Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Super Sunday...

If you were to tell me in August that the Super Bowl matchup would be Cardinals vs. Steelers, I'd laugh at you. If you were to tell it to me in October, I'd say, "That's a stretch". If you were to tell it to me in December, I'd quote Will Ferrell and say, "You're crazy". But hey...If you were to tell it to me today, I'd say, "You're right good sir". Shocking as it may be, the Cardinals are in the Super Bowl. Behind the leadership of Kurt Warner, the fine coaching of Ken Whisenhunt, and the ridiculous athletic ability of Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals are flying high at just the right time. This wasn't always the case though.

The Cardinals have seen their ups and downs this year. After jumping to a 7-3 start, a game away from clinching the NFC South, the Cards dropped four of their next five games. And they weren't close games either. In their four losses, Arizona lost by an average of just over 24 points per game, including a 40-point loss to the Patriots in Week 16. A game perhaps Arizona should thank New England for, because it may have salvaged their season. Arizona took the game as a wake-up call, and declared the Week 17 game versus Seattle, a must-win game. The Cards needed a boost of confidence. A win over Seattle, would be just that. Arizona easily defeated Seattle 34-21, and never looked back from there. Three upsets later, they're a Super Bowl team.

Then there's that other Super Bowl team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. All year long there's been no question the Steelers are good, real good. They've had arguably the toughest schedule, played in numerous nail-biters, and still went 12-4. They're tested, experienced, and downright tough. For months now, them and the Colts have been the favorite in the AFC. With the Colts out, they stepped in. After all the difficult challenges this season, only the 9-7 Cardinals stand in their way of a championship. But they won't be fooled by the Cardinals record. The Falcons, Panthers, and Eagles wish they hadn't been.

Okay, prediction time...
The Cardinals passing attack is lethal. They've also added a running attack in the playoffs. The biggest bright spot, however, may be their young defense. Pro-Bowl safety Adrian Wilson and the gang have really come together in the playoffs. Much like the young Giants of last season. In fact, the way the Cardinals have come on in the postseason, reminds me a lot of the Giants from last season. Fortunately for Arizona, rather than taking on the 18-0 Patriots, they only have to worry about the 14-4 Steelers. The Steelers have a healthy "Fast" Willie Parker, but an unhealthy Hines Ward. They've got a big-time quarterback with a 7-2 playoff record that creates plays and can take the big hit. The Cardinals have a big-time quarterback with an 8-2 playoff record that can create big plays as well though. The Steelers defense is the best in the NFL. Arizona's is playing like one of the best in the NFL. So what prevails? Experience and defensive toughness or youthfulness and offensive excitement?

Defense wins championships. The Steelers' is a little bit better.
Steelers 23 - Cardinals 16

Images taken from Sports Illustrated & Google Images

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Who's the Best?

Orlando beat Los Angeles twice. Boston beat Orlando. Cleveland and Boston beat each other. Los Angeles beat Boston and Cleveland. So who's the best? Well, Los Angeles beat and didn't lose to two of the three competitors. None of the others can say the same. Yeah, but Orlando and Cleveland haven't even played each other yet. Oh, but Orlando did beat Los Angeles twice. So I guess they have to be considered the best. No wait. Boston beat Orlando, so the Celtics must have the edge. Oh that's right though, Boston lost to both Los Angeles and Cleveland; so it's between them two. And since Los Angeles beat them last night, I guess that makes L.A. the best, right? Noooo, Orlando beat them twice. As you can see, it's pretty obvious this argument is going round in circles. Head to head matchups isn't going to decide who the best team is. But what will? It'd be a waste of time to look at the standings, which merely show the four teams separated by no more than a game. So the answers have to be elsewhere. Right now the verdict is merely open for opinion. Here's what I'm thinking at this point in time.

