Welcome football fans, or shall I say fanatics. After one of the most unpredictable seasons filled with surprises, let downs and over-achieving, we finally have come to the NFL playoffs, and the time to separate men from boys, contenders from pretenders.
While many people think it is the New England Patriots and everyone else, we do have some good teams here, all with a special little something that make them worth considering. We do have a team in with a losing record, first time in NFL history, and well experts are giving them as much of a chance as the classic “snowball in hell”. We have top defenses, great offenses and good coaches. This team features veteran star leaders and some younger upstarts. As a whole I feel that this is one of the more open fields in history. So without further delay, let me get you all to my breakdown of opening week. Good luck to your teams this weekend.
Saturday, 4;30 pm EST, NBC-TV
The Seahawks enter as the first team in NFL history to enter the playoffs with a losing record, and the reward? Oh just the defending Super Bowl Champs. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll may know a little something about bowl games, but Saints Coach Sean Payton knows about winning it all, at the highest level. Of all the teams in this year’s playoffs, the Seahawks are given the smallest chance to win, in fact a home team being an 11 point underdog has to be a first as well.
Offense: Saints 11th ranked overall, Seahawks 23rd ranked overall
We know the story by now about the Saints offense. Drew Brees loves to use all the weapons and open up the field. Reggie Bush is back and healthy just in time, as Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas have been placed on injured reserve. The Saints always look good on offense, and really should over-power a weak Seahawks defense, but moving forward they will need to find a way to mix in more quality running.
The Seahawks have been underwhelming on offense, and it is not even decided yet if we will see veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck or unproven Charlie Whitehurst this weekend. The mid-season acquisition of Marshawn Lynch has made the run game a bit better, but talent like Justin Forsett and Leon Washington just has not been very big this season. It is a young offense with good future potential, but I can’t expect too much right now.
Defense: Saints 7th overall, Seahawks 25th overall
Yes, the Saints have been bringing good defense to the table, which makes some shutter to think. While it was once seen as a track meet when playing the Saints, now teams must come in with a good game plan. The bad news for the Seahawks and whoever plays QB, the Saints allow only 193 yards per game in the passing game. MLB Jonathan Vilma seems to finally be the big time defensive leader that he was expected to be early in his career.
As poor as the Seahawks offense has been, the defense has been worse. Yes, they looked decent in the finale in stopping the Rams, but not much to say about it. They don’t stop either facet of the game very well, and will have a long busy day ahead here.
Summary: Look at the numbers, the names, the coaches and the records and this one seems easy to pick. The Saints have the experience on their side as well. The only hope the Seahawks have is a loud home crowd, and maybe the Saints walking in over-confident. The Saints just have way too much talent on both sides of the ball, and should have little problem handling business here. The NFC could be won easily by a team who did not get a first-round bye, and this may be the team to steal it.
Prediction: Saints 31, Seahawks 10
6. New York Jets ( 11-5 ) at 3. Indianapolis Colts ( 10-6 )
Saturday, 8pm EST, NBC-TV
This pre-season many thought both of these teams would be at the top of the AFC. The Colts bring that high-flying offense, the Jets bring hard-core defense, but it was not all roses this year. Injuries and growing pains have hurt these 2 teams this season, but both have worked hard and do belong in this tournament. The Colts were in the Super Bowl last year, but will have to play perfect football in hopes to do it again here.
Offense: Jets 14th ranked overall, Colts 4th ranked overall
The Jets like to run first, then second as well. LaDainian Tomlinson has had decent success in the past against the Colts when with San Diego, and added with Shonn Greene makes for a good ground game. QB Mark Sanchez has struggled over the last 4 games, throwing just 2 TDs against 9 interceptions. The offense looked lost and confused near the end of the year, and if anything the Colts do bring a good pass rush.
As always we look at Peyton Manning, and the Colts will be as good as he can be. The ground game of Joseph Addai and Donald Brown will have a hard time against a good run defense, so it is up to Reggie Wayne and a cast of replacement WRs and TEs to carry the load. Where last year Manning had Dallas Clark, Anthony Gonzalez and others at his disposal, he will now need guys like Jacob Tamme and Blair White to play big. If anyone can get them to do so, it is Manning.
Defense: Jets 6th ranked overall, Colts 23rd ranked overall
We all know that Jets head coach Rex Ryan comes from a defensive minded family. Rex mixes a 3-4 scheme with shades of his dad’s old 46 defense. The Jets like to throw a lot of different looks and bring tons of pressure, but they are doing it against a guy in Manning who has a 6th sense for reading defenses. The key to survival is to penetrate with well timed blitzes.
The Colts, well it was just another season for Peyton’s team. A smaller, speed style defense at times has awful match-up problems, but if we all remember, last year they came up big in the playoffs. They do have good pass rushers in Freeney and Mathis, but stopping the run can be ultra-tough against one of the top offensive lines in the NFL. The defense can only be as strong as the offense of the Colts. Try and get quick scores and make the Jets work.
Summary: This game is tougher to call as some may think. Rex Ryan has never had luck against Peyton Manning, but his team has improved. the Jets are bigger, and tougher, but are they smart enough? They have secret weapons like Brad Smith, who can spread it out in the wildcat, or make big special team plays. It comes down to the jets playing flawless to have a shot, and as we saw in last year’s playoffs, they are capable.
