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

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