NFL Playoffs 2011: The Definitive Preview To Wild Card Weekend
NFL Playoffs 2011 is here, and the predictions, and speculations (and betting) have begun with the Wild Card Weekend looming large.
The Saints find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Last season, they locked up home field advantage while owning the NFC's best record. This season, they will be participating in the first round of the playoffs, locking up a Wild Card seed while the Atlanta Falcons had a regular season to remember.
The Eagles are back in the playoffs, but with a different look. Michael Vick is fighting health concerns, and doubters, as he leads Philadelphia and DeSean Jackson into the playoffs against the Green Bay Packers.
Peyton Manning is back in the playoffs, but just a year after his Colts finished 14-2, this year they sneaked in at 10-6, just ahead of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Skeptics are ready to declare the dynasty over, so Manning will have something to prove against the Jets on Saturday.
Could this finally be the year of the J-E-T-S? Perhaps only if Sanchez's shoulder is ready to go.
All this and more in The Definitive Preview To Wild Card Weekend
Peyton Manning faces a new look to the Jets and the playoffs this post-season. While the Colts are normally the team to beat, they suddenly find themselves in the Wild Card brackets as the No. 3 seed in the AFC.
Last season, the Colts were 14-2 and held Home Field Advantage in the playoffs. They reached the Super Bowl, but fell to the Saints. There was little to no talk about the possibility of Manning being past his prime. However, what a difference a year makes.
Now, consistent blurbs on the web are discussing the idea of the Colts' dynasty coming to a close, and passes from Manning that seem to float towards targets are under constant scrutiny.
When asked about this year's playoffs and the difference in team record from last season, Manning doesn't seem dismayed. According to the Kansas City Star, Manning is ready:
"Hopefully, we can build off some of the momentum we established," said Manning. We feel fortunate to be playing this week. We don't take it for granted to be in the playoffs."
The Colts will be riding a four-game winning streak into the playoffs, which may be just what they need to surprise everyone this post-season.
Pete Carroll is staying relatively quiet in naming who will start at quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks against the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card round of the playoffs this weekend.
Regular starter Matt Hasselbeck was not listed on Wednesday's injury report, but sat out the regular season finale against the St. Louis Rams, when the playoffs were on the line. He has been hampered by a hip injury that has knocked him out of significant games down the stretch.
Charlie Whitehurst was called in as Hasselbeck's replacement, and performed well enough to get the victory for his team, and a playoff berth. The surprising performance fuels media speculations, but Carroll sees a strategic advantage to keeping his mouth shut on the situation.
Carroll told the Seattle Times, "At this point there's no point to say anything more about it from my perspective," Carroll said, "You may not think so, but we're going to keep going, and I'm pleased that we're in the position we're in there."
Aaron Rodgers isn't intimidated by all the hype surrounding the Eagles and the Packers diminishing chances of making it through the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
Recent reports say Rodgers is ready to go, despite missing significant time with concussions. Rodgers has also never won a playoff game as a starting QB, missing out in his only opportunity. While all the hype is on his playoff inexperience, the real concern will be the time he missed with two concussions this season.
The Packers dominated the New York Giants in Week 16, putting up 45 points in a game they really needed. They followed that performance with stellar defense against the Chicago Bears, allowing just a field goal in a game they had to win to make the playoffs.
If Rodgers plays like he has been at the end of the regular season, Vick may have some competition. Rodgers knows the importance of picking up victories, and told reporters in Green Bay he is ready.
"I think it's important. I think the greatest quarterbacks are remembered for winning big games, but it's not all about the quarterback. Great teams win games, and then the quarterbacks on those great teams are often remembered as being great quarterbacks. We want to win. Every time we take the field we want to win. It's important to win. That's why we play the game. And eventually, if you want to be remembered as a great player, you've got to win in the playoffs."
Michael Vick is ready to lead the Eagles by the Packers, and beating the Packers may hold the key to further burying his dreadful personal decisions that are still haunting his past, and present.
When the Eagles face Green Bay on Sunday, there will be much more at stake for Vick than just moving on in the playoffs. Health concerns are swirling around him, and he is getting banged up and sacked often in recent weeks.
Vick plays the game with a fast-paced, physical style. What makes so many of these run-and-gun QBs successful is the ability to bounce back from small injuries. Vick is listed as probable, and there's little doubt he will play. However, he is the key to the offense, and Kevin Kolb was largely ineffective in his absence, leading to Vick having to come in late in the game.
NBC Sports adds that Vick will likely play the duration of the contest, and head coach Andy Reid has confidence in his QB:
"Coach Andy Reid indicated Wednesday that Michael Vick (quad) will not be limited in practices this week.
Reid neglected to put a percentage on Vick's health, but it certainly sounds like the thigh will not be a problem. 'I think he'll be fine,' said Reid. 'He'll play.' Vick later added that he will be 100 percent by Sunday. We're not buying speculation that Vick could be on a short leash if he doesn't pick up the Packers' blitzes. Barring injury, he'll play the entire game."
Rex Ryan isn't concerned about foot fetish questions heading into the playoffs. The Jets head coach has told the press and various media outlets several times that it is a "personal matter," refusing to discuss the goofy allegations that he and his wife have a foot fetish.
With all the sensational story lines leading into the 2011 NFL Playoffs, the video that went viral of Ryan's wife with her feet out the window has been placed on the back burner, right where Ryan wants it.
The Jets are entering the Wild Card round of the playoffs for the second consecutive season, and have the Colts standing directly in their way. The Colts look much different than they did last season, when they finished 14-2 and held the best record in the NFL.
However, this season's match-up between the Jets and Colts could be a down-to-the-wire affair. Manning will be attempting to stave off doubters that say his arm is fading, but will have to do it against one of the best defenses in the league.
When all is said and done, the Foot Fetish may have it's day in the summer sun, but will not likely be a major story in the post-season. There has been no recent comments from Ryan on the matter, which may be a signal the Foot Fetish is long gone.
Mark Sanchez has been hampered in recent weeks by a sore shoulder, and the Colts will be coming into this contest with something to prove.
The Jets QB didn't attempt a pass in the season finale against the Bills, handing the ball off nine times before exiting the game. The previous week, New York lost to the Chicago Bears in a high-scoring affair. It is difficult to gauge where Sanchez and the Jets offense stands. The Bills are not a solid meter to measure the Jets, Buffalo had a disappointing season and weren't giving full effort.
The week before, the Jets surrendered 38 points to the Bears while ranking in the top 10 in the league in both rushing and passing defense.
Much is up in the air for this match-up, but expect Sanchez to play. He is listed as probable for this weekend, but beating Peyton Manning and the Colts is not easy task.
Jets head coach Rex Ryan isn't worried, telling ESPN, "We are ready to go do what we set out to do," coach Rex Ryan said. "If somebody is going to beat us, then they must be really good."