Also, please disregard my pre-season predictions (earlier in this blog). Some were not bad… others were terrible. And I apparently forgot to pick a second wild-card team in each conference.
That said, I’m going to do my best.
Jets @ Bengals
I cheer for the Bengals, so this is a scary match-up. I want to see them win, but last week’s loss was crushing. The Bengals defense needs to shut down the Jets’ running game, which would force Mark Sanchez to make risky throws and turn the ball over. The Bengals need the offense to click, and luckily should have multiple important players returning from injury, particularly Peko (a major run-stopper). Although the Bengals have more than enough reasons to play with emotion (Vicki Zimmer and Chris Henry, not to mention a 19-year playoff drought), they need to calm down. They saw what happened last week when they didn’t play Cedric Benson, so I hope the Bengals will commit to the run game. I do think they can pull it off, but it will be close. Bengals, 21-17
Eagles @ Cowboys
Last week, I was shocked at the disparity between these two teams. The Eagles have been solid, but the Cowboys have incredible momentum at this point in the season. Tony Romo, in particular, is reigning in his gunslinger ways and has a career-low number of season interceptions. Hopefully Anthony Spencer (go Purdue) will help put the pressure on the Eagles offense, and DeMarcus Ware has made a huge impact when healthy this season. The Eagles will put up more of a fight, but it won’t be enough. Cowboys, 28-24.
Ravens @ Patriots
Patriots will struggle incredibly without Wes Welker. The Patriots will move Randy Moss and Kevin Faulk around, but the Ravens will have a much easier time covering the electric Patriots offense. Tom Brady won’t be any worse for the wear, but it will be harder to make the big plays without Wes Welker in the slot and drawing coverage off of the other receivers. The Ravens will surprise a lot of people by holding the Patriots at bay, but the Ravens’ run defense matches up well and forces Tom Brady to make a couple of picks. Patriots make it through by the skin of their teeth. Patriots, 18-17.
Packers @ Cardinals
The turnover differential, to me, is the biggest factor here. Charles Woodson has led
the Packers to a +24 turnover differential, while the Cardinals are at -9. The Packers offense depends entirely on the offensive line. They are much improved, but they still don’t guarantee much room for Grant to run or much time for Rodgers to throw. Luckily, Rodgers was one of the top passers in the league even while getting sacked over 35 times in the first half of the season, and the receiving corps is strong but varied. The Cardinals have a good but injured secondary, which just won’t be enough to cover
In the next round…
Cowboys @ Vikings
Both NFC matchups are the same story- one of the top teams throughout the beginning and middle of the season who has sort of dropped off in the last few games against a team that had something of a slump before turning it on at the end of the season. The Vikings are a force to be reckoned with, though- Adrian Peterson’s powerful run game is complemented well by not only Brett Favre’s passing to Offensive Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin, Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice, and Visante Shiancoe… but also Chester Taylor’s run-pass combo threat. I- unfortunately- don’t think the Cowboys can shut down all of that. Barring major injuries, I don’t see the Cowboys being able to pull it off. Vikings, 34-16.
Packers @ Saints
Again- this is the “hot” team versus the “great” team, and in this case I’m actually going to take the upset. (Yes, probably that bias again.) I know the Saints sat some of their starters in the last few games- but even before they did, it wasn’t looking great. I think Woodson and Sharper are going to have an interception contest, which will be hard considering the caliber of the quarterbacks. But seriously though! Both have played for multiple teams, including the Packers. Both are “getting old” (33, 34)- and yet were selected to the Pro Bowl this year after having fantastic seasons. Sharper has had an injured knee, but I think he’ll still play, and I look forward to the matchup. This won’t be a case of crappy defenses- rather, it’ll be a case of defenses playing well to force turnovers and score themselves. Anyway- both of these teams have great passing games, and while I think the Saints generally have better balance, I see the Packers defense scoring enough to take the edge. Multiple lead changes make it a hard game to call. Packers, 44- 37.
Bengals @ Colts
The Colts do have an MVP Quarterback, and for once I’ll say that he earns the praise he’s getting. I believe he is the primary reason that a new head coach had little or no impact. Essentially, Peyton is calling the plays and running the team anyway. I also think that, for once, the Colts didn’t have it easy. They had a lot of games against a variety of teams come down to very close calls that they could have easily lost. (I, for one, turned off the TV with no hope left during Monday Night Football when they ended up coming back in the last few minutes.) The barrage of injuries the Colts faced left a lot more of the work up to Peyton, and The Robot did come through. (He has always done well, but I have always said it’s hard to measure his singular greatness while he is surrounded by and protected by so much other talent.) This one’s tricky for me. I think the Colts are a better team, but it does concern me that their momentum has been stopped with resting for the playoffs. Still, I think after a rocky start, the Colts will wake up and slide through. Their offense- Dallas Clark, I’m looking at you- is able to make it happen when the Colts need it most. They won’t be playing Vinatieri, but their other kicker will make it anyway. Colts, 20- 17.
Patriots @ Chargers
Mum’s been the word about the Chargers, despite an 11-game winning streak coming into the playoffs. They remind me a little of the Patriots during the “dynasty” (ewww) in that they don’t have all that many super-standout players, but the talent is spread around the team. L.T. is still a good rusher, but he has been stopped (even by, say, the Redskins). Not a good sign for the Chargers- but they have Darren Sproles, as well, and Philip Rivers, and Nate Kaeding… and this, I think, is where the loss of Wes Welker kills the Patriots. They aren’t a bad team by any means, and no one wants to face the Patriots in the playoffs- but they’re not who they have been the past few years. They weren’t vying for ‘perfection,’ and they lost to the Jets, Broncos, Dolphins… some decent, but not great teams. I think the Chargers have them. Chargers, 24- 17.
Packers @ Vikings
At this, all I have to say is… again? Ugh. A part of me loves the chance to beat the Vikings again, but a loss? The entire state of
Chargers @ Colts
So we’re at this again. The Colts have an unfortunate history of being knocked out of the playoffs by the Chargers in the last few years. (If it’s not the Patriots, it’s the Chargers.) Both are great, well-rounded teams, but I think the Colts are primed to
make it through this time. Their almost-loss the week before will scare them just enough to bring back the precision we’re used to seeing from this team. The Colts’ defense will step up to make some critical stops. Colts, 17-13.
The Big Game
Yeah, I lost too, just by typing that.
Vikings vs. Colts
I would be cheering for the Colts so hard in this one, but when it comes down to this matchup… ugh. It’s really tough to say. I think so much will depend upon injury, especially with the Colts. Addai is injured frequently, and I like Donald Brown but he can’t be a No. 1 yet. The Colts are very lucky that Manning rarely goes down, because the end of the season made clear that Purdue’s Curtis Painter is not ready for the big leagues, much less the Super Bowl. So much depends on players like Freeney, Mathis, Sanders, and Saturday- all of whom have been injured this season, I believe. The Vikings are probably more likely to be injured at quarterback (old), but he’s also less likely to play it safe and sit out. For now, I don’t want to, but I think I’d have to call it in favor of the Vikings. They are such a well-rounded team and while the Colts are, too, the Colts have had many more super-close games. At some point, they’ll probably lose one of them. Vikings, 34-30.