4. Boston Celtics - The Big Trio for Boston seems tiredsome as of late. Then again, who could blame them? On paper their schedule can look weak at times, but in reality, it's never weak. When a team wears the title of defending champs, they become the target of everyone in the league. Each team feels a little more incentive to win when the champs come to town. Or at least that's the mindset Boston has played with this year. From Day 1, Doc Rivers told his team that every game would be a Game 7 for them. Well, Boston won 27 of their first 29 series then. Pretty impressive, huh? But after a while, playing like it's your last game, day in and day out, has to take a toll on you. Especially for Pierce, 31, Garnett, 32, and Allen, 33, years of age. The Celtics grinded out victories for two months, and I think, in the process, wore themselves out. Boston is begininng to find its swagger back, however, I think it is only a matter of time before the young guns' extra step outplays the Celtics' experience.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers - The Cavaliers may be the best team in the NBA. However, as of right now, I cannot say that for sure. Lebron's Olympic experience is paying tremendous dividends for he and the Cavs. His defense has been better than anyone in the league, and he's the clear-favorite for MVP right now. However, injuries have maligned the Cavs and set them back a bit. If the Cavs can get and stay healthy, they're a serious threat for the title. If I could give any advice to any team in the East, it'd be to not let this team earn the #1 seed for the playoffs. At 20-0 thus far in the Quicken Loans Arena, it's safe to say the Cavs are itching for that home-court advantage.

2. Orlando Magic - I know, I know. How can the Magic be #2 if they beat the Lakers twice this year? Well, I watched the Lakers-Magic game closely the other night, and I noticed one oddity that stood out: Kobe Bryant's performance down the stretch. I don't know if it's the piece of tape over his eye or if he just had a bad game, but he wasn't the true Kobe. It's hardly arguable to say Kobe isn't the most clutch player in the NBA, because let's face it, he is. Against the Magic the other night, he wasn't. That doesn't happen often. And in a seven game series, that's not going to happen four times. The Magic are a phenomenal team. They're shooting lights out this year. Hedo Turkoglu has been "on like donkey kong" and Jameer Nelson is shooting the ball as if he took 1,000 shots a day this summer. Cause he did. Then there's Dwight Howard. What more needs to be said? It seems like he averages 20/20 a game. This team is good. Dangerously good. And their coach makes sure they stay that way every game. Cause that's his job. If the shots are dropping from 3 in the playoffs, the Magic could find themselves crowned NBA champions in June.

1. Los Angeles Lakers - Their second lineup could start and do better than a lot of teams in the NBA right now. They were runner-up last year without Bynum and with a soft Gasol. Now they've got Bynum, Gasol is playing hard, and they don't even need to start Lamar Odom. Trevor Ariza has been electric off the bench. Derek Fisher's shot has been silk. And oh yeah, they've got Kobe Bryant. Like I said before, if Kobe plays like Kobe, the Magic don't beat the Lakers. They know they let a championship slip away last year, and they're making sure it doesn't happen again. I questioned whether the Cavs could beat them in a seven game series, and then the Lakers beat them 105-88. The team is stacked and they don't even have Walton and Farmar, because of injuries. If the Lakers can stay healthy and keep up the intensity, I don't expect to see them anywhere but the podium in June.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Road To Tampa Nearing A Close...

This one's going to be short, but sweet. There's only four teams remaining in the 2008-2009 NFL playoff field, and that can only mean one thing. There will only be two left on Monday. I know, lame joke, but it'll do. Here are the two teams I expect to play under the lights on February 1st.

Ravens (13-5) vs. Steelers (13-4)
Round 3
The Steelers are 2-0 against the Ravens this year. But they're pretty much as close to being 1-1 or 0-2 as can be. Their second matchup this season, in Baltimore, was arguably the most controversial game of the season. Pittsburgh wideout Santonio Holmes, from!?!? The Ohio State University, caught a touchdown pass at the edge of the goal-line late in the fourth, as he fell back towards the field of play to give the Steelers a 13-9 victory. The play was challenged, but the evidence, inconclusive to overturn. It was so close, yet there was no way to tell if Holmes had possession for the fraction of a second the ball was across the goal-line. The result: a happy Steeler team and an irrate Ravens team. In Week 4, the Steelers narrowly defeated the Ravens 23-20 in overtime at Heinz Field as well. A hungry Ravens defense leads us to believe that they'll come out on top this weekend. However, if there's one team that's stood the test of a tough schedule this season, it's the Pittsburgh Steelers. Week in and week out they've battled teams to the wire, and almost always prevailed. They've got playoff experience and just as much motivation to win as the Ravens. A healthy "Fast" Willie Parker should help as well. It's going to be another hard-fought defensive battle, and should once again come down to the wire.

