Las Vegas has put out their point spreads for the NFL wild-card playoffs this weekend and something very strange has happened that nobody has seen in a long time, if ever. There are four road favorites for the first round. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it.
It was a strange year in the NFL where familiar playoff teams like the Cowboys, Patriots, and Packers failed to make the playoffs after incredible years last year. You have teams making it for the first time in a long time in the Falcons, Cardinals, and Dolphins. This weekend should be very interesting with all matchups expected to be close.
Teams like the Cowboys, Jets, Packers, Broncos, and Buccaneers will be wondering what went wrong in their disappointing seasons this year. With already a few coaches canned like Eric Mangini and Mike Shanahan, and possibly Wade Phillips, after the disastrous finish to the season, this season was highly unpredictable.
The Brett Favre experiment failed for the Jets after missing out on the postseason for the second-straight year and a divided locker-room that has some players, like Thomas Jones, questioning whether Favre should come back next season.
Before we get to the interesting offseason, we have some great games this weekend. If you're still in a fantasy playoff league, then here are my rankings for the entire playoffs. I have most of the Vikings low, because I think they'll struggle big time against the Eagles. I like the Colts to advance to the Super Bowl, and the Panthers to advance for the NFC.
I like all the road teams for round one. Round two I like the Colts over the Steelers, and the Ravens over the Titans. I like the Panthers over the Falcons and the Giants over the Eagles.
Round three I like the Colts over the Ravens and the Panthers over the Giants. I feel that the Panthers will look to exact revenge after a lucky win for the Giants two weeks ago and the presence of Steve Smith is a huge advantage.
The Colts are the most-experienced team, with the best quarterback, a great coach, solid receiving core, and a much-improved defense. Here are the rankings:
1. Peyton Manning
2. Donovan McNabb
3. Kurt Warner
4. Jake Delhomme
5. Eli Manning
6. Philip Rivers
7. Matt Ryan
8. Ben Roethlisberger
9. Kerry Collins
10. Joe Flacco
11. Chad Pennington
12. Tavaris Jackson
1. DeAngelo Williams
2. Michael Turner
3. Brian Westbrook
4. Brandon Jacobs
5. Joseph Addai
6. Chris Johnson
7. Adrian Peterson
8. LaRon McClain
10. Willie Parker
11. Derrick Ward
12. LenDale White
13. Ronnie Brown
14. Jonathan Stewart
15. Edgerrin James
16. Darren Sproles
17. Dominic Rhodes
18. Correll Buckhalter
19. Willis McGahee
20. Jerious Norwood
21. Mewelde Moore
22. Tim Hightower
23. Ahmad Bradshaw
24. Ray Rice
25. Chester Taylor
1. Steve Smith (CAR)
2. Reggie Wayne
3. Larry Fitzgerald
4. Roddy White
5. Anquan Boldin
6. Hines Ward
7. Derrick Mason
8. DeShaun Jackson
9. Vincent Jackson
10. Santonio Holmes
11. Steve Breaston
12. Anthony Gonzalez
13. Domenik Hixon
14. Mushin Muhammad
15. Kevin Curtis
16. Marvin Harrison
17. Bernard Berrian
18. Mark Clayton
19. Justin Gage
20. Steve Smith (NYG)
21. Michael Jenkins
22. Amani Toomer
23. Davone Bess
24. Ted Ginn Jr.
25. Chris Chambers
1. Dallas Clark
2. Antonio Gates
3. Heath Miller
4. Kevin Boss
5. Todd Heap
6. Visanthe Shiancoe
7. Bo Scaife
8. Anthony Fasano
9. L.J. Smith
10. Jeff King
11. David Martin
12. Dante Rosario
13. Alge Crumpler
1. Adam Vinatieri
2. John Kasey
3. Rob Bironas
4. John Carney
5. Matt Stover
6. David Akers
7. Jason Elam
8. Jeff Reed
9. Nate Kaeding
10. Neil Rackers
11. Ryan Longwell
12. Dan Carpenter
Predictions for wild-card weekend:
Falcons–Cardinals Prediction: Falcons 27 Cardinals 24
This should be a high-scoring and fun game to watch. Matt Ryan could struggle considering it's his first playoff game, but he hasn't played like a rookie all year. I think he'll step up against a struggling Cardinals defense.
Michael Turner should have a huge game so that will set-up the passing game. I can see the Falcons defense forcing Warner into turnovers and getting sacks, because the o-line has struggled recently and Warner has been prone to turnovers.
On the Cardinals side, I think everybody will do well, but the running game is such a question mark that they may become one-dimensional. That could lead to some mistakes. The amazing receiving core should be explosive enough for this game and Warner will throw plenty so it should be high scoring.
