I'll be honest, right up front—I've never been one to put too much emphasis on the imminent results of the first round of the annual NFL "Rite Of Passage," also known as the National Football League's "Wild Card" Playoff round.
It's the round of games that excludes "the four best teams in the NFL," the quartet of franchises that have earned that oh-so-valuable first-round bye, as a result of their superior regular-season records.
"Surely," you ask, "won't two of these four teams end up facing each other in Super Bowl XIXXVCMXX (or XLIII, one of those) ??"
Uhh, not necessarily, and don't call me Shirley.
Year in and year out, teams receiving the first-round byes in the NFL were without QUESTION the odds-on faves going in, head-and-shoulders above the rest of the playoff teams, the franchises that have very few weaknesses, and usually ended up tearing their first-round NFL "Wild-Card" game-winning opponents to shreds when they finally got the chance to take the field come January.
Friends, I'm here to tell ya, don't be surprised if NONE of the four teams receiving first-round passes make it to Super Bowl, ESPECIALLY in the AFC.
Let's take a lil' peek at the two "bye" teams from the AFC and do a little "Miss Cleo" tea-leaf reading to see if this reporter's hoky headline just MIGHT come true...Oh, and, for the record, the following possible playoff scenarios don't include the Miami Dolphins, because, quite honestly, I don't see Sparano's team surviving a matchup with the Baltimore Ravens.
It's the only NFL game I'm playing this weekend. I got the Ravens -2 against the 'Phins and consider the game a mortal, bona-fide 10-star LOCK. Nice season, Chad. Cute "Wildcat" formation. Ten-win improvement from '07 to '08. That's quite an accomplishment, something to hang your hat on. However...I'ts BALTIMORE. See ya in '09...
AFC -- Tennessee Titans, 13-3
A perfect example. Now, I have to admit, I LOOOVE teams that grind the ball, run it right at you, control the clock, play hard-hitting defense. The Titans are all that AND a bag of chips—SUFFOCATING defense, with Albert Haynesworth, Keith Bulluck, Kyle Van Den Bosch, Cortland Finnegan, blah-blah-blah.
They only gave up 234 points all YEAR. Hell, the Denver BRONCOS' defense can give that up in two weeks. Pretty nice defense. Nasty crowd in Tennessee, too. Good home-field advantage.
Here's my problem with Tennessee. While I like LenDale White, he looks to almost be out of gas, to me. Chris Johnson, rookie RB extraordinaire, was MONEY in the first three-fourths of the season, but he IS a first-year player and that proverbial "wall" awaits HIM.
The SAME Kerry Collins that the Baltimore Ravens totally annihilated a few years back, in the Super Bowl? Puh-LEEEASE. This entire offense is just BEGGING to be totally shut down, and the Titans suddenly look to me to be a team that's HIGHLY beatable, if and when the right team goes up against them.
Whether it's Baltimore (who'd likely shut out the Titans, IMHO), San Diego (a team that's had a lot of success against Tennessee recently, even in their own stadium), or Indianapolis (Peyton Manning, and his MVP-like season, the type of offense that gives the Titans fits), quite frankly, I wouldn't be surprised in ANY of these three gave the titans a second-round ticket out of the playoffs.
AFC -- Pittsburgh Steelers, 12-4
Two words here—Byron Leftwich. Yeah, I know, Mike Tomlin got Oscar Goldman on the phone and asked him if he could possibly be available to re-assemble the Steelers' "Six Million Dollar Man," Ben Roethlisberger.
Call me a dope, but when I watch the paramedics strap a guy down to a gurney, that's not the guy I'm usually expecting to go out and play football, let ALONE NFL football, some 14 days later. And, I'm not a Leftwich-hater. He looks to be healthy for the first time in years. But...BUT...He ain't no "Big Ben."
OK, OK, you terrible-towel-wavers, I hear you, "what about our defense?" Hey, ya got me there. LIGHTS-OUT defense. MUCH better than Tenessee's, IMHO. LOVE Polamalu, Harrison, the cast of thousands. These guys come AFTER you.
What lingers in my mind was that game a month or so ago, when the San Diego Chargers, a struggling team at the time, to say the least—the San Diego CHARGERS, of all teams, went INTO Heinz and gave the "STELLARS" all they could handle before ultimately imploding and handing the game to Pittsburgh on a silver platter, with the first 11-10 result in NFL history.
Quite frankly, I'll take either the Colts OR the Chargers, the possible second-round opponents for the Steelers, in a January game without Roethlisberger. Just being honest. Not a Steeler hater, and I DO love that suffocating defense. Sorry, your offense REEKS, and Leftwich ain't Frank Reich.
OK, there you have it. Blast away. But be CAREFUL, Dolphin fans—This acerbic reporter might fire back, come Jan. 5....Good luck to all of the 12 remaining NFL playoff teams, and we'll be back later, this time with a cautious eye on the NFC "bye" teams. YOU GUYS ain't out of the woods, either...