So the NFL playoffs will start this weekend. First off, let’s look back and see how I did with my preseason picks. In the AFC, I got three of the six playoff teams, correctly picking Indianapolis, Baltimore and San Diego and missing on Pittsburgh, Miami and Houston. In the NFC, I got four out of six, getting Philadelphia, Minnesota, New Orleans and Arizona right and whiffing on Atlanta and Chicago. San Diego was the only one of the four bye teams that I got right, picking Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and (hack) Chicago as the others.
In the preseason, I missed totally on the Jets, stating bluntly that they just suck. Well, they did get into the playoffs thanks to two teams with nothing to play for tanking their final games (thank you, Indianapolis and Cincinnati), but in retrospect, given Baltimore’s occasional defensive struggles and the Jets ending up with the best defense in the league, maybe Rex Ryan did a little more than just benefit from great defensive talent with the Ravens. To my credit, I did say that Cincinnati would surprise some people this season, but I still didn’t pick them to get into the playoffs. And I had New England just missing the playoffs, predicting another Tom Brady injury that would kill them. Well, Brady didn’t get hurt, they won the division, though they are far from dominant, and it looks like it’s going to be an injury to Wes Welker that will ultimately kill them. Kinda close, I suppose. In the NFC, I said the Dallas Cowboys would be Wild Card contenders (of course, I said the same thing about the Redskins) but I had them just missing the playoffs. Same for the Green Bay Packers, close but not quite. Well, they both made it, obviously.
One good thing, though, my preseason Superbowl picks are both still in the field, with San Diego looking very, very good and Arizona looking like it may have a shot with the inconsistent teams in the NFC if they can get it together for more than one week at a time. That’s more than those who picked the Giants, Steelers, Bears or Titans to go to the big game can say. This weekend is the Wild Card round, and here is how I think it will go. Surprisingly (or rather, boringly if you prefer) three of the four matchups are rematches from last week. Is there anything more anti-climactic or unfair than how the NFL wraps up its regular season?
Saturday, 4:30 p.m.- New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals
The Jets, fresh off crushing the Bengals last week, will probably have a lot of confidence going into this one. They have a very good defense and an excellent running game, two key elements to winning post-season games. But they also have a rookie quarterback with a low completion percentage, a low QB rating and 8 more interceptions than touchdowns. The Bengals may have struggled down the stretch, but I think they win this pretty easily. I think it’ll be a somewhat low-scoring affair, thanks to good defense on both sides, but Mark Sanchez will throw picks at the wrong time and Carson Palmer won’t. The Bengals move on for the first time since 1990.
Saturday, 8 p.m.- Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
So the Eagles, who unlike a few other notable playoff temas that tanked last week, actually had something to play for when they went out and promptly got stomped by the Cowboys. In addition, Dallas beat the Eagles twice this year, counting the 24-0 pasting just the other day. So Dallas wins this game and advances, right? Nope. This is the playoffs, folks, and if there is one team I don’t want to play in the post season, it’s the Eagles. Watch out for another Tony Romo choke-job, a big game from Brain Westbrook, and Wade Phillips back on the unemployment line after seemingly staving off the inevitable by putting together a nice late season run for a division title.
Sunday, 1 p.m.- Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots
Just how big of a loss is Wes Welker to New England? Big enough that they’re going to lose this weekend at home to one of the most inconsistent teams in the league. Baltimore can play defense and run the hell out of the ball, two things the Patriots have struggled with at times this season. And without Welker’s presence to bail out Brady when no one else is open, the Pats will struggle to score points. Baltimore behind Joe Flacco will get one game closer to a return trip to the AFC title game.
Sunday, 4:40 p.m.- Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals
This is a tough one. Arizona has alternated between looking like a legit Superbowl team and looking like a 4-12 mess. Green Bay has managed an impressive turnaround after a 4-4 start and two humiliating defeats to Brett Favre. The Packers are going to be highly motivated to try and force another trip to Minnesota somewhere down the line, but will it be enough. Kurt Warner is nothing if not a big-game quarterback. If he can avoid the turnovers, the Cardinals can and will take this one. But they’re going to have to score because Green Bay behind Aaron Rodgers has the offense humming. Don’t read too muich into last week’s blowout by the Packers, either. The Cardinals had nothing to play for. I’m going to stick with my original Superbowl pick and say Arizona takes this one in a close game decided by a late turnover.