If there is one thing I can say about the Wild Card round it is that all of the losing teams, with the exception of the Green Bay Packers, were at a loss for resilience and execution in a do-or-die situation. The only team I believed would lose miserably was the Philadelphia Eagles…but the Patriots, Bengals, and Packers were out-of-character/distanced from the identity of their respective football teams. In short, if this past weekend had to be framed using some Jay-Z songs…the winners walked out singing the third verse of “Thank You” (I was gonna kill a couple rappers but they did it to themselves) and the losers listened to “Imaginary Player” and thought…yup that’s us.
To recap last weekend…
In the past the Patriots were known to be a resilient and clutch squad that always managed to stay-in games for a late push, on Sunday they were out of the game by the 3rd quarter and they lost to a team whose QB’s stat-line reads, 4/10 for 34yds and a pick. The Patriots lost because they could not defend the elusive and explosive Ravens RB, Ray Rice and they could not overcome the pressure of the Ravens defense.
The Bengals…well realistically their past identity has been limited post-season success but this season the re-invented their image and became a run-first team behind Cedric Benson but their running game was meant to setup the pass…and furthermore open up the field for Chad Johnson Ochocinco. What the Bengals didn’t factor in was the talent of CB, Darelle Revis who has shut down the best WR’s in the NFL this year (Randy Moss, Andre Johnson, Marques Colston, Steve Smith of Carolina).
The Packers got themselves caught in the fire, I expected the game to be high-scoring but what we saw Sunday was crazy, no defense! And then a defensive play won the game.
The Eagles…don’t have a solid enough offensive line to run-block and their RB’s are small/quick/agile guys who are the opposite of the Marion Barbers and Cedric Bensons of the league. And their patchwork defense, lead by a jump-route-happy Asante Samuel got burned every-which-way.
NFC Divisional Round (Rev. R)
Arizona Cardinals vs. New Orleans Saints (Sat 4:30pm EST)
Is this matchup really going to happen? If last weekend’s game set a record this game could break that same record. We’ve seen how explosive Arizona can get when Kurt Warner makes his quick reads and gets the ball out, hell the Cardinals did not even miss their # 2 receiver, Anquan Boldin, because Early Doucet filled in with a 6-catch, 77yd & 2TD performance. With that said, this should prove to be an interesting matchup, the Saints were exposed over the last few weeks of the regular season with losses to the Cowboys and Buccaneers. And yet, despite those losses you can’t expect them to stop playing their game but there will be some tweaks to the system, a tune-up if you will.
The key to this game will be who scores first and can maintain a lead, neither of these defenses have the talent to force changes & turnovers on the offensive side of the ball…a good strategy for both teams is to keep opposing receivers in front of DB’s because both squads have receivers with game-breaking speed & strength. I think right now the Cardinals should be reviewing last Sunday’s game and realize that their amazing passing performance was supported by a strong rushing attack lead by rookie RB, Beanie Wells. They would do well to try and reinforce the ground game to setup the pass which will then recreate the explosive passing attack. I really don’t believe that the Cardinals have a defense on par with that of the Cowboys (and truthfully the Buccaneers got lucky) to the extent that they can slow down all of the weapons of New Orleans. Keys to the game for Arizona are to keep Kurt Warner on his feet, get Beanie Wells & Tim Hightower running early, and stay in front of receivers.
The gameplan for the Saints will sound very similar to the above. For the closing weeks of the season they had some injuries on defense that affected their DB depth, to the point they brought in veteran Mike Mckenzie & Chris McAlister. With that came a sharp limit in the production of safety, Darren Sharper…pretty much he wasn’t allowed to roam the field picking off passes like he did early on. The Saints defense never shut anyone out in the regular season, that’s not their game. The job of the New Orleans defense (similar to the Packers) is to force turnovers and big plays that get the opposing offensive of the field and thus limit their scoring opportunities. Opposing teams averaged 21.3 points againts the Saints, but the team offense averaged 31.9 points. On the offense the Saints biggest problem is not being able to control the clock with the running game. If the team can’t count on defense to stop the opposing team late in games, they will have to do it with the running game. A team like the Cardinals can never be counted out when down by two scores. Head coach Sean Payton needs to strike a balance between his RB’s, Mike Bell and Pierre Thomas (Reggie Bush is an all-purpose guy, not a runner). I would say to get them running around after Pierre Thomas early in the game and use Mike Bell, the more physical runner, later in games when the defense is tired. Both guys have proven they can score and its a nice alternative to chucking the ball 50 times.
This game will be a shootout and the team with last possession/last score takes it. But, I give the Saints the edge with home-field advantage…I think last weekend being at home did alot for the Cardinals and the Superdome is definitely one of the loudest stadiums in the league.
Prediction: Saints 38 – Cardinals 34
Dallas Cowboys vs. Minnesota Vikings (Sun 1:00pm EST)
I’m starting to wonder if these NFC match-ups were scripted/selected to pit teams with similar strengths & weaknesses against each other. I see a lot of similarity between the Cowboys and Vikings, both squads are lead by top-flight signal callers at QB, have a solid receiving corp with help from the TE position and are solid on defense. The big difference is at RB…Adrian Peterson is a monster and that’s why Felix Jones was the second rusher when they played for the Razorbacks at Arkansas, also Marion Barber isn’t looking the same right now but if he turns it on then the Cowboys draw a bit closer.
