AFC Wild Card Predictions: My Crystal Ball Says Road Teams Have Advantage

Paul Augustin, Jr.Senior Analyst IDecember 30, 2008

It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's time for NFL playoff football. Enjoy it while you can, because it'll be gone before you know it.

It's also time to take a look at the AFC playoffs and analyze each game. There are plenty of storylines to look at when we talk about the AFC. The Colts have won nine games in a row after they looked dead in the water at 3-4.

Baltimore and Miami, two teams that face each other, each have rookie head coaches and are coming off of dismal seasons. The Dolphins won one game in all of 2007. That game was against the Ravens.

One of these teams is guaranteed at least one playoff win in 2008. Amazing.

San Diego finished a remarkable end to the season to capture the AFC West. Of course, it helped that Denver couldn't win a game in the final three weeks of the season.

Let's get to the games.

No. 6 Baltimore Ravens @ No. 3 Miami Dolphins 

Baltimore comes into this game smokn' hot. They have won nine of their last 11 games. 

The Ravens are a model of efficiency. They have a plus-13 turnover margin. They run the ball more than they throw it.

By running the ball often and effectively, they control the clock. The Ravens possess the ball six more minutes per game than their opponents. 

There isn't a star in the Ravens' backfield. Instead, they use a trio of running backs to get the job done. Willis McGahee, Le'Ron McClain, and Ray Rice have combined for over 2,000 yards.

The Ravens' defense is as strong as it has been in a while.

Everyone knows about Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. If you are not a Ravens' fan or an opposing player, you may not know about Haloti Ngata.

Ngata is a defensive lineman in a 3-4 scheme. He constantly faces double teams. Yet he has 55 tackles on the season. That tells me that he gets constant penetration into opposing backfields and is freeing up the linebackers to make plays.

The Dolphins have an even better turnover ratio at plus-17.

The Dolphins enter the wild-card game just as hot as the Ravens having won nine of their past 10 games.

Chad Pennington finished the regular season with a redeeming win over the New York Jets.

Miami introduced the wildcat formation to the NFL in game three against the Patriots and they've been running it with success since then. Ronnie Brown has used that formation to help him record 10 touchdowns.

Though not the feature back, Ricky Williams has resurrected his career. He has combined for nearly 900 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns. 

Ted Ginn, Jr. has gotten a lot of attention this season, but tight end Anthony Fasano leads all Dolphins with seven receiving touchdowns.

Defensively, Yeremiah Bell and Channing Crowder each have over 100 tackles.  Joey Porter's overall tackle numbers are down, but he has registered 17.5 sacks.

Crystal Ball Says... Ravens 16-9 

I like the Ravens in this one because their defense is better than Miami's and neither team has a spectacular offense.  I see this as a grind-it-out type of game. 

I think that the Ravens' defense can handle the wildcat and any wrinkles that may come their way. 

No. 5 Indianapolis Colts @ No. 4 San Diego Chargers

I don't know if there has ever been a playoff game where the road team had four more victories than the home team. 

If there wasn't one before, there is one now.

The Colts are the hottest team in the NFL. It has been all Peyton Manning.

Despite a slow start to the season, Manning broke the 4,000-yard mark for the ninth time in his career.

The running game has been lackluster this season. Due to injury, Joseph Addai has averaged only three-and-a-half yards per carry. 

The Colts are second to last in the NFL running the ball. They average less than 80 yards per game.

While the run defense has received a lot of criticism, the overall defense is solid. 

They are seventh in the league in points allowed and sixth in the league in passing yards allowed.

Bob Sanders will likely return the lineup. He should have a big impact on the Colts' defense.

San Diego is another team that was left for dead in the water.  They managed to rally to win their last four games and sneak into the playoffs.

Philip Rivers finished the regular season as the most efficient quarterback in the NFL with a rating of 105.5. He tied Drew Brees for the lead in touchdowns (34) and only threw 11 interceptions.

LaDainian Tomlinson has been bothered by nagging injuries all season and averaged less than four yards per carry, but still managed 12 total touchdowns.

Darren Sproles scored five of his last six touchdowns during the Chargers' four-game winning streak. Despite his size, he runs tough inside and averages 5.4 yards per carry.

San Diego's defense seemed to never recover from the absence of Shawn Merriman.  The team has the lowest total of sacks (28) among playoff teams and saw its interception total cut in half from last year.

Crystal ball says... Colts, 31-21

The Colts will avenge last year's playoff loss to the Chargers. 

I like Manning's chances against a defense that isn't putting much pressure on the quarterback and a defense that isn't forcing nearly as many turnovers as it did last year.