Boom: Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White
Ryan has turned in an incredible season and there's no reason he should let the pressure get to him. The Cardinals don't have the defense to force him to struggle so expect solid numbers. Turner has been a top running-back all season and the same goes for White.
Predictions: Ryan: 268 passing yds, one td; Turner: 130 rushing yds, one td, three catches, 30 yds; White: seven catches, 110 yds, one td.
Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston
Warner will have to throw in order for the Cardinals to have a chance to win. The receivers have been consistent all year and should come up big in the Cardinals first playoff game in years.
Predictions: Warner: 320 passing yds, two tds, one int, 1 fr; Fitzgerald: six catches, 90 yds, one td; Boldin: seven catches, 80 yds, one td; Breaston: five catches, 70 yds, one td.
Sleepers: Jerious Norwood, Michael Jenkins, Edgerrin James
Norwood had a great game last week against the Rams and was a crucial part to the Falcons winning it. Coach Mike Smith has no choice but to get Norwood more involved and he could surprise people.
Jenkins has been a nice compliment to Roddy White. He can be a great late draft pick in your leagues or a bargain in salary cap leagues. James has taken back his starting job after finale against Seattle last week. Hightower may steal goal-line carries, but it's James who will be the primary running back.
Predictions: Norwood: 60 rushing yds, one kr td; Jenkins: six catches, 70 yds; James: 95 rushing yds.
Bust: Tim Hightower
Hightower has been an after-thought in the Cardinals offense and is primarily a goal-line back right now. He hasn't done anything in weeks and I would not risk picking him.
Prediction: 40 rushing yd.
Colts–Chargers Prediction: Colts 27 Chargers 21
A lot of people might be jumping back on the Chargers bandwagon after a recent resurgence. I will not be, because of a few reasons:
1. Norv Turner-the guy is not a playoff coach despite winning two games last season. He is not a great coach whatsoever and got lucky the team recovered an onside-kick against the Chiefs or maybe if would be Turner getting fired and not Mike Shanahan.
2. LT is not healthy—he hasn't been consistent all year and is now dealing with more injuries after leaving the game early last week.
3. No Shawn Merriman—this defense is not even close to the same without Merriman.
The Colts should have no problems moving the ball and should shutdown the Chargers in the fourth quarter. I see this game being high scoring, but I would not spend a high draft pick on any Chargers. I think they'll be one and done. The Colts studs will deliver and their defense should create turnovers late in the game.
Boom: All Colts and Philip Rivers, Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates.
All the studs for the Colts will be fine. I'd take Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and Joseph Addai high in drafts, because they're the hottest team coming into the playoffs and won't let the Chargers cool them off.
For the Chargers, if you have them on your team, you have to expect big numbers from Rivers, Jackson and Gates, because they are the focal point of the Chargers offense instead of LT.
Predictions: Manning: 300 passing yds, two tds, one int; Wayne: seven catches, 110 receiving yds, one td; Clark: six catches, 80 yds, one td; Addai: 80 rushing yds, one td; Rivers: 300 passing yds, two tds, two int; Jackson: seven catches, 90 yds, one td; Gates: six catches, 88 yds, one td.
Sleepers: Anthony Gonzalez, Dominic Rhodes, Darren Sproles.
Gonzalez has come on recently after a disappointing beginning to the season. He's become one of Peyton's favorite targets and has taken over for Marvin Harrison. Dominic Rhodes may get more snaps, because Addai isn't completely healthy and was a big part of the Colts Super Bowl run two years ago.
Sproles is explosive and can be dangerous in the return game and as a compliment to LT, especially if he's not 100 percent.
Predictions: Gonzalez: six catches, 80 yds; Rhodes: 50 rushing yds, four catches, 30 yds; Sproles: 30 rushing yds, four catches, 30 yds, one kr td.
Bust: LaDanian Tomlinson.
Tomlinson hasn't been himself all year and is too inconsistent to be relied upon. On top of that, his nagging injuries never seem to disappear, which makes Sproles a more dangerous weapon. I don't have much confidence in LT anymore and I don't expect him to prove me wrong this week.
Prediction: 60 rushing yds, three catches, 30 yds.
Eagles–Vikings Prediction: Eagles 17 Vikings 10
The Eagles come into the game as one of the league's hottest teams. The Vikings were on a roll until Atlanta upset them at the Metrodome. They barely beat the Giants' back-ups last week, while the Eagles destroyed the Cowboys.
Tavaris Jackson has no experience in the playoffs and Adrian Peterson has had major fumbling problems. The Eagles defense will step-up and shutdown the Vikings this weekend in a huge mismatch.
