll have trouble keeping New Orleans under 40 points in this one.
Why did the NFL let a team with a losing record into the playoffs?
The 10—6 Colts are playing their best football of the year and carry a four-game winning streak into the playoffs. The 11—5 Jets, meanwhile, are coming of a meaningless 38—7 win over the Buffalo Bills and have lost three of their last five after starting the season 9—2.
Still, this is the best match—up in the first round and should be close.
The Colts have linebacker Gary Brackett and running back Joseph Addai back and that's terrific news for a team that struggled with the run on both sides of the ball. The Jets have been pretty healthy all season but have had to deal with distractions regarding Braylon Edwards' DUI and now coach Rex Ryan's foot fetish.
Indianapolis blasted New York in the AFC Championship game, 30—17, last season and they're again favored in this one by three points.
As long as Peyton Manning plays like Peyton Manning, this game should go to the Colts. Mark Sanchez was impressive as a rookie in the playoffs last season, but he still can't hold a light to the elder Manning. Having Addai back should be a big boost for Indy's rushing attack and help Manning execute a more well balanced offense.
The 10—6 Chiefs may have won the AFC West, but they did so with the benefit of the NFL's easiest schedule. Still, they have some good weapons with the Matt Cassell—Dwayne Bowe connection offense and the NFL's No. 1 rushing attacking with Jamaal Charles.
The 12—4 Ravens aren't too shabby either. They've won four straight and have wins over New Orleans, Pittsburgh and the Jets on their resume. Their offense is the best it's been in years behind Joe Flacco and Ray Rice, and the defense is still good as long as Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata are playing.
Both of these teams can rush the ball, but if the Ravens just double Bowe then Cassell won't have a reliable target to throw it to. The Chiefs defense is also suspect and is unable to produce a consistent pass rush.
The Chiefs are a strong team but they haven't beaten a good team since they pounded the Jacksonville Jaguars, 42—20, way back in Week 7.
Very few players on the roster have any playoff experience and, even with a coaching staff that was plucked from the Patriot's Super Bowl teams, the Chiefs will struggle to stop Baltimore.
The Ravens are playoff—tested and will not have a problem playing in Arrowhead Stadium.
The 10—6 Eagles backed into a playoff spot by losing their last two games of the regular season and watching the New York Giants completely collapse, while the 10—6 Packers had to fight for their lives and held on to a wild card berth by beating the Giants and Bears. So these are two teams that seem to be heading in very different directions.
This game will feature two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL with Michael Vick and Aaron Rodgers. The Eagles have relied heavily on Vick all season, but the defense doesn't have that luxury. Philadelphia hasn't held an opposing team to under two touchdowns since only giving up three points in Week 3 to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The defense has given up 137 points in a string of five recent games, losing two of them.
Those sort of high-scoring games are fine in the regular season against inferior opponents. But they won't work against the Packers. Green Bay boasts one of the best defenses in the NFL and has held opponents to under 10 points six times this season.
These two teams met in the first week of the season (back when Kevin Kolb was still the Philadelphia quarterback), and the Packers came away with a 27—20 win. But after Vick came in for Kolb in the second half, the Eagles outscored the Packers 17—14. What would have happened if Vick played the entire game?
Defense wins championships and the best defensive team in this game is the Packers, led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Clay Matthews. Even with Vick in uniform, the Eagles will struggle to put up points against a Packers defense that is battle-tested and is coming off a huge 10-3 victory over the Bears.
Green Bay was a popular Super Bowl pick in the preseason. Now they're finally playing like the team that first generated so much hype.