Posted on: January 9, 2010 1:26 pm
Every NFL fan, and I mean the TRUE FAN (those of us who can get past whether or not our favorite team made the playoffs), looks forward to Week 18 from the moment the preseason camps begin to open. Some of us get labeled as 'bandwagon' fans because our allegiances seem to change from game to game in the playoffs (again, if our fav is not there), but I disagree with that label. I believe that those fans who are like me just LOVE NFL football and we appreciate great matchups and great games in the playoffs. Let's face it, there are separate rivalries in playoff season that go beyond the regular season, such as the Colts and Patriots , and, from the past, the Steelers and Cowboys . So, in each matchup I find reasons to pull a little more for one team than the other. Perhaps I appreciate one head coach more than the other, admiring the way they hold their team up in a classy way such as Tony Dungy always did. Or perhaps there is a player who is the most intriguing story of the playoffs such as Brett Favre and the possibility that if things fall just right he could be facing the Packers in the NFC Championship game. Regardless, I LOVE THE PLAYOFFS!!!
What follows are my picks for Wild Card Weekend, why, and which team I am pulling for:
Philadelphia @ Dallas
For some, this game is a no brainer and the Cowboys are the choice. There is no question that they have played their best all-around football over the past few weeks. The defense has stepped up big time, throwing two shutouts, Marion Barber seems to have found himself again and Tony Romo has matured into the best version of himself in his career. I believe this has more to do with coaching than anything else. The 'Boys are using Felix Jones and Tashard Choice , along with Barber, in a rotation that is most effective. Barber has not played in this situation since Julius Jones was let go. Barber was the most feared goal line back in the league in those days, and his recent performance shows he is once again benefitting from not being an every down back. As for Romo, he still has that 'goofy little kid' look going on, but I believe that something has clicked inside of his head and perhaps his heart. He looks fearless in the pocket and trusting of his receivers. He finally has a target worthy of taking pressure off of Jason Witten in Miles Austin , and other receivers are actually catching the ball too.
Conversely, the Eagles were the hot team and many people's pick to rise up and make a big run in the playoffs. Then Week 17 happened and everyone jumped off of their wagon. Donovan McNabb can still get the job done, but his line must protect him AND his receivers MUST CATCH THE BALL. Brian Westbrook looked like he was in the second week of the preseason against Dallas and provided little spark. And the defense just isn't the same without Coach Johnson dialing up the blitzes. I am a big Andy Reid fan, and if anyone can turn this around in a week, well he is certainly one who could. But ......
I don't see it. I grew up a Cowboy fan until Mr Jones bought the team (just don't like that guy) and I would tend to lean towards rooting for the Eagles. That being said, momentum is huge, and although the Eagles could grab it away with some stellar early play, I think it's all on Dallas' side.
Cowboys 27 Eagles 24
Green Bay @ Arizona
Here is the 'bandwagon' I am jumping on this week. I love what the Packers have done over the course of the second half of the season. Aaron Rodgers has proven in my eyes that he is a big time quarterback and that maybe the Pack wasn't so dumb letting the 'every year Favre off-season circus' move on. Rodgers has a bevy of receivers to go to in any given situation. In addition, the running game is clicking with Ryan Grant leading the way. The addition of Ahman Green has only helped. Defensively, despite the blip in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago (I was at that game), Green Bay has improved throughout the season. The young linebackers are on the verge of becoming one of the best crews in the NFC, the line works hard and the secondary led by Charles Woodson have made the 'big play' an every game occurrence.
I enjoy watching many of the athletes on the Cardinals roster perform, respect and admire the entire Kurt Warner story and all that he has achieved, and I like Ken Whisenhunt. However, I thought the Cards played over their heads last year (Larry Fitzgerald going all-universe) in the playoffs, and they truly benefit from playing in the weakest division in the NFL. Anytime you can combine Fitz with his receiver mates, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston , and have Warner throwing the pigskin around you have a chance to win. And as much as I believe Beanie Wells is a future star, he just cannot hold onto the ball.
In the end, I believe Green Bay is primed for a deep run. Unfortunately for the defending conference champs, they are in the way.
Packers 34 Cardinals 20
NY Jets @ Cincinnati
Rex Ryan made a lot of grandiose statements at the beginning of the season that only increased, both in volume and pompacity, after a very good start by the Jets. Somehow, despite a rollercoaster ride of team performances, the New Yorkers find themselves in the postseason. I love Ryan. I truly believe he is a future Super Bowl Champion coach. Mark Sanchez looks like he will develop into at least a good Qb, if not a very good one. Once Thomas Jones runs out of 'career gas', Shonn Greene will develop into a superstar. And Darrelle Revis already IS a superstar. All of this bodes well for the future, and making the playoffs this season will only accelerate future success. But that's the future, this is now.
The Bengals , on the other hand, are out of gas ..... NOW. Their defense has looked weaker and weaker as the season has progressed. Carson Palmer has proven that he is fully recovered from the knee injury that he suffered a few years ago, and is nice quarterback. But the receivers are old, Ocho is hurting, the running game is (can I repeat myself?) out of gas. Unless Larry Johnson comes off the bench and out of obscurity with a performance of a lifetime, I think the Cats are in trouble.
This might be the least entertaining game of this playoff season.
Jets 17 Bengals 10
Baltimore @ New England
Who doubts 'The Hoodie'? Bill Belichick, like him or not, is a proven winner. Tom Brady already has his bust being molded for when he reaches Canton. And Randy Moss ? Shoot, when Randy decides to play he is one of the best receivers in the history of the game. But this team is a shell of what we are used to seeing out of the Patriots. Moss WILL show up, and probably have a nice game. Although at times Brady played great this season, I don't think he is all the way back from the knee. He'll also play well in this game. But the running game is lacking, the defense is not good and Wes Welker is out. Yikes!!
The Ravens enter this game with a chip on their shoulders after what they feel was a referee influenced loss during the regular season. I still don't see what all the hype is about surrounding Joe Flacco . Sure, he's better than anyone expected coming out of college, but no one expected ANYTHING, so how is that a big deal? He's good, might become real good, but he's not leading ANY team into the Super Bowl this season. Despite aging, the defense is still the story in Baltimore. Ray Lewis is jacked up. Is that a surprise? Ray gets jacked up as soon as he opens his eyes every morning. And he will play his best football of the season during the post season, no matter how long it lasts. The big key to this game is can Ray Rice and Willis McGahee combine to dominate time of possession and get the ball into the endzone without putting it on the ground too often. The smart money says yes.
Now, I for one would not be surprised if 'Hoodie' has kept something up his sleeve. We all know that no one leaks in New England, the Secret Service could take lessons on security from the Chowds. This may or may not be the case, but what if Fred Taylor has been MUCH healthier for WEEKS than the Pats have let on? Maybe Fragile Fred has just been staying healthy, comes out and puts up 200 yards and 3 Tds? If so, Hoodie's legend multiplies by 1,000 and the Patriots win. If not .......
Ravens 23 Patriots 21
Enjoy the games friends and fellow fans!!!