Dallas QB, Tony Romo, finally has “his” first playoff victory…because some how he is accountable the the entire team, including the defense. But seriously, I think Romo’s mobility will get him some second chances against the Vikings pass-rush and DE, Jared Allen…although the Cowboys OL must give Romo time to throw and overcome the “Williams-Wall.” Felix Jones has good game-breaking speed but I think Marion Barber’s pounding ability will be put to good use against the Vikings interior DL. I think the Cowboys will find their way in the passing game this weekend and between Miles Austin & Jason Witten, there will be some bailout catches for their QB. On defense I think the Cowboys have the tools to get to Brett Favre, but Sidney Rice is a big-man and Percy Harvin is no DeSean Jackson, they’ll get open for some plays. Also crucial is stoping TE, Visanthe Shiancoe in the red-zone where he is Brett Favre’s leading target. But again, the receivers are the least of the Cowboys worries…how to stop Adrian Peterson? You can’t, you can contain him for a bit but he will break-free.
The Vikings and old-man Favre have their work cut-out for them. Miles Austin has showed No. 1 WR ability and he’s not afraid to step-up, factor in the ever reliable Jason Witten and Roy Williams (should he show-up), those are big & fast receivers that the Vikings don’t have the personnel to defend. The Vikings best opportunity is to shut-down the Cowboys running game…also a different task because Dallas has two very talented backs, Barber & Jones and a third, Tashard Choice, that can surprise teams with his speed and catching ability. I think the focus will be pressuring and frustrating Tony Romo, don’t give him time to pass and force him into mistakes and 3-out possessions.
Really though, I think the Cowboys are too-hot-for-TV…they’ve got a swagger that hasn’t been seen since the days of Aikman, Smith, & Irvin, The Triplets. I think the talent is more spread out now but its there. I do think the Vikings could surprise us though but I think the time-off might have had negative effects on Brett Favre and this will be their toughest challenge of the year.
Prediction: Cowboys 20 – Vikings 17 (OT)
AFC Divisional Round (D. Hud)
Baltimore Ravens vs. Indianapolis Colts (Sat 8:15pm EST)
How ’bout them Ravens! I’m still floored by Baltimore’s performance against the Patriots this past weekend. As Rev.R said earlier, the Ravens’ QB line (coming from Joe Flacco) read 4/10, 34 yards, 0 TD and 1 INT. And they still won 33-14. Why? Not only was their defense impeccable, as they had four takeaways (3 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery) against the Pats, but their rushing game was on point too. And not only did Ray Rice do work, but so did Willis McGahee. Although Rice stole the show with 22 carries for 159 yards and 2 TD (including an 83-yard TD run on the first play of the game), McGahee still took care of business with 20 carries of his own, accounting for 62 more yards and another TD. That running game is going to give the Colts some trouble on Saturday, as they ranked 24th in the league this season for their rush defense, allowing 126.5 yards per game on the ground. That’s music to Baltimore’s ears.
Looking back to Week 11 when the Colts and the Ravens played each other, we can see just how capable the Ravens are of giving the Colts a run for the money. Although the Colts pulled out the win in that game, they only won by two points, with a final score of 17-15. Additionally, Peyton Manning threw two interceptions in the game, with only one touchdown pass to go along with it. The problem for the Ravens in this game was that they couldn’t get in the end zone. Billy Cundiff gave the Ravens all 15 of their points with field goals. I don’t expect a similar outcome this week, however. Since that Week 11 game, the Ravens have averaged 182.7 rushing yards per game. And against Indy’s 24th-ranked rush defense, I expect the number from this weekend’s game to either equal or surpass that average.
The Ravens have lost seven straight to the Colts. That streak, however, has to stop somewhere, and I think it’ll be this weekend. With Baltimore’s running attack, coupled with their solid defense, I’m putting my money on a Ravens’ win on Saturday.
Prediction: Ravens 20 – Colts 17
New York Jets vs. San Diego Chargers (Sun 4:40pm EST)
To quote myself from last week…
The Jets haven’t had much success in their playoff history, with a postseason record of 6-11 since 1968, when they won their first and only Super Bowl. I don’t see them winning a Super Bowl this year either, but I do think they’ll add at least one more win to that postseason record.
And now I think they’ll add another win this weekend. Initially, I thought that the Jets would make it to the divisional round and then that would be it. The Chargers would advance, and the Jets would pack it up, go home, and try again next season. But the more I look at this matchup, the more I feel otherwise. Honestly, I see this game being very similar to the Ravens/Colts matchup on Saturday; if the Jets (like the Ravens) run the ball like they’ve been running it, then they’ll come out of San Diego with a win.
The Jets had the #1 running game in the league this season, and we saw that on display against the Bengals last weekend. Although the Bengals had the 7th-best rush defense in the league this season, only allowing 98.3 yards per game, the Jets tallied 171 yards against them this past Saturday, with rookie Shonn Greene putting up 135 yards by himself. The Chargers should expect to see a similar output, especially since their rush defense was ranked 20th in the league, allowing 117.6 yards per game.
But we can’t forget about the air attack. Philip Rivers lit it up for San Diego this season, throwing for 4,254 yards, 28 TD and only 9 INT. Not bad. On the other hand, Mark Sanchez, the Jets’ rookie QB, threw for only 2,444 yards with 12 TD and 20 INT. In other words, the Jets’ defense needs to make sure that this game doesn’t turn into a shootout, because if it does, the Jets won’t be able to keep up at all.
When it’s all said and done, though, I think the Jets will pull it out… barely.
Prediction: Jets 24 – Chargers 20