So here we go: Wild Card weekend. 4 games to see who gets to lose (maybe) to the 4 teams who had byes this week when they play in the divisional championships next week. I thought I’d take this time to put my two cents in on each matchup and predict its outcome. So without further ado:
Jets vs. Bengals: We saw this exact match-up last week, and it didn’t go too well for Cincinnati. A pass-heavy team like the Bengals is going to have a lot of trouble when facing the talented cornerbacks of the New York Jets, especially Darrelle Revis. Then again, the Jets don’t really have the big-name offensive players necessary to put up points against the Bengals, either. I don’t trust Mark Sanchez, a rookie, to be able to out-duel Carson Palmer, a veteran with playoff experience (albeit not much). This will be compounded by the Jets having to take their game on the road, where the Jets have played well (5-3), but not as well as the Bengals have played at home. I think all of this favors a close game going in the home team’s favor. My pick: Cincinnati.
Eagles vs. Cowboys: I’ll admit this is the game I know the least about. I have no love for Donovan McNabb (I tend to dislike quarterbacks the Pats have faced in past Super Bowls), but I hate the Cowboys and Tony Romo. So I honestly have no care how this game goes. The Eagles seemed to be building momentum for the postseason two weeks ago when they tied the Vikings for second in the NFC. But their loss to the Cowboys set them up with this wild card rematch. The edge goes to Dallas, though, because Philadelphia will have to play on the road, where the record is not as good as Dallas’s home record (just like the Jets). I think the home-field advantage of the new Cowboys stadium (in all its monstrosity), combined with Tony Romo’s desire to prove he’s not a playoff choke-artist, powers Dallas past Philadelphia. I don’t think it will matter though, because neither team is getting past the second round. My pick: Dallas.
Packers vs. Cardinals: Oddly enough, this is the third game that will feature a repeat match-up of the previous week’s game. Now, if you’ve been following my blog you can probably guess who I’m going with before I give my analysis. But for the rest of you, I look at last Sunday’s game between Green Bay and Arizona and find it very telling. Green Bay smoked Arizona 33-7. Neither team had much to play for, so it wasn’t as if one team was going to roll over and play dead for the other team. Therefore, this match-up is more telling of how things might go next week. I don’t like any of Arizona’s quarterbacks, and think Aaron Rodgers could outplay any of them. Additionally, I think the Packers have improved and have built momentum in the last few weeks approaching the playoffs, whereas Arizona has been set to just kind of rest on their laurels. Add to the fact that all 4 home teams rarely win, and you have the makings of an upset here. My pick: Green Bay.
Ravens vs. Patriots: The Patriots are going to have a tough time winning this game, that’s for sure. Losing Wes Welker was a tremendous loss to an offense that doesn’t have too many other options at its disposal. Still, there are multiple things to be excited about for this game. The first is that it’s at Gillette, where the Pats haven’t lost this season. The second is that it’s against the Ravens, who the Patriots already beat once this season, a game where Welker was not the primary target. So we know we can beat them. And last week we saw the breakout of Julian Edelman as a possible replacement for Welker. He moves like Wes does, he has the same agility and open-field cutting ability, and he’s got great quickness (though not necessarily speed). With any luck, he can be inserted into that slot position seamlessly. All in all, this is not the defense-centric Baltimore of previous years, which makes them more exploitable. If it comes down to a battle of offenses, I’ll take Tom Brady and a rested Laurence Maroney over Joe Flacco and Ray Rice any day of the week. My pick: New England.
So there you have it. Three home victories and one road victory. Pretty standard fare for Wildcard Weekend. I can’t wait!