With Pat Williams playing at less-than 100 percent, you can bet the Eagles will give them a heavy dose of Brian Westbrook. This will set-up Donovan McNabb to have a big day.
Boom: Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, DeShaun Jackson, and Eagles defense.
McNabb should have a good game, because of his playoff experience and the Vikings have a shaky secondary. His receivers have been inconsistent, but DeShaun Jackson will be a major mismatch for the Vikings defense and will stretch the field with his speed. With Pat Williams playing injured, Westbrook should have a huge game.
Tavaris Jackson and Adrian Peterson have been turning the ball over at an alarming rate lately. The Eagles will capitalize.
Predictions: McNabb 275 passing yds, one td, 30 rushing yds; Westbrook: 90 rushing yds, one td, five catches, 50 yds; Jackson: five catches, 77 yds, one td; Eagles defense: four sacks, two int, one fr, 10 pa.
Shiancoe has become one of Tavaris Jackson's favorite targets. He has come on strong lately and will be counted as a safety blanket for Jackson. The Eagles sometimes struggle against the tight-end so Shiancoe should have success.
Prediction: six catches 75 yds.
Sleepers: Kevin Curtis, L.J. Smith.
Curtis is a veteran receiver who can cause problems for the Vikings defense. The Vikings will put their attention towards Westbrook and Jackson, so that will open things up for Curtis and tight-end L.J. Smith. Curtis can make a nice late-round draft pick and Smith can be a bargain also.
Predictions: Curtis: 6 catches, 80 yds; L.J. Smith: 5 catches, 70 yds.
Bust: Tavaris Jackson, Adrian Peterson, Bernard Berrian, and Vikings defense.
Jackson will likely struggle in his first playoff game. He will be rushed aggressively by the Eagles swarming pass-rush and make mistakes. Peterson has had some major fumbling issues lately and the Eagles run-defense has been top-notch so Peterson may struggle.
Berrian is too feast or famine and in Jackson's getting rushed he won't have time to throw deep to Berrian. The Vikings defense had trouble with the Falcons two weeks ago and last week could barely stop the Giants' second-stringers.
Predictions: Jackson 178 passing yds, two int, 40 rushing yds; Peterson: 88 rushing yds, one td, one fumble; Berrian: three catches, 50 yds; Vikings defense: three sacks, one fr, 17 pa.
Ravens–Dolphins Prediction: Ravens: 14 Dolphins 10
I think the Dolphins' dream season ends here. The Ravens defense will be too much for Chad Pennington and the Ronnie Brown/Ricky Williams tandem won't do much against one of the top run-defenses in the league.
The Ravens have more playoff-experience, a top-running game, and a swarming defense that will make the Dolphins throw fits. I love the Dolphins' future, but this is a bad matchup for Miami.
Boom: LaRon McClain, Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, Ravens defense.
McClain has been on a roll and will be the primary rb this weekend. Mason is a veteran receiver who knows how to step it up in the playoffs. Clayton has been a huge factor in the passing game lately. The Ravens defense is top-notch and won't have many problems with Miami.
Predictions: McClain: 90 rushing yds, one td, three catches, 20 yds; Mason: six catches, 75 yds, one td; Clayton: five catches, 80 yds; Ravens defense: one sack, one int, one fumble, seven pa.
Sleepers: Joe Flacco and Todd Heap.
The Miami secondary has been shaky and inconsistent. This will be Flacco's first playoff game, but he looks like a poised veteran. Heap is a veteran who will be counted on by Flacco.
Predictions: Flacco: 240 passing yds, one td; Heap: five catches, 77 yds.
Anthony Fasano, Davone Bess
Fasano has become one of Chad Pennington's favorite targets and has come on strong lately. Chad will be rushed, so he'll look for Fasano and Bess numerous times. Bess has become a nice compliment to Tedd Ginn Jr. and is a nice receiver, especially in ppr leagues.
Predictions: Fasano: five catches, 50 yds, one td; Bess: six catches, 60 yds.
Bust: Chad Pennington, Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, Dolphins defense.
Chad has played great this year, but has struggled against top defenses. The Ravens defense owned Miami week seven so expect less-than stellar numbers from these Miami studs.
Brown and Williams won't be fooling anybody with the Wildcat offense. Miami's defense hasn't played all that well lately aside from the Jets game last week.
Predictions: Pennington: 250 passing yds, one td, one int, one fumble; Ronnie Brown: 50 rushing yds, four catches, 30 yds; Williams: 30 rushing yds, three catches, 20 yds; Dolphins defense: three sacks, one int, 14 pa.
Enjoy the games this weekend and good luck if you're still in playoff fantasy leagues!