2009 NFL Playoffs: WhatIfSports.com's Wild Card Preview

Jake WestrichSenior Writer IJanuary 6, 2010

Each Tuesday morning, we will preview every NFL game of the upcoming week. All of our NFL content, including our most recent power rankings and links to the preseason preview, are located here.

The inputs to the 10,001 simulations of each upcoming game are based on a rigorous analysis of each team that considers strength-of-schedule-adjusted team and player ratings and then makes modifications for injuries and depth at each position. To see our season-to-date performance, click here.

 

Wild Card Games

Four wild card games, three Week 17 rematches.

With the NFL playoffs beginning this weekend, Arizona and Green Bay, Dallas and Philadelphia, and Cincinnati and the New York Jets will all be squaring off for the second consecutive week.

Does the computer see rematch repeats?

In a word, yes.

Philadelphia at Dallas

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Quarterback Tony Romo threw for more than 300 yards and two touchdowns, Dallas' defense allowed less than 40 yards rushing and the Cowboys clinched a home-field rematch against the Eagles with a 24-0 victory in Week 17. Now they'll try to beat Philadelphia for the third time this season and a second time in as many weeks in the first round of the playoffs.

Philadelphia boasts the fifth-best scoring offense in the league at 26.8 points per game but has scored a total of 16 against the Cowboys this season, as Dallas' defense has stymied Donovan McNabb and big-play wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

Dallas' offense, on the other hand, ranks in the top 10 in nearly every major statistic except for points, but the Cowboys had two of their best games against the Eagles. Two of Romo's eight 300-yard games came against Philadelphia, and the Cowboys average more than eight yards per pass attempt.

In the first of three Week 17 rematches, the computer begins the trend of liking last week's winner. Romo's numbers certainly don't stand out, but the Cowboys once again make the Eagles one-dimensional, beating the Eagles 63 percent of the time, by an average score of 23-16.

Baltimore at New England

The only wild card game that isn't a rematch from last week is a rematch of a Week Four thriller that saw the Patriots beat the Ravens, 27-21. That meeting left both teams 3-1 and provided an exciting quarterback battle that might have gone the other way had Derrick Mason not dropped a pass that would have led to a fourth-down conversion.

Joe Flacco threw for 264 yards but needed nearly 50 attempts to get there, numbers indicative of Baltimore's mark of 7.1 yards per completion. Ray Rice eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the ground in just 11 carries, a number that helped bolster an impressive rushing mark of nearly five yards per carry. The Ravens will likely have to use that ground game against a defense that gives up just 7.0 yards per pass attempt.

The Patriots boast one of the NFL's best passing offenses but lost a key cog in the final week when receiver Wes Welker went down with a knee injury. Quarterback Tom Brady threw for just 258 yards and one touchdown in the Week Four win, but he also ran for another. Now he'll have to try and tame the Ravens with a depleted receiving corps and most likely not a ton of help on the ground against one of the league's best run defenses.

Behind the strong play of that defense—they limit New England to just 3.6 yards per carry and do their best to slow Brady down in the average projections—the visiting Ravens get the best of the Patriots to move on in the AFC playoffs 59.1 percent of the time, pulling off a two-point upset on average.

Green Bay at Arizona

Like the Cowboys against the Eagles, the Packers throttled the Cardinals just this past week only to set up a rematch in the exact same venue. Behind yet another efficient day from quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Rod Woodson's career-high ninth interception of the season—one of three picks on the day by the Packers—Green Bay rolled to a 33-7 victory.

Rodgers quietly put together an impressive season despite early season sack woes. He finished with a passer rating over 100 and averaged 8.2 yards per attempt. Running back Ryan Grant also rebounded with a decent season, though Green Bay averaged just 4.3 yards per carry. The Packers will have to maintain that balance against a defense that certainly doesn't look flashy in terms of yards per game but looks much better in terms of yards per carry and per pass attempt.

The Cardinals threw three more interceptions last week, finishing with a minus-7 turnover margin that looks daunting compared to Green Bay's league-best plus-24 margin. Running backs Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower complement each other well, but neither averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry and Kurt Warner averaged just 7.3 yards per pass attempt. All of these numbers should spell trouble against one of the league's top overall defenses.

And it does, according to the computer. Behind a big day from Ryan Grant, who scores in nearly every one of 10,001 simulations and another efficient day from Rodgers, the Packers top the Cardinals for the second straight week. Green Bay wins 65.2 percent of the time, 26-22.

New York Jets at Cincinnati

This one may feel a little bit different but winds up with the same outcome in the computers' view.

Many believed the New York Jets backed their way into the playoffs against the backup units of Indianapolis and Cincinnati, the latter of which allowed the Jets' starters to run all over the place to the tune of 257 yards on the ground in a 37-0 thrashing. Now the teams will head back to Cincinnati for the rematch.

The Bengals more or less rode running back Cedric Benson all the way to the playoffs, but while Benson helped produce one of the top rushing offenses in yards per game, he averaged just 4.2 yards per carry.

Quarterback Carson Palmer's numbers are equally mediocre as he averages just 6.6 yards per carry. None of that bodes well for an offense perhaps facing the toughest defense in the league, as the Jets give up less than four yards per carry and just over five yards per pass attempt.

The Jets' offensive numbers aren't that much more impressive, but they have used a handful of running backs to maintain a 4.5 yards-per-carry average. They've basically been successful when rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez takes care of the ball and he should be OK there as the Bengals produced an even turnover margin. And the game could rest on his arm, as Cincinnati allows less than four yards per carry.

In the end, New York's defense is simply too much in the lowest-scoring game of the first round. Neither quarterback produces great numbers but in the end, the Jets rushing attack gets it done more often than the Bengals as New York wins 68 percent of the time, by an average score of 18-14.

NFL Wild Card Week
Matchup Win% Avg Score  
Philadelphia Eagles37.017Boxscore
@ Dallas Cowboys63.023

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Baltimore Ravens59.123Boxscore
@ New England Patriots40.921

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Green Bay Packers65.226Boxscore
@ Arizona Cardinals34.822

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New York Jets68.018Boxscore
@ Cincinnati Bengals32.014Simulate Game

WhatIfSports.com is a division of FOX Sports Interactive specializing in fantasy football simulation analysis and football sim games. With any comments, questions or topic suggestions, we can be reached at BtB@whatifsports.com. Thanks!