Friday, January 7, 2011

Wild Card Playoff Predictions


Saints at Seahawks:

The Seahawks may have the Qwest Field 12th man and a 5-3 home record to make them think they have a shot but those losses came against the Giants (41-7), Chiefs (42-24) and Falcons (34-18), the only three playoff teams they faced at Qwest Field.

Matt Hasselbeck returns this week after sitting out Week 17 but Seattle's quarterback situation is not ideal. Compare that to the Saints with Drew Brees, who threw for 382 yards and 4 touchdowns against Seattle back in late November.

Yes that game was played in the Superdome and no, Brees probably won't throw for another four scores. But that doesn't mean this game will be close as the second half wears on. The defending champs cover the spread, 27-14.

Packers at Eagles:

I've been raving about Michael Vick all season and since he's supposedly 100 percent healthy for this weekend's matchup, you would think I'd be picking the Eagles. But I've been pimping Aaron Rodgers and the Packers as Super Bowl contenders all season, well before anybody (including me) put the Eagles in the same boat.

Green Bay is trending upwards at the right time while Philly has lost two in a row, although last week against Dallas doesn't count without most of their starters playing. I'm still a believer in Aaron Rodgers being an elite quarterback beyond the numbers, but he will have to improve on his 9-15 record in games decided by 7 points or less.

This game will be close but I'm not running from my gut feeling all season. Vick is a one-man show and Philly has a great offense, but Green Bay's defense is arguably the NFL's best and I think Rodgers can put up points against the Eagles, even without much of a running game. Packers 24, Eagles 20.


Ravens at Chiefs:

Read my most recent power rankings and you will see I have the Ravens as the second-best team in football. Everyone wants to talk about Joe Flacco's previous playoff struggles and how he looks uneasy at times in the pocket, but the Chiefs aren't exactly world-beaters at getting to the quarterback and forcing them into mistakes.

The Chiefs looked abysmal in Week 17 against Oakland and while they had nothing to play for, a loss like that leaves a terrible taste in your mouth. After what Michael Bush did to that defense, Ray Rice must be salivating at the thought of running on Kansas City.

As long as Flacco takes cares of the football, the Ravens will score in the 20s. And while Baltimore won't be able to stop Jamaal Charles (who can?), they will contain him well enough to force Cassel-to-Dwayne Bowe to beat them. And while that's certainly possible with the season Bowe has had, I like Baltimore too much to knock them off in round one. Ravens 20, Chiefs 14.

Jets at Colts:

This is the game of the week in my opinion, with Packers-Eagles a close second. I've taken the road teams in all three games so far and while I don't expect all four road teams to win, I do expect at least two (Saints and Ravens) to beat the NFC and AFC West champs two out of three times (Saints even more than that).

Peyton Manning showed last season that you can't blitz him for four quarters or even a half and hopefully Rex Ryan has adjusted to this. There's a reason Manning is 5-1 against Ryan's defenses over the years. The Jets have enough talent on the defensive side to keep Manning in check if they don't make things easy on him by over-blitzing.

This isn't the same Colts team from last season, but it also isn't the same fearsome Jets defense. If Ryan truly is the coach he thinks it is he'll dial up the blitz more occasionally on Saturday and make Manning beat the Jets with 15-play drives. Manning can do that, but he'll march down the field in 5-7 plays and run up the score if you blitz every down.

This game should be the highest scoring matchup of the weekend, which means anything can happen. Call me a homer, but I think the Jets are in great shape to pull off the upset here. Mark Sanchez's shoulder issues are being overblown on purpose and Indianapolis, while improved against the run of late, still isn't a good run-stuffing unit. Jets 30, Colts 24.

I know I chose all four road teams and that surprises many, but three of the four teams seeded #5 or #6 have a better record than the division winner they're playing. It's a weird season in the NFL when arguably the second- and third-best teams are playing on Wild Card weekend. But it should make for some great football games, enjoy everybody!

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