NFL Playoff Picture: Which Wild Card Game Winner Will Go Farthest?

Wes ODonnell@wesodonnellFeatured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2011

NFL Playoff Picture: Which Wild Card Game Winner Will Go the Furthest?

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 08:  LaDainian Tomlinson #21 of the New York Jets celebrates after he scored a 1-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts during their 2011 AFC wild card playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Ja
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    With Wildcard Weekend in the books, the road to the Super Bowl now goes through each conference's best teams.

    The New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears all have a distinct home field advantage; each stadium and team has a comfortable liking to playing at home.

    Winning the Wildcard Game can be a big boost of momentum to streaky teams and while the Divisional round features some well known rivals doing battle, it does not ease the daunting task still laid upon the Wildcard winners.

    With a week of anticipation remaining, lets look at this weekend's winners and see which team has the ability to go the farthest.

Seahawks Rally from 10 Point Deficit ... Twice

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    SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 08:  Running back Marshawn Lynch #24 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates with his teammates his 67-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints during the 2011 NFC wild-card playoff game at Qwest Field on Ja
    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Matt Hasselbeck decided it was in his best interest to save the performance of the season for the playoffs, if he got there.

    Fortunately for him, Charlie Whitehurst led the Seahawks to a win in their play-in game against St. Louis and Hasselbeck awakened to his 2005 form to bust up the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints in Seattle on Saturday afternoon.

    After falling behind the Saints 10-0 and then 17-7, the Seahawks rallied to put the Saints on their heels.

    Hasselbeck, who didn't throw more than two touchdown passes in a game during the regular season, erupted for four touchdown passes and sparked the Seahawks just long enough for Marshawn Lynch to do his thing.

    With a four point lead and 3:22 seconds remaining, the Seahawks were bleeding the clock hoping to hold back Drew Brees from getting another shot at taking the lead. 

And the Seahawks Stun the Saints

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    SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 08:  Running back Marshawn Lynch #24 of the Seattle Seahawks runs for a 67-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter against Tracy Porter #22 of the New Orleans Saints during the 2011 NFC wild-card playoff game at Qwest Field on Janua
    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Second and ten on their own 33 yard line, Lynch went right, cut back inside, and proceeded to leave eight New Orleans defenders in his wake on one of the greatest runs ever seen.

    Needless to say, the Seahawks held on for a 41-36 win despite giving up a late touchdown pass to Brees with 1:30 left.

    The Seahawks defense held New Orleans to only 77 yards rushing while Brees threw for 404 yards and two touchdowns.

    Qwest Field was a raucous sight to behold and the Seahawks, winners of only seven regular season games, earned the right to play in the Divisional round of the playoffs.

Seahawks Travel To Chicago Again

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    CHICAGO - OCTOBER 17: Matt Forte #22 of the Chicago Bears runs past Colin Cole #90 of the Seattle Seahawks at Soldier Field on October 17, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Seahawks defeated the Bears 23-20. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    While it seems like seasons ago, the Seahawks have already been there and done that.

    Seattle won the third of its division winning seven games in Week Five against the Chicago Bears.

    While both teams are very different from that game, the winning formula will be the same for the Seahawks, hit Jay Cutler and run the football.

    The Bears have had trouble protecting their franchise signal caller all season long and it has not gotten much better.

    While the Bears earned the NFC North Division and home-field advantage, they will have to get themselves in order if they want to beat a Seattle team that suddenly believes it belongs.

    The way the Seahawks won earlier in the season certainly does not help Chicago's cause.

    Seattle, who has not won back-to-back games since defeating the Bears and the Cardinals in Weeks Five and Six, will be bringing all the confidence they earned from the Saints game into Chicago for a game they may actually win.

Jets Come out Slow

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 08:  Pierre Garcon #85 of the Indianapolis Colts scores on a 57-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter against Antonio Cromartie #31 of the New York Jets during their 2011 AFC wild card playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Jets and coach Rex Ryan went back to Indianapolis hell-bent on getting out alive and moving onto the next stage of the playoffs.

    Peyton Manning, however, was standing in their way for the second straight season.

    Following a lackluster opening 24 minutes that saw Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez miss multiple opportunities, Peyton Manning struck on a deep ball to Pierre Garcon for a 57-yard touchdown.

    The Jets defense, who had done a good job of holding the Colts running game as well as stuffing multiple third and one opportunities, was beaten by a combination of bad coverage from both Antonio Cromartie and Brodney Pool.