I'll take the Steelers as they 3-Peat over the Ravens in exciting fashion once again.
Ravens 13 - Steelers 16

Philadelphia (11-6-1) vs. Arizona (11-7)
Round 2
Don't worry Philly fans. Donovan is well aware there are no ties in the playoffs. Well, maybe not now for sure. But if the opportunity presents itself, I'm sure he'll be informed. Lately I've been leaning towards taking Philly. The Phillies won a pretty improbable World Series (I guess you could say that. Right?). Why can't the Eagles win the Super Bowl? Their b
iggest concern should be the health of Brian Westbrook. Their smallest concern should be experience. Let's face it. Philadelphia has been to a few Conference Championships. Try 5 in the last 8 years. It's safe to say they've been there before. They haven't been successful (1-3 in that time span), but they've definitely been there. On the other side, the Cardinals would probably have trouble spelling Conference Championship if you asked them. Except for the wily vet, Kurt Warner, who could spell it forewards and backwards. The former Super Bowl and league MVP has the Cardinals playing great football right now, and he's ready to roll over Philadelphia for the second time en route to a Super Bowl. Anquan Boldin should be ready to play. Whether that really matters anymore, I'm not sure. Larry Fitz will be on top of his game as always, but it should be a tough test for the Cards. The Eagles embarrassed them on Thanksgiving, 48-20, ruining their Turkey Day. I expect a much closer game, surprisingly, defensive minded. The young Cardinals "D" is playing well at the right time, and the Eagles defense has never been questioned. In the battle of the birds...

It's all in the Cards. Michael Westbrook scored 4 TDs in the Eagles 48-20 route of the Cardinals earlier this year. He's just not healthy right now. Don't expect that kind of production from him again, giving the slight edge to Arizona.
Eagles 13 - Arizona 20

Images taken from Google Images

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Cost-Benefit Relationship...

With the NFL season drawing to a close and only four teams remaining, 28 teams are facing decision time. Now is the time to shop for new personnel and evaluate talent. For two teams in particular, there is a difficult dilemma at hand. Last year, America's team, the Dallas Cowboys, were 13-3 and just two wins away from the Super Bowl. But a devastating loss to divisional rival New York, ended their season abruptly, and launched what would be a year of turmoil in Big D. On the other hand, New York triumphantly moved to a Super Bowl title. However their success wouldn't stop there. In 2008, the Giants emerged as the best team in football, marching to a 10-1 record. But then, much like the current of last year's NFC leader (the Cowboys), the tides turned abruptly on the Giants' season as well. Losing 3 of their last 5, including a playoff loss to the Eagles, the G-men found themselves in the same unexpected waters the Cowboys had landed just a year before. Now obviously this unfortunate fate had been the cause of multiple factors, however, one common characteristic stands out. Ironically, it's the drama of two wide receivers that wanted nothing more than to stand out. But not like this.

Terrell Owens and Plaxico Burress love the spotlight. If Owens could, he'd tell the whole world of his greatness. Burress is less outspoken in the media, but no stranger to standing out from the rest. Or at least, no stranger to standing far from Giants' team meetings. Owens has an unparalleled work ethic, but can't keep his mouth closed. Both are undoubtedly ego-centric. Burress seems to put his own matters ahead of the team, and Owens seems to think his matters, are everyone's matters. If Owens was the offensive coordinator, every play would be designed for him, yet he'd still be disatisfied, because he wasn't getting the ball on special teams and defense. Burress on the other hand, doesn't complain about his touches. But he makes it seem like he should, always acting as if he doesn't care both on and off the field. Both players are so problematic it's amazing the Giants and Cowboys put up with them. But they do. Why? Because they're damn good wide receivers.

