So I’m batting .500 with my NFL playoff picks after last weekend. I correctly nabbed Baltimore winning in New England and Arizona topping Green Bay, although just barely. How great was that game, by the way? The two teams combined for four field goal attempts (two made, two missed) and 13 touchdowns. At least Arizona played defense in the first half, the Packers were never close to stopping Kurt Warner, as evidenced by his four incomplete passes, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. Can we please end the argument about whether or not he’s a Hall of Famer now? All the guy’s done is take two teams that were league-wide jokes before his arrival and turn them into legitimate championship-type clubs in the Rams and the Cardinals. If I was Detroit, I might consider making a trade offer.
In the other two games, I wasn’t so good. The Jets beat up on the Bengals, which goes to show you how quickly things change. If the playoffs happened after week 10, Cincinnati stomps the Jets, but since then, New York has gotten on a roll and the wheels have fallen off for the Bengals. Philadelphia also surprised me with its lack of effort in getting pushed around by the Cowboys (again). I think it’s time for Donovan McNabb to move on. It’s Kevin Kolb time for the Eagles in 2010. Here we are on the cusp of the second round of the playoffs, and I’ll look at each of the four games this weekend, in the order I think will be the worst to best games.
New York Jets at San Diego Chargers
This game has all the ear-marks of a blowout to me. I may regret saying this in a couple days, but the Jets are a fraud. Some people think that beating a Cincinnati team that went in the tank weeks ago vindicates them as a playoff team, but I’m not one of them. Of all the teams left playing, New York is by far the worst. They only got into the playoffs because Indianapolis tanked the game in week 16, and Cincinnati tanked the game in week 17 and still managed to show the Jets enough actual stuff to give them a good game-plan for the real show. Don’t get me wrong, the Jets have a very good defense and a solid running game, but they are no better than a .500 team if everyone’s playing all-out. San Diego, on the other hand, is playing the best ball in the league right now. If this game is within two touchdowns, I’ll be surprised.
Baltimore Ravens at Indianapolis Colts
Here’s your test case, along with New Orleans, for whether or not it’s a good idea for teams that clinch early to essentially sit on their hands for weeks waiting for the playoffs. I’ve always believed that it’s the wrong thing to do, and, much like the prevent defense all too often prevents teams from holding leads, this kind of decision is acting out of fear; namely the fear of injury. But, even though New England got burned when Wes Welker went down in Week 17, acting out of fear simply doesn’t work. Anyone can get hurt any time. Football is a game of rhythm and confidence, and pulling players off the field damages both of those things. I think that the Colts will, once again, pay the price and lose this game. Baltimore is playing well, they can run the ball as well as anyone in the league and, last I checked, the Colts run-stopping machine Bob Sanders is still sitting home on injured reserve. Baltimore came right out of the gate and smacked New England in the mouth last week. The Patriots never recovered. They’ll do the same to Indy this weekend, and you can make return reservations to the AFC Title Game for Joe Flacco, John Harbaugh and the gang.
Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings
Everything Brett Favre has done so far this season has been great and all, but this is the reason why Brad Childress brought him to town. He’s in Minnesota for three simple reasons, to win this game, the next game and the Superbowl. The Vikings have struggled of late, both defensively and with the running game behind a suddenly mortal-looking Adrian Peterson. If they don’t get that together fast, the Favre experiment will amount to little more than helping to pad his already gaudy stats. Dallas, despite my earlier misgivings of them as a viable contender has been playing very well. Take a closer look, however, and they beat a Saints team that seemed to be trying to lose for several weeks, a Giants team that gave up long ago, and the Eagles twice, who never really got things going consistently despite a nice winning streak. And before that, they lost at home to San Diego (a real contender) and they were the one good team that managed to find a way to lose to the Giants down the stretch. Can they go into Minnesota and win? Yes, if they run the ball well, stop the Vikings’ running game cold, and Tony Romo doesn’t fall back into bad end-of-season habits like bad turnovers. Will they win? I don’t think so. Favre didn’t go through two years of strife to get to Minnesota for a one-and-done playoff appearance. It’s going to be a close game, but Minnesota, and Brett Favre, will live to play another day.
Arizona Cardinals at New Orleans Saints
It seems like every year, there’s a team or two that comes unexpectedly out of the gate blazing, running over people and running away with their division and a bye week only to show up on Divisional Weekend and piss it all away. Last year, it was Tennessee and Carolina. This year, it’ll be Indianapolis and New Orleans. The Saints are done. After reaching 11-0, they barely beat the Redskins, having to go to overtime against one of the worst teams in the league, eeked out a win against Atlanta, then lost three straight to the Cowboys, Tampa Bay (inexplicably) and got mauled by Carolina. Their defense is looking more like the Saints D of last season than the one who played the first 10 games of this year, and the running game has taken some big steps backwards. Plus, in case you didn’t notice, the guy on the other side of the field just torched the second best defense in the league for 5 touchdowns, and Arizona was pretty good on the road (6-2). Last year at this time, the Cardinals destroyed a Carolina team on the road who had opened the season red hot, and faded a bit down the stretch. They do it again this weekend, sending the feel good story of the year home without a Superbowl yet again. Whatever the end result, this will be an exciting game with lots of points scored and big plays.