    While Sanchez was playing poorly, LaDainian Tomlinson was uncharacteristically productive in the postseason game.

    Colts took a 7-0 lead into the half.

Rally to Beat Peyton Manning, Colts

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 08:  Place kicker Nick Folk #2 and Steve Weatherford #9 of the New York Jets celebrates after Folk successfully kicked a game-winning a 32-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to win 17-16 against the Indianapolis Colts during
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Following what had to be a very loud, and aggressive halftime speech, the Jets went back to doing what they do best, running the football and playing sound defense.

    Tomlinson pounded in two touchdowns and the Jets clung to a 14-13 lead going into the final minutes of the game.

    Manning, given 2:32 seconds and one timeout, drove the Colts downfield only to be held by the Jets defense forcing Adam Vinatieri to drill a 50-yard go ahead field goal with 53 seconds left and a 16-14 lead.

    Following a 47-yard kickoff return by Antonio Cromartie, Sanchez finally connected on a meaningful play to Braylon Edwards down the sideline setting up a very makable field goal opportunity.

    With time expiring, Nick Folk drilled the game-winning 32-yard field goal for the Jets.

    Reggie Wayne was blanketed all night and held to one reception for one yard by Darrelle Revis.

    Ryan and the Jets finally overcome Manning by doing what they do best, running the football and playing defense.

Jets Visit Foxborough Again

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    FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 22:  Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots shakes hands with Rex Ryan of the New York on November 22, 2009 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots won 31-14. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    If defeating Peyton Manning was personal for Rex Ryan, one cannot imagine what it will be for the Jets coach to beat the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick in Foxborough.

    The Jets season motto has simply been "Super Bowl or bust" and fittingly they will have to go through their hated rival, and the league's best team, to even have a chance at making that dream come true.

    The last time these two teams met it was an absolute rout in favor of New England.

    The Patriots have not lost in eight straight games.

    Their offense has been unstoppable, both in the air and on the ground, and their defense continues to get better on a weekly basis.

    The Jets will have to find a way to get to Tom Brady if they want to slow them down. While the win over Indianapolis did not feature a lot of blitzing, the Jets will have to put Brady on his back.

    Offensively they should continue to run the football and keep Sanchez away from mistakes as much as possible, especially against Patriots defense.

    The Jets will have a tough time in this game no matter what they do, but have a shot to win if they can play defense and run the football.

Ravens Take Their Time In Arrowhead

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 09:  Linebackers Ray Lewis #52 and Terrell Suggs #55 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrate a play during their 2011 AFC wild card playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on January 9, 2011 in Kansas City, Mis
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    The Kansas City Chiefs are young, full of potential, but clearly not ready for the big time.

    Following a 41-yard touchdown run by Jamaal Charles at the end of the first quarter, the Ravens buckled down decided it was time to stop messing around.

    Joe Flacco found his favorite weapon, Ray Rice, for a nine yard touchdown at the end of the first half and the Ravens took a 10-7 lead into half-time.

    They never looked back either. 

Crush Chiefs in Second Half

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 09:  Running back Willis McGahee #23 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the 2011 AFC wild card playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on January 9, 2011
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    The Ravens defense held the Chiefs league-leading rushing attack to 108 yards on only 19 attempts.

    Flacco finished the game with 265 yards and two touchdowns while Chiefs quarterback, Matt Cassel, was intercepted three times in the second half and was held to only 70 yards on nine completions.

    The Ravens offense ran a total of 78 plays for 390 total yards while the Chiefs only managed 161 yards on 40 plays.

    When all was said and done, the Ravens walked out of Arrowhead with a 30-7 victory and date with division rival Pittsburgh.

Rivalry Rages Between Ravens and Steelers

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    BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 05:  Rashard Mendenhall #34  of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs the ball as he is tackled by Dawan Landry #26 of the Baltimore Ravens during the third quarter of the game at M&T Bank Stadium on December 5, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland
    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    The Ravens and Steelers did battle twice already this season, each winning at the others home turf.

    While Pittsburgh got the edge and won the division, the teams finished with an identical 12-4 record and both games were decided by only three points.

    The Steelers, who won six of their last eight with losses to the Jets and Patriots at home, are no strangers to the postseason.

    The Ravens, whose last loss was at the hands of the Steelers in early December, are riding a five game winning streak and certainly are not intimidated by playing in Pittsburgh.