Plaxico Burress has missed countless meetings, violated innumerable team rules, and most recently, shot himself in the leg. Take a moment to let that set in. He put an illegally-possessed gun in his sweatpants pocket, and accidentally shot himself in the leg. It's hard to think of things that stupid. And yet, the Giants stand here today, contemplating welcoming Burress back to the team. Star players Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs, & Justin Tuck want him back. Jerry Reese said he was considering it. Heck, as a Giants fan, I want him back too. It's amazing isn't it? As stupid and as ill-conceited as he is, we still want him back. Football wins trump character. Sad, but it's the truth.

Terrell Owens leaves a trail of drama wherever he goes. He single-handedly ruined two football teams: the 49ers and the Eagles. However, the Cowboys still took a chance on him. There was no denying his football talent. People were disgusted with him as a person, knew he brought problems wherever he went, yet would still love to have him on their side. TO has launched a few quarterback's careers and brought success to many programs. But he still has no Super Bowl ring to show for, a horrible public image, and list of enemies long enough to fill every seat in Texas Stadium. Odds are though, he'll be back in Dallas next season.

Dallas and New York really find themselves in quite the predictament right now. Both GM's and owners are facing a lot of pressure from their big time cities to produce winning football teams. It's up to them to decide the best way to ensure that. Keeping the stars in place seems like the most logical answer, but with their recent struggles, it is time for them to take a step back and decide whether the benefits of these stars outweigh the costs. At this point, it's tough to say. I'm glad it's not my decision.

But if I had to make the choice for both teams, I think I could. Let's take a look at both players.

Plaxico Burress:
Burress' numbers were down this year and the backups played well in his absense prior to the incidental shooting. However, when his season was over, defensive approaches against the Giants changed, and the Giants offense slowed down. Sure Burress' numbers weren't great, but it wasn't just about the numbers. Plax drew double coverage and opened up the offense for other receivers in single coverage. Regardless of his numbers, defenses had to respect him. In the red zone, the 6'5 Burress was a huge target. His combination of speed and length was near impossible to cover, and his big-playmaking ability (see here) was one of the most valuable assets to the Giants offensive attack. He brought elements to the game that no other wide receiver could match. The Giants offensive success with Burress in the lineup doesn't lie. With Burress, the team averaged 29.2 ppg. Without, just 19.6. Unless the Giants can trade for another big-time wide receiver, or trade-up in the draft for Michael Crabtree, I think they have no choice but to bring Burress back. There's no question Burress brings a lot of negatives to the table for the Giants. But it's the significant positive impact that cannot be overlooked. As a Giants fan, I can only hope he'll come back looking to avenge the poor decisions of his past. He hasn't shown me he's capable of doing that, but if shooting himself doesn't change that, I don't know what can.

Terrell Owens:
His track record isn't the best. But on the field, he's one of the best. Even so, as of late, he hasn't been in his prime. He's become one of the league leaders in dropped balls and has been non-existent on the field at times. The Cowboys added big-time wide receiver Roy Williams as well, which puts even more pressure on Owens to perform. Fortunately for him, Romo hasn't been notified that Williams is on the team, as Roy's numbers would indicate. TO is a phenomenal athlete and has been an all-pro wide receiver for many years now. He's backed Romo and brought him to fame as a quarterback. But enough is enough. The talk has done nothing for Owens. Until he learns that if he doesn't shut up and allow the offense to work as a cohesive unit, not a unit centered around him, he won't get that Super Bowl ring. If I were Jerry Jones, I'd give Owens one more chance. Romo's injury likely cost Dallas a playoff spot, and there's no telling what could have happened if that hadn't been the case. Even so, the Cowboys had a trip to the playoffs in their hands, and let it slip away. If I were a Dallas fan, I'd hope the shellacking by Owens' former team, Philadelphia, wakes Terrell up to the shocking reality that if he doesn't change his ways, there will be no championship in his future. We'll see if the sight of Donovan's success without him, will be enough motivation to finally get Owens thinking clearly.

