NFL Playoffs: How Wild Card Weekend Will Play Out
I can't remember a time when all four wild card teams looked as dangerous as the four non-division winners do this postseason. Would it really surprise you if the home teams were swept this weekend?
Is it inconceivable that the Saints could have Qwest Field absolutely silent halfway through the second quarter? Would it shock you if the Jets beat up on Peyton Manning and his inexperienced receivers? Would you take a second look if you saw the Ravens pummeling the Chiefs? Are you expecting Michael Vick and Co. to destroy the Pack?
Are you absolutely positive that any of this weekend's home teams will be playing past this weekend?
That's the beauty of the playoffs.
(5) New Orleans Saints at (4) Seattle Seahawks
This is one of those games where you have to literally talk yourself out of picking one team because of how big of a favorite that team is.
However in many ways, the Saints have a lot working against them.
The team found out this week that it will be without two of its top running backs, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory. That leaves the Saints with Reggie Bush and Julius Jones. That wouldn't be that bad if this game were played four years ago.
Then there's the travel. The Saints destroyed the Seahawks and had four more regular season wins and its reward is having to travel out West on a short week and play in one of the loudest stadiums in the league.
See what I mean? I'm resorting to traveling and stadium noise as one of the few ways that the Seahawks have any chance to win.
Here's what it comes down to: Seattle is not a good football team. The team got in by winning an atrocious division and unless it has five or six drives like the opening drive against the Rams last week, this will be over quickly.
New Orleans' injuries won't hurt it until the divisional round when the team will actually have to run the ball for something other than killing the clock in the second half.
New Orleans wins, 33-13
(6) New York Jets at (3) Indianapolis Colts
Don't expect this game to go anything like last year's AFC Championship Game.
Last year, the Jets wanted Mark Sanchez to hand the ball off and not turn the ball over.
Now, the Jets have Santonio Holmes and LaDainian Tomlinson to team with deep threat Braylon Edwards and Shonn Greene, giving Sanchez more weapons and more opportunity to win the game.
Conventional wisdom says the Jets will probably try to run the ball up and down the field, but Indy has been very good against the run recently, so the game will fall on Sanchez and his sore shoulder.
Sanchez's shoulder may be a factor, but don't expect too much to come of his injury unless Indy's fabulous defensive ends get to him consistently.
On the Colts' side, it's all about Peyton Manning. As he goes, this team goes. That's been true for the majority of Manning's career, but especially so now with the rash of injuries that has hit the Colts this season.
That being said, Manning can beat the Jets by himself. The Jets defense is not playing on the same level it played on last season. Its best player, Darrelle Revis, clearly hasn't been right all season. Teams are still avoiding him, though, so expect Jacob Tamme or whoever Antonio Cromartie is covering to have a huge game.
I don't love the Colts this postseason, but when the game comes down to Manning vs. Sanchez, the choice is very simple.
Indianapolis wins, 26-20
(5) Baltimore at (4) Kansas City
If any of the other five AFC playoff teams had Kansas City's schedule, they'd have have one or two losses. The Chiefs ended up with six losses.
I'm not discounting the improvement and success the Chiefs have experienced this season. Matt Cassel had a better season than I ever thought he could and the running game has been dominant.
Unfortunately, none of that will matter on Sunday.
The Chiefs had a major flaw exposed against the Raiders last week that must have the Ravens smelling blood: the Chiefs could not protect Cassel.
It may have been a fluke, but if Kansas City's offensive line struggles at all, the Chiefs will be in a lot of trouble.
If the Chiefs are going to get the victory, they have to work play-action very often. It'll give Cassel a better chance of getting over the top of the defense and not having to worry as much about Ed Reed. If the Chiefs are lucky, the play-action will give Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones some daylight.
On offense, the Ravens need to use the formula that has been the most successful for them these past couple of years: ride Ray Rice until the wheels come off.
It's a bit baffling that the Ravens don't boast a more explosive offense with all the weapons the team brought in, but Rice can still put the offense on his back and carry it to the finish line. He will be the biggest reason why the Ravens will get a rematch with the Patriots in the next round.
Baltimore wins, 20-14
(6) Green Bay at (3) Philadelphia
Game of the week. Two of the most explosive offenses still playing that might also have the most boom or bust potential in the tournament.
The Packers have had to deal with a ridiculous amount of injuries all season, but for whatever reason, it doesn't always bring its A-game.
In last week's must-win against the Bears, Green Bay only mustered 10 points. Yes, the Bears played its starters, but that game should not have been that close.
The same goes for the Eagles. In Week 16's game against the down-on-their-luck Vikings, Philly looked flat and a bit unmotivated.
Then there's Michael Vick, the most interesting man in the playoffs. He's been picking himself up off the ground a lot lately, which will continue against Green Bay, but not to a level that's detrimental to the Eagles chances of winning.
Philly has basically had two weeks off since it played a meaningful game—two weeks to learn how to block against the cornerback blitz that Green Bay will undoubtedly throw at Vick. A lot of quick, short routes by Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson or draws from LeSean McCoy early in the game should keep Green Bay from gambling too much with that later on. Vick should be able to take over from there.
Green Bay is going to score its points. Aaron Rodgers is too good to allow his team to fall behind by too much against an offense as explosive as Philly's. The key for Philly will be getting fourth quarter stops. If Philly's defense can come up with one critical stop late in the game and allow a rested and healthier No. 7 to make a few plays in the fourth, the Eagles will come out on top. If not, the Packers will move on.
Either way, the winner of this game will have the most momentum in the NFC and will ride it all the way to the Super Bowl.
Philadelphia wins, 30-28
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