Playoff Predictions for the NFL's Wild-Card Weekend

Craig RondinoneCorrespondent IJanuary 8, 2010

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 03:  Quarterback Kurt Warner #13 of the Arizona Cardinals runs off the field after losing 33-7 to the Green Bay Packers at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 3, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

After watching ESPN’s documentary on the life and times of Jimmy "The Greek," I have become inspired to rub my Drew Brees bobblehead doll (don’t have a crystal ball) and predict which teams will get out of the first round of the NFL playoffs.

Here are my predictions for this week’s wild-card contests:

Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals

Sports fans look like they won’t be getting Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao anytime soon, so they will have to settle for Larry Fitzgerald vs. Charles Woodson this Sunday, which will still be pretty darn entertaining.

Green Bay and Dallas have become the trendy bandwagons to jump on in the last couple weeks, but remember Arizona is the team that enjoys limping into the playoffs only to hot-streak all the way to the Super Bowl.

The Cards are better now than last season when they were a Santonio Holmes two-step away from a Super Bowl championship. Arizona runs the ball better with Beanie Wells than they did with Edgerrin James, and the defense has gotten steadier and stauncher, allowing fewer points and yards than they did in 2008.

People forget that Green Bay’s offensive line is the worst remaining in the playoffs. Arizona sacks a lot of quarterbacks in home games and creates plenty of turnovers in playoff games. Aaron Rodgers will be spending more time chewing grass than celebrating in the end zone.

Arizona 27, Green Bay 24.

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys

Dallas’ defense and running game have been superb since they destroyed New Orleans’ undefeated season hopes. DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff have been dominant on the defensive line, and the three-headed monster of Felix Jones, Marion Barber and Tashard Choice is healthy and taking pressure off of Tony Romo and the erratic passing attack.

Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid follow the same pattern every playoff year. Their Eagles win their first playoff game but never win the Super Bowl. I think this season will be different. And no, Philly isn’t flying to the title game, not unless Ryan Howard and Chase Utley don some green uniforms.

Dallas 23, Philadelphia 17.

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots

Baltimore could have upended New England during the regular season if Mark Clayton could have caught a fourth-down pass that hit him point-first in his chest, and that was when Wes Welker’s ACL was stable and Tom Brady had all of his ribs intact.

Baltimore might be one of the better 9-7 teams in recent playoff time. Just look at their losses. All seven came against teams with winning records, including six against playoff teams. And they have only lost by more than 10 points once, with many of their defeats coming in the final minutes or seconds.

We saw how New England plays when Welker is not on the field. The Pats needed a miracle fumble on a last-minute kickoff return to slip by Buffalo at home to start the season, and they couldn’t move the ball a muscle without Welker when they lost to the New York Jets 16-9 in Week Two.

Other teams might be intimidated by Belichick, Brady and the whole Patriots machine. Not Baltimore, though.

Baltimore 24, New England 21.

New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals

Here are two teams that play the same smashmouth style. Both prefer to run the ball on offense, but the Jets do it slightly better (first in rushing offense in NFL). Both rely on superior defenses, but the Jets’ unit is slightly better (first in total defense in NFL).

Their offense is also similar as neither team likes to throw the ball more than 10 yards downfield. The difference here is that Carson Palmer normally throws to his own receivers, while Mark Sanchez usually throws to the other team’s defensive backs. But if the Jets come out with the same type of game plan they have employed with Sanchez since he returned from his knee injury, they should be just fine. Cincinnati is the one AFC team that the Jets can get away with being ultra-conservative against, because the Bengals plays the same exact way.

If you like football games that are like UFC fights without the octagon cage, this game is for you. If you think passing the ball and zone defenses are for pansies, this game is for you. And if you like field goals and field position strategy, this game is definitely for you.

New York 16, Cincinnati 13.


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