Images taken from Google Images

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Take Your Pick...

With the NFL's divisional playoff weekend right around the corner, it's time to make some picks. For the eight remaining teams, there's no turning back. There will be no second chances this season. A win and you move on, a loss and you go home. This is the time of year when every play matters. One mistake could make or break a season. It's also the time of year for a fresh start. Records don't matter anymore. Once you're in the playoffs, you control your own destiny. The Chargers are no longer 8-8. They're tied for first at 1-0; a top 8 team in the NFL. The Titans' NFL best 13-3 record means nothing as well. It can just as easily be erased and forgotten with a loss to the Ravens on Saturday. Then there's the Eagles. Just a few weeks ago, Andy Reid benched veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb and Philadelphia was in turmoil. It seemed the Reid/McNabb era was coming to a close. However, the Eagles rallied and snuck in the playoffs at 9-6-1. Quarterback and coaching controversy of the past aside, the Eagles are just three wins away from being Super Bowl champions, and are confident they can win it all. That's the beauty of the playoffs; it's anyone's game for the taking. How else can you explain the Giants remarkable Super Bowl run last year? You just can't. Even so, here's my attempt to explain what's going to happen this week. Sport betting odds aside, here are some games I'd be willing to do some online sport betting on.

Baltimore 20 - Tennessee 16
Tennessee's got experience at quarterback, a stellar tandem in the backfield, and a fierce defense. Not to mention, they've got an electric home crowd on their side. So who am I taking? Baltimore. The Ravens fear no one. Their defense settles for nothing less than excellence on every play, and usually gets it. Combine that with an offense that does just enough, and the Ravens are a serious threat to make some noise in the playoffs. Lewis, Suggs, and the rest of the Raven defense, will likely put out bounties for Lendale White and Chris Johnson. The defense is just that intimidating. And with Ed Reed lurking around in the secondary, expect Kerry Collins to struggle offensively. In a defensive battle, the Ravens avenge their 13-10 loss in Week 5 to the Titans.

Arizona 24 - Carolina 31
As much as I really want to call this my upset special and take the Cardinals, I just....can't. Well? No, I can't. Carolina is 12-4. They're 8-0 at home. And Jake Delhomme is 5-2 as a starter in the playoffs. The records don't lie. But like I said before, records mean nothing come playoff time. Either way, Carolina still takes this one. DeAngelo Williams simply cannot be stopped. Combine that with the speed of Steve Smith, described by Kenny Mayne as, "incendiary", and it's easy to see why Panthers have the edge in a shootout. With Anquan Boldin's health remaining in question, I cannot see the Cardinals upstaging the Panthers on their home turf. Carolina takes this one by a touchdown.

Philadelphia 17 - Giants 23
In a scary matchup for Giant fans, I think the home-team prevails. Both division rivals came away with a victory on the other's home turf, but that won't be the case this Sunday. The playoff atmosphere is so much different than any regular season game. The home crowd should be raucous for the defending Super Bowl champs. But where the game really matters is down on the field. I think this game is won in the trenches, which gives New York the edge. Temperatures will be around 30 degrees for the game, and although Philadelphia isn't bothered by the cold weather, they will be bothered by one thing: attempting to tackle Giants RB Brandon Jacobs in the frigid cold. I expect New York's backfield to wear down Philadelphia's defense early on, giving the Giants the edge they need to come away with a victory in the end. The cold weather won't help the ailing Brian Westbrook, so it'll be up to Donovan McNabb to beat the Giants through the air. With these tough conditions, I think the Giants running game outperforms the Eagles passing game, in a close one.