    Baltimore knows exactly what needs to be done to beat the rival Steelers.

    Flacco, Rice, Mason, Heap, and the entirety of the Ravens defense, will be well prepared and on top of their game for another battle in Pittsburgh. 

Packers Balanced Offense Gets Early Lead

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 09:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers carries the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2011 NFC wild card playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 9, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Aaron Rodgers and the Packers went into Lincoln Financial Field with a plan to get after Michael Vick and to use their advantage on outside to beat the Eagles.

    Rodgers, efficient as always, threw two touchdown passes in the first half while rookie running back James Starks provided a bit of balance in the running game.

    Michael Vick was held scoreless in the first half and was sacked twice as well. 

    DeSean Jackson, Vick's favorite target, was injured on running play early in the half and his return was listed as questionable.

    The Packers took a 14-3 lead into halftime.

And Rodgers Gets First Playoff Win

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 09:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates after a touchdown in the third quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2011 NFC wild card playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 9, 2011 in Philad
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Michael Vick and the Eagles though, never go quietly. 

    Early in the third quarter Vick threaded a great ball down the seam to Jason Avant for a score.

    Rodgers answered with his third touchdown pass of the game to running back Brandon Jackson and it looked like the Packers were on a path that led only to Atlanta.

    Then Vick snuck in from one-yard out to make it 21-16 with four minutes to go but the Eagles failed on the two-point conversion.

    Following a big defensive stand by the Eagles defense, late-game heroics were denied of Vick after he was intercepted in the endzone by Tramon Williams on the game's final drive.

    Eagles Pro Bowl kicker David Akers blew two of his three field goal opportunities, six points that would have put the Eagles on top.

    Rodgers finished the game with only 180 yards but three touchdown passes and the Packers rushed for 138 yards.

Packers Take on Falcons in Atlanta Again

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    ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 28:  Thomas DeCoud #28 and William Moore #25 of the Atlanta Falcons tackle Brandon Jackson #32 of the Green Bay Packers at Georgia Dome on November 28, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    It is not always pretty, but Aaron Rodgers and the Packers seem be getting it done at the right time. 

    Despite going 3-3 in their final six games, the Packers win ball games at the right time and will be heading into Atlanta with the notion they can beat the NFC's top team.

    In Week Twelve the Packers outgained Atlanta by 164 yards but fell three points short of victory after a last second field goal from the Falcons.

    Now, after seeing Matt Ryan lose only his second career game at home in Week Sixteen versus New Orleans, the Packers know that it can be done.

    The Packers, who may have found a running game with rookie James Starks, may be better equipped to handle this trip to Atlanta than any other team left in the NFC.

    Postseason play is predicated on taking away what the other team does best, and the Falcons, are more one dimensional than people realize. 

    With a running game only averaging 3.8 yard per carry for the season, and Roddy White only outside threat, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers will certainly be able to devise a plan worthy of confusing and defeating Matt Ryan.

    There is a good chance the Packers win this football game.

Which Wildcard Winner Will Go the Furthest?

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 09:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers leaves the field after their 21 to 16 win over the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2011 NFC wild card playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 9, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pen
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    The Jets are going to be ready to play football, and there is no denying the amount of emotional energy that will be flowing in that game, but they will be hard pressed to pull off the win.

    New England is too good right now, and while the Jets think they can win this game, they won't.

    Baltimore, visiting Pittsburgh for the second time this season, is in for a battle they know they can win. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers though, are the second most postseason-tested team in the league right now. The game will be great, but Pittsburgh will be too much for the Ravens in the end.

    Unlike the AFC, where both Wildcard winners will fall short on the road, the NFC is a different story.

    Chicago is a good team, and deserving of their home field, but there is something about a team - like the Cardinals in 2008 - that defies their record and keeps winning football games.

    Seattle, if it can replicate the pass rush and running game that won for them before, can actually beat the Bears at home again. Riding the hot hand, the Seahawks upset the Bears.

    As for the Falcons and their fantastic season, it will come to a crashing halt at feet of the Packers.

    Green Bay has all the tools necessary for a Super Bowl run and the Falcons are not as good as their record advertises. Packers upset the Falcons in Atlanta.

    Both AFC Wildcard winners down, the NFC Wildcard Winners will do battle in Seattle for the NFC Championship, with Green Bay coming out on top, making them the Wildcard winner that goes the farthest.

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