NFL Wildcard Predictions: Can the Home Teams Survive?
This week's playoff games should be fun. The matchups for the weekend are: Saints@Seahawks, Jets@Colts, Ravens@Chiefs and Packers@Eagles.
The playoffs are always unpredictable, but it looks like the road teams have an advantage here, since most of them are coming in with more momentum.
Some of the stars of the weekend include: Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick, Jamaal Charles, Santonio Holmes, Ray Rice, Clay Matthews, DeSean Jackson and more. These players will be vital to their teams' chances of moving on this weekend.
Here are my predictions for the first round of the playoffs:
Saints vs. Seahawks
This is the most one-sided matchup of the weekend. The Saints come in with a record of 11-5, and the Seahawks limp in with a 7-9 record.
The Saints have a clear advantage on both sides of the ball, even though the Saints are hurting with injuries. They have lost running backs Chris Ivory and last year's playoff hero, Pierre Thomas, to injury reserve.
Furthermore, Marques Colston is coming off knee surgery and tight end Jimmy Graham hasn't practiced all week due to a left ankle injury.
Even though the Saints are banged up, they should win this game decisively. Drew Brees will carry this offense with his arm and use his other weapons such as Reggie Bush, Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson.
Defensively, they should pressure whoever is at quarterback for the Seahawks (Charlie Whitehurst or Matt Hasselbeck) and stop running-back Marshawn Lynch. They will force turnovers, even though they only have nine interceptions and 17 forced fumbles.
The Seahawks can't do much offensively if they don't even know who's going to be starting on Saturday.
The Saints might stack the line to stop Lynch and force the Seahawks to pass. The only x-factors for the Seahawks will be "Big" Mike Williams and back-up running-back Justin Forsett. Forsett is solid in the passing game and could be a factor. Williams has been their leading receiver all season.
Prediction: Saints 35, Seahawks 17
Jets vs. Colts
This rivalry has become "personal" according to Jets head coach Rex Ryan. The Colts beat the Jets in last year's AFC Championship game, and the Jets are looking for revenge.
This is the Jets best shot at redemption, since the Colts have had too many injuries. They have seen Dallas Clark, Austin Collie, Bob Sanders, Anthony Gonzalez and others go down with significant injuries that have ended their seasons.
The Jets have to capitalize here and run the ball down their throats.
The Colts have had their problems stopping the run all year, but lately they have held opponents to an average of 79.8 rushing yards per game in their last four games. If the Jets are going to win, they have to also have balance and use the play-action that has worked all season.
The Jets have advantages at the wide-receiver position and at running-back. With the one-two punch of Shonn Greene and LaDanian Tomlinson, the Jets will be able to run the ball.
They need Mark Sanchez at his best and not to turn the ball over. (He has six turnovers in the last five games.) They will need Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller to have big games for them to advance.
The Colts must be able to run the ball to have a chance in this game. When the Colts haven't been able to run the ball, Manning has turned the ball over more and more. He has 17 interceptions, but has 33 touchdowns.
Manning has torched Rex Ryan defenses in the past and is 5-1 against him, with the only loss coming in Week 16 last year, when the Colts pulled their starters. Look for Manning to avoid Darrelle Revis, who will probably be shadowing Reggie Wayne.
Manning should have another solid game against Ryan. He will look to tight end Jacob Tamme and slot wide-receiver Blair White, if Wayne and Pierre Garcon are covered well.
The Jets defense isn't even close to as good as last year, even though they do rank third overall in total defense. They don't rush the passer well this year and haven't forced a lot of turnovers.
Prediction: Colts 21, Jets 17
Ravens vs. Chiefs
This is another intriguing matchup. The Ravens were Super Bowl favorites before the season, but are a number five seed that have to be road warriors in order to reach that goal.
The Chiefs were supposed to struggle this year, but won the AFC West Division and now have a home playoff game. The Ravens defense isn't as ferocious as usual, with the 10th ranked defense and not a lot of turnovers or sacks.
They will have a tall task at their hands against the Chiefs powerful running attack of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones. They must stop the run and focus on getting to quarterback Matt Cassel, who had a Pro- Bowl type season, but struggled mightily against the Raiders last week.
Cassel will have his hands full with players like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs gunning for him. Look for the Chiefs to mix things up in order to keep the Ravens defense honest. Dwayne Bowe must have a huge game.
The Ravens must put up better offensive numbers than they have done lately. They must put the focus back on star running-back Ray Rice. Rice must be the focal point of the offense since Joe Flacco and the passing game have struggled to be consistent all year.
Rice had a huge game against the Patriots last year and must step up once again for the Ravens to win. They must also use the play-action attack to keep Rice fresh and keep the offense balanced.
Prediction: Ravens 24, Chiefs 13
Packers vs. Eagles
The Packers are coming in on a two-game winning streak with a lot of momentum. Meanwhile, the Eagles are coming in on a two-game losing streak and an embarrassing loss to the Vikings two weeks ago.
After dazzling in the first half of the season, Michael Vick proved to be human with seven turnovers in his last five games.
If the Packers can keep the pressure on Vick all game and not give him any running room, the Packers have a huge advantage defensively.
The bigger factor for the Eagles will be running-back LeSean McCoy, who has had an explosive season. If he can get going early, it will open things up for the rest of the offense.
The Packers must focus on stopping Vick and McCoy first, before worrying about explosive receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
The Eagles must protect Vick to have any chance of beating the Packers.
The Packers also have an explosive offense, led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers also must be protected to have time to get the ball down field. The Packers simply can't run the ball since they lost Ryan Grant in week one.
I would be surprised if they attempted to run early on the Eagles. They will try to control the clock and move the chains with short passes. You know they will try to take some shots down field to Pro-Bowler Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Donald Driver.
Who has the edge in this matchup? The Packers do, because of their defense.
They have the fifth ranked defense in the NFL, and the second ranked in points allowed per game. They will need play makers Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, BJ Raji and Tramon Williams to have big games. They also get some help this week with the return of defensive-end Cullen Jenkins.
The Eagles defense is ranked 12th and has struggled lately. They need Asante Samuel to be healthy, but they aren't the same defense without middle-linebacker Stewart Bradley. Bradley is a play maker who can rush the passer and stop the run, but will be missed this weekend.
Prediction: Packers 27, Eagles 21