San Diego 13 - Pittsburgh 15
In Week 11, the Steelers barely edged out the Chargers in the NFL's first 11-10 game. I say the two teams start a trend and the Steelers win in odd fashion, 15-13. The Chargers are hotter than any team right now, but I do believe the Steelers are the favorite to win the Super Bowl. Their defense is the best in the NFL. Ben Roethlisberger is a proven, big-game quarterback. And Heinz Field is just impossible to play on. Have you seen that thing? It's like a mix between quicksand and ice. But to Pittsburgh, it's their home field. They count on it to produce odd-/low-scoring games in which they usually win. I think the field stays true to form for them. My star watch: a healthy "Fast" Willie Parker.

Happy Divisional Playoffs everyone. May the best teams survive. And may the sport betting odds be in your favor.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

All Signs Point to Florida...

If the bowl games leading up to the BCS National Championship are any indication of the outcome of Thursday's much anticipated game, Florida should be smiling right now. All season long, the Big 12 was the talk of the town. Their quarterbacks were the best and their offenses, unparalleled. On quite the contrary, the Big Ten was much the opposite. In light of their previous six losses in BCS bowl games, the Big Ten has hardly earned respect over the last few years. So with a Fiesta Bowl featuring Texas and Ohio State, it was sure to be a Big 12 route, right? Wrong.

A Texas offense averaging 44 points per game was held to a miniscule 3 points in the first half versus Ohio State. 3 points! Meanwhile, the nation's #2 rush defense, Texas, surrendered 203 rushing yards to Ohio State. Timeout. Texas was ranked #2 in the nation in rush defense, and they gave up 203 yards rushing to Ohio State? That makes sense. No wait, it doesn't. Perhaps Texas' defense was overrated, considering no one in the Big 12 runs the ball? Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas Tech, Kansas...yeah, that makes more sense. Texas was exploited by Ohio State, and up until Colt McCoy's last pass, outplayed by Ohio State. The Longhorns' high-powered offense was held in check and their defense was beat physically. A poor defensive play call at the end by Ohio State, may have saved the Longhorns from embarassment. Although anyone watching knows that Texas made the Big 12 look weak.

In the Rose Bowl, USC dominated Penn State. The Nittany Lions were the best team out of the Big Ten this year. Yet the game wasn't even a contest. It wasn't supposed to be. After seeing the Rose Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl, I question why USC isn't playing Thursday night. If you compare the two matchups (Rose & Fiesta), USC is clearly the best of the four teams. And if Texas beat Oklahoma, I think it's safe to say USC could too. It's unfortunate USC's lighter schedule costs them the chance to play for what they might truly deserve: a national title.

What else have Big 12 teams done in their bowl games? Well, Texas Tech, tied a top the Big 12 with Texas and Oklahoma at the end of the season, went into their bowl game (AT&T Cotton Bowl) expecting to come away with a victory against the SEC's Ole Miss. However, Ole Miss would have nothing of it. The 9-4 (5-3) Running Rebels shocked the Red Raiders, as they coasted to a 47-34 victory. That wasn't supposed to happen. How about #13 Oklahoma State? They were routed by an Oregon team, 42-31, that lost 3 games in the supposedly weaker Pac-10 conference. Do you see a trend here?

If it wasn't for wins by Kansas, Nebraska, & Missouri, over teams with no better ranking than #23, the Big 12 would have nothing to show for itself this bowl season. So what does this tell us? Well, perhaps the Pac-10 isn't as overrated as we thought. When we think overrated, maybe we should be thinking about the Big 12 instead. At least this year it seems to be.

With all the talk before Thursday's game about the possibility of the Big 12 being overrated now, Oklahoma has a place to find its motivation for the big game. However, even so, I expect Florida to leave know doubt that the SEC is the better conference. Oklahoma now has something to prove. However at the same time, Florida's been there before and they have motivation of their own. Especially Tim Tebow. The runner-up for the Heisman Trophy should play with some fire, in response to Oklahoma cornerback Dominique Franks' remarks that Tebow would be the 4th best quarterback in their conference. I think Franks might regret that statement come Thursday night, when Tebow shows Franks that he thinks Oklahoma might be the 4th best team in his conference (SEC), or at least, the second for sure.

My Prediction:
Florida 41 - Oklahoma 31
They play defense in the SEC Oklahoma.