Prediction: Colts 27, Jets 24
5. Baltimore Ravens ( 11-5 ) at 4. Kansas City Chiefs ( 10-6 )
Sunday, 1 pm EST, CBS-TV
A battle of the well-tested Ravens and the upstart Chiefs will prove to be one of the better possible match-ups in recent memory. The Ravens have played 6 straight road playoff games, and coming to the very difficult Arrowhead stadium will be the best test of all. Can the Chiefs prove that they belong with the big boys, and how much would we all love to see a Matt Cassel vs. Patriots game this playoffs?
Offense: Ravens 17th ranked overall, Chiefs 13th ranked overall
The Ravens have good players on both ends of the offense. They have good running backs like Ray Rice and Willis McGahee. They also have talent at WR like Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmanzadeh, and also the timeless classic Derrick Mason. The key is consistency. The Ravens have been known at times to not be there, and not deliver. Flacco is still an enigma at QB. Some weeks it looks awfully good and the next, well just awful. The key is good play-action and an equal mix of run and pass.
The Chiefs improved greatly as the season rolled on, although it was against weaker competition. However, Matt Cassel showed the ability to be a big time NFL QB, posting 27 TDs vs just 7 INTs this season. They also have a great 1-2 punch at RB with seasoned vet Thomas Jones, and the speedy youngster Jamaal Charles, who ended up second in rushing in the NFL. Yes, they had huge numbers against bad teams, but it does show they can do good stuff, now they have to bring it against one of the legendary defenses of this era.
Defense: Ravens 3rd ranked overall, Chiefs 11th ranked overall
Just say the names and you will know. Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and the rest are a rough and tough defense. They come hard and fast and make big plays at big times. The one setback this season is that when teams go heavy to the air, they do show holes in the secondary. Last season in the first-round they made mince meat out of Tom Brady, but do they have enough to do that again, in another tough venue?
The Chiefs don’t have the superstar names yet, but did a nice job on defense this season. They play both run and pass pretty good, and are known to have a solid pass rush out of a big, quick front line. The key will be to get real tough in the trenches to stop the run, and get pass rush without sending to many players on blitzes.
Summary: The Chiefs lost just 1 home game all year, in what was kind of a sleeper in the finale against the Raiders. Yes the Ravens do it on the road every year, but something has to give. The Chiefs are 0-3 in home playoff games since 1994, but Todd Haley was the guy controlling the Cardinals offense when they went to the Super Bowl, and he knows how to get creative against a good defense. While the Ravens have the swagger and the moxy, the Chiefs have the “nothing to lose” label, and every season a young talent gets known by the entire world. This season, that guy will be Jamaal Charles, in what I see as a minor upset.
Prediction: Chiefs 24, Ravens 20
Sunday, 4:30 pm, EST, Fox-TV
A change at QB by the Eagles turned around what many saw as a long season, and made them a competitive team. The Packers were many experts preseason favorite to go all the way in the NFC. This may be the tightest game to call on paper, and very tough to predict. This should make for an interesting ball game.
Offense: Packers 10th ranked overall, Eagles 3rd ranked overall
On offense, it begins and ends with Aaron Rodgers. Another season with a QB rating over 100, something that legend Brett Favre never even accomplished. The running game suffered a big blow early with the season ending injury to Ryan Grant, and since it has been bits and pieces, although it has looked better the last few weeks. The Packers have a very tough WR corps to contain, much like their opponent. The oft-concussive Rodgers will need to shake the cobwebs and be ready for the hard Eagles blitz schemes.
What more can be said about Michael Vick and the Eagles. They have blazing speed at WR with DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, and a rugged, sure handed RB in LeSean McCoy. We all know that it revolves around Vick, who from a passing stand point is having a career year. He also has the legs to make defenses go crazy. Lately they have been hurt by blitzing defenses, but Vick is the master of improv on offense, and he is 2-0 in opening round playoff games, including a win at Green Bay. They need to maintain good blocking, and make the big grabs, like the explosive offense they have shown this season.
Defense: Packers 2nd ranked overall, Eagles 22nd ranked overall
The Packers have overcome serious injuries on this side of the ball, and have made it work by the numbers. In the season opener, they did have problems containing Vick, but since then video has been seen, and the pass rush has improved greatly. Veteran CB Charles Woodson will be busy and will need to play big. This LB group is one of the best in football as well. The key is to stop Mike Vick’s long passes.
Th Eagles are crushed by injuries, and are using a series of 7th round draft picks to band aid a once good defense. They still boast pro-bowl CB Asante Samuel who has all kinds of experience winning, and good front 4 pass rush led by Trent Cole. They will need to get creative in blitzes, which they were once famous for, and need to help out the young corners to have a chance against the very efficient Rodgers.
Summary: Early in the year, the Packers pounded on than Eagles QB Kevin Kolb, but things changed when Vick entered. Vick certainly has had a revamping this season and is a MVP candidate. Andy Reid is 3-0 all time at home in playoff openers, and he has a knock for creating a good game plan. Rodgers and the Packers are full of talent, and are also well coached. The key here comes down to turnovers and whose blitz can be most effective. I give the slimmest of edge to the home team, but it will be a great battle nonetheless.
Prediction: Eagles 31. Packers 28
If you’d like to hear anything else from me on topics or ideas I can be reached at [email protected]
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