Friday, January 8, 2010

Wild Card Weekend Preview

I already wrote on the Jets and Bengals, so now it's time to cover the other three games in much less detail.

Eagles at Cowboys - Saturday, 8 p.m.

They say the hardest thing to do in the NFL is beat the same team three times in a season. That being said, Dallas is playing great football and I think that will continue in this game.

The Cowboys have shut out two straight divisional opponents and held the previously undefeated Saints to 17 points the week before. Donovan McNabb threw 15 passes to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin last week, with each catching just 3 passes for 47 yards.

Anthony Spencer has been a pass-rushing machine (6 sacks in his last 6 games) and Mike Jenkins' emergence at corner has taken the pressure off Terence Newman. The Dallas defense has really fueled this team lately, shutting down the potent offenses of the Saints and Eagles.

The Cowboys have also rediscovered their running game, with Marion Barber and Felix Jones combining for 182 yards on 29 carries in Week 17. Along with the growing Tony Romo, who set a career-best with just 9 interceptions this season, Dallas is firing on all cylinders in all facets of the game. If they can limit big passing plays this week, the Eagles will again struggle to score.

Prediction: Cowboys 27, Eagles 16

Ravens at Patriots - Sunday, 1 p.m.

Losing Wes Welker was an enormous blow to any Super Bowl aspirations New England may have had. But they are still a good enough football team to win a game in the second season, and that they will do against Baltimore.

Julian Edelman has proven he can adequately replace Welker, with 10 catches for 103 yards last week against Houston. The Ravens pass defense has struggled at times this season and they don't bring the pressure they used to, ranking in the middle of the league with 32 sacks.

But that defense has carried Baltimore of late, holding teams to 13 points or less in four of their last eight games, all wins. They are just 1-3 in the same stretch allowing more than 13 points and I can't see them keeping New England under 20, even without Welker.

Outside of explosions against Detroit and Chicago, the Ravens haven't been able to top 21 points in a game since Week 8 against Denver, a win that looked much more impressive at the time. Ray Rice is awesome and Willis McGahee still has life left in those legs, but the Ravens can't beat New England with a one-dimensional offense.

I'm not convinced the inconsistent Joe Flacco can outscore Tom Brady and the Pats. Flacco has just 10 touchdowns in his last 10 games, with 6 of those coming against the Lions and Bears. In the other eight games: 4 TD, 6 INT.

Prediction: Patriots 24, Ravens 13

Packers at Cardinals - Sunday, 4:30 p.m.

In the third Wild Card rematch of a Week 17 matchup, Green Bay will travel to Arizona again where they destroyed the Cardinals 33-7 just a week ago. But in contrast to the Jets-Bengals matchup, Arizona rested many of their key starters very early including Kurt Warner, who threw just six passes.

Everybody is pimping the Pack right now, and I have to say I'm on board. I bashed them for being inconsistent in the middle of the season, but with their newfound stability along the offensive line Aaron Rodgers is getting the protection he needs to dominate. Ryan Grant gets better at the end of every season, and this team should be able to maintain excellent balance on offense.

The Cardinals struggle with aggressive 3-4 defenses, scoring just 32 points in three games with the 49ers and Packers, all losses. Warner is one of the league's best rhythm passers, but disrupt that rhythm and things can get ugly. It doesn't hurt the Packers' case to have Defensive Player of the Year candidate Charles Woodson in the secondary either, and Anquan Boldin's injury status has to be a red flag for Arizona fans.

Even if the Green Bay defense can't do the job, their offense has the potential to outscore last year's Super Bowl runner-up. If both quarterback stay upright, this one could turn into an impressive aerial display.

Prediction: Packers 30, Cardinals 21

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