NFL Playoff Predictions: Picks for the Entire Wildcard Weekend
How I did last week: 11-5
Not bad in a week that was meaningless for many teams.
Record on the season: 135-96
Compared to a 83-52 regular season record in 2009 (or a 61 percent success rate), I actually did worse in 2010 with a success rate of around 58 percent. So now the goal is to improve on my 2009 postseason record of 4-7.
Saints at Seahawks
Saints at Seahawks: If last week's game between the Seahawks and the Rams (essentially the first game of the 'Hawks playoff run) proved anything, it's the significant effect that the Qwest Field crowd can have on a game. The stadium was truly rocking on Seattle's first drive – which ended in a touchdown and turned out to be all the points the Seahawks would need to own a low-scoring game – and it will be again come kickoff time.
But homefield advantage is just about the only factor going in Seattle's favor in this matchup. Despite their solid showing against St. Louis, this is still a 7-9 team (which has lost seven of its last 10 games) that limped into the playoffs through the paper thin NFC West .
Meanwhile the Saints are the defending Superbowl champs whose 11-5 record would have been sufficient to win the NFC South on another year. They also beat Seattle convincingly in Week 11, albeit in New Orleans. Drew Brees threw for 382 yards and four touchdowns in that game and I expect Sean Payton to try and attack the 'Hawks through the air again. And that's why New Orleans being down their two main running backs (Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory) shouldn't hurt them too much.
Jets at Colts
Jets at Colts: Neither of these teams is as good as they were when they last met in the AFC championship game last January. Peyton Manning's receiving corps has been depleted by injuries this year while the Colts defense has fallen into the league's bottom half. The Jets defense hasn't been as stingy as advertised either, while Mark Sanchez and the rest of New York's offense appeared to have taken an even bigger step backward at times in 2010.
The Jets should be able to get the run going against Indy with Ladanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene but they will have to throw it plenty too as the Colts run defense is often a little firmer in big games. And though Mark Sanchez had one of the best games of his career against the Colts last time out, it would be quite a personal turnaround for him to do it again on Saturday, given that he hasn't had a passer rating over 100 in his last five games.
It's also difficult to bet against Peyton Manning in a playoff game (particularly as he's effectively 4-0 in playoff games this year) even without some of his favorite targets around him. He'll like his chances to pick on Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie and every other part of the New York secondary that isn't called Darrelle Revis.
Ravens at Chiefs
Ravens at Chiefs: Another game where homefield advantage should play a significant role, as the Chiefs went 7-1 at Arrowhead this season, with their only loss coming at the hands of the Raiders, on the last game of the regular season once Kansas City had already clinched the division.
The biggest question surrounding the Chiefs, however, is the strength of their 2010 schedule. They've played only two teams with winning records, the Colts and the Chargers (twice), and they went 1-2 in those games. Kansas City definitely has its strengths, including a good running game, an improved passing game, and a defense that can be tough at times. But they are relatively untested against a team of Baltimore's quality.
The Ravens are a top-five run defense, and although they have been more vulnerable against the pass this year, if they focus on double teaming Chiefs deep-threat Dwayne Bowe on every play, they will like their chances of slowing down Matt Cassel and Kansas City's passing game.
One possible wildcard in this game is the matchup of the Ravens two offensive tackles, Michael Oher and Marshal Yanda, against the Chiefs talented pass-rushers, Tamba Hali and Wallace Gilberry. Hali and Gilberry have combined for 21 ½ sacks this year, while the Ravens O-line has allowed 40 sacks.
But if Joe Flacco can keep his cool in the face of the crowd noise and the Chiefs pass-rush and get some early points on the board, this could turn into a long game for Kansas City.
Packers at Eagles
Packers at Eagles: Funnily enough, had the Packers not knocked Kevin Kolb out of the first game of the season with a concussion, who knows if the remarkable redemption story of Michael Vick would have ever happened. But they did, and it did, and now Green Bay has to figure out how to stop Vick and the high octane Eagles offense in an elimination game.
In many ways, the Packers should be favored here. They beat Philly fairly convincingly in week 1, have a strong pass defense that can slow the Eagles explosive receivers down, and two young stars on their defensive line, Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji, that can get to Vick. On the other side of the ball, Aaron Rodgers has the ability to shred Philly's secondary, which is prone to mental lapses and poor tackling.
However, a couple elements swing in the Eagles favor. Andy Reid is quite possibly the best coach in the NFL (Don't believe me, look at what he has done with a very young and new team in what could have easily been a 8-8 or 7-9 transition year) and he has never lost at home in the wildcard round (4-0 record). He'll have thought of every possible edge for his team to beat Green Bay. Secondly, there's just something about this Eagles team. Whether it's the demolition of the Redskins on Monday Night Football, or the comeback of the year against the Giants at the Meadowlands, there's a moxie and self-belief in this team that could shine through the playoff games.
Finally, I think the X-Factor in this game could well be Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who has played better and better as the season progressed, as the Packers aren't particularly strong against the run (18th in the league).