And can we get some love for Utah? #2 maybe?

Image taken from

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Wild-card Weekend...

Well here we go. The moment we've been waiting for all season long. It's playoff time. If the playoffs are anything like this season, they're sure to be a wild ride. And speaking of wild, it's Wild-card weekend. This year's playoff field features the hottest group of teams I can remember. Just how hot? Check this out:

Here's how these playoff teams finished out the season:
Atlanta: 9-3, Indianapolis: 9-0, Carolina: 8-2, San Diego 4-0, Philadelphia: 4-1, Baltimore: 9-2, Minnesota: 5-1, Miami: 9-1, Pittsburgh: 6-1

Each of these teams won when it mattered and are threats to make noise in the playoffs. It's kind of ironic how 2 of the 3 teams not listed are the two #1 seeds (Giants & Titans). I've never seen a playoffs so geared around the Wild-card teams, with a lack of focus on the higher seeds. It's almost like home-field advantage doesn't even matter anymore after what we saw from the Giants and Steelers in the last three years. Whether the year of the lower seeds proves to be true or not, it all makes for an exciting Wild-card weekend. Here are my predictions:

Atlanta 27 - Arizona 24
I don't think everyone should be so quick to write Arizona off. Yes they enter the playoffs playing worse than any other team, however that shouldn't take away from their potential. Thanks in part to their weak division, they clinched very early in the season and didn't seem to know what to do about it. Their team forgot to show up in 3 of their last 5 games. However, in Week 17 they wanted to get something going heading into the playoffs, and they handled a Seattle team, playing well at the time, fairly easily. Now with the likely return of Anquan Boldin and a home crowd on their side, I expect the Cardinals that started the year 7-3 to show up. With this being said, I think the young Matt Ryan has proven he can handle the pressures of the NFL. Yes, the playoffs are much different than the regular season, however, Ryan has a trusty running back, in Michael Turner, to hand it off to, and a pretty solid defense. I think the better Falcons team squeezes out a victory.

Indianapolis 31 - San Diego 27
This is such a tough game to pick. I'm really not sure. San Diego always plays Indianapolis well. However, in a tight one this year Indianapolis got the win. Just as they should of last year in a tight one in which Vinatieri missed a 29 yard field goal with seconds remaining. In my eyes, the Colts won both games. I think they're just the slightly better team. Additionally, San Diego's defense isn't what it used to be. The absense of Shawn Merriman this year has been huge for the Chargers, and I expect the NFL's MVP, Peyton Manning, to exploit a weaker defense. Rivers and Tomlinson will keep it close as always, but I expect the Chargers' winning streak to come to an end, and the Colts' to extend to 10 games.

Baltimore 20 - Miami 24
On paper, Miami is outmatched by Baltimore. In Week 7 Baltimore dismantled Miami 27-13. But it's a different time, different place. Since the Baltimore loss, Miami is 9-1. They're a new team with a new mentality. The Ravens shut down the Wildcat formation in their first meeting, but I expect the Dolphins to throw some new wrinkles into the system. Chad Pennington should come out confident after his 295 yard performance against the tough Raven defense earlier this year. His only mistake that game was a second quarter pick six to Terrell Suggs. If Chad can eliminate the big mistake, which I think he will, I believe him and a strong Dolphins' defense take down the Ravens.

Philadelphia 30 - Minnesota 20
It's been a Wild-card weekend for the home teams thus far, but this game features one Wild-card team that's too hot to pick against: the Philadelphia Eagles. Aside from one lapse against the Redskins in an always tough divisional matchup, the Eagles are playing dominating football right now. They're happy to be in the playoffs after facing the longest odds to make it entering Week 17, and they're ready to make some more noise in the playoffs. Philadelphia is a confident football team right now. In fact, they are scary confident. Their defense should put a lot of pressure on Tavaris Jackson in his playoff debut, and I expect Adrian Peterson to be held somewhat in check as well. Philadelphia wins the turnover battle and the game, going away.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports