Expect an Incredible NFL Wildcard Weekend

NC Nighthawk@NC Nighthawk (my Xbox gamertag)Analyst IJanuary 9, 2010


The Wild, Wild NFL

With three of four NFL wildcard matchups being Week 17 rematches, watch for the three losing teams of a week ago to play with intensity, to show new strategies and plays, and to have improved performances.

Expect the three winners from a week ago to be confident and to both emphasize their strengths from Week 17, but to also adjust as each game progresses to what the opponent brings.

Therefore, I expect all games to be very close and tight. Two will be defensive throwback games and two contests will showcase a lot of offense.

New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals

This is the first one of three Week 17 rematches. The Bengals saw everything the Jets had: the flood blitzes, the zone blocking schemes, the direct snap plays, etc. The Jets got no such preview on the Bengals.

Now they move to Cincinnati and the Jets have a rookie quarterback who threw 20 picks.  The Jets have won seven of their last eight games against the Bengals, including a 37-0 win Sunday at Giants Stadium.

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It’s been a while but the Bengals are 5-2 in home playoff games.  These teams are similar.

Both gained their way to the playoffs with strong running games and tough defenses. The Jets ended the year with the top rushing attack in the league, along with the top defense in yards and points, while the Bengals swept their division and finished fourth in yards allowed and sixth in points allowed.

The significant difference between these teams is the passing game. The Bengals have big-play threat Chad Ochocinco and a healthy Carson Palmer, while the Jets have rookie Mark Sanchez.

Happy Birthday, Chad Ochocinco!

Bengals 26, Jets 23.

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys

This is one of the greatest rivalries of the NFL.

This is the second of three Week 17 rematches.  Last Sunday's game can't be discounted, given that an Eagles win would have assured them home-field for today's game.

Also, Dallas won 20-16 at Philadelphia earlier this season. Some argue that it is difficult to be the same team three times in the same season. 

Tell that to the 2008 Baltimore Ravens who lost to the Pittsburgh three times last season.  I argue that it is more difficult for a team not to lose three times to the same team because that opponent has their number and obviously matches up well.

Several Eagles players have said their 24-0 loss at Dallas on Sunday didn't shake their confidence. Philadelphia had been among the hottest teams in the league, winning six consecutive games (scoring 187 points) leading to Sunday.

Andy Reid has never lost in first round of playoffs.  Dallas has not experienced a post season victory since 1996.

Philadelphia will redeem themselves with an improved effort this time but Tony Romo won’t fumble the winning field goal snap this time in a thriller and Dallas will finally get the “haven’t won a playoff game” monkey off of their backs.

Cowboys 30, Eagles 27.

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots

The Patriots are without Wes Walker.  However, we still have Randy Moss and Fred Taylor playing a team with a banged up secondary.

Kevin Faulk will be a key factor in converting third downs. The Ravens will run, run,and  run. It will be close. 

New England rarely loses at home. The Ravens defense is aging.

This has all the makings of a nasty battle and a so-called ugly, defensive game. It's going to be cold and perhaps windy.

The Ravens have a solid running game behind Rice and McGahee, and a decent play-action passing game. This is the wild-card round in Foxboro and I just don’t see New England losing to a team that struggles to score points.

Patriots 19, Ravens 16.

Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals

This is the third of three Week 17 rematches.  Aaron Rodger will play a very good game, but this game may boil down to the play of Kurt Warner, who usually shines in post season.

The Packers concluded their season with a 7-1 record. Last week, the Packers dominated the Cardinals 33-7, and will be looking for a repeat performance.

The last 2 weeks their running game has been very effective. Ryan Grant has been effective on the ground but Rodgers’ passing game has been phenomenal this year.

The Cardinals ended the season poorly again. They clinched their division early again and faltered at the end of the season.

Warner has passed for over 3,700 yards and 26 touchdowns. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are both over 1,000 yards and will be a double-threat for the Packers' defense.

Will Arizona do the unexpected and make another Super Bowl run? Maybe, maybe not.

Packers 37, Cardinals 34.

The Super Bowl

The Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers are clearly the best two teams of both the AFC and the entire NFL. Usually, the Chargers have the Colts’ number and defeats them in post season

Thus, a Super Bowl without either the Colts or Chargers would be surprising to me.  For me, the NFC appears more wide open and unpredictable.

The NFC’s top two seeds, the New Orleans and Minnesota Vikings, respectively have the “easiest” routes to the Super Bowl obviously because of home-dome advantages.

However, the Cowboys have already defeated the Saints in the Superdome.  The Vikings are undefeated at home and significantly have a better defense than New Orleans.

Dallas has the talent and the Eagles have the components to get to the Super Bowl.  Green Bay is a very young team and Arizona is confident, fresh from their playoff run a year ago.

In early September, I predicted a Patriots-Saints Super Bowl, which is still a possibility.  Based what I know of this moment, which is fluid and frequently changes, a Chargers-Vikings Super Bowl matchup is a realistic possibility.

But there is still three weeks of football to play and anything can happen. That is what makes the NFL post season so fun and excellent.

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