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The Sharks NFL Wild Card Playoff Preview

New England Patriots vs. Baltimore Ravens Well football fans after 17 weeks of action it all comes down to the next few weeks. That’s right, quicker then Chris Johnson can run, the season has come and gone and now we are on to the playoffs. This week we have four big match-ups, three of which are rematches of games played just last week. I would not put too much faith into those games however as it seems that some of the teams held back the “A” game plans so they did not show their best stuff, or at least that is what the fans of those respective teams hope?

So I’m here this week to bring you my breakdown and predicitions for a wild weekend of playoff action. It sure will be tough to predict with head over heart, but hey that’s why we do this stuff. Okay, so here are the break downs:

AFC Games

4. Cincinnati Bengals vs 5. New York Jets

The Jets got into the playoffs on the last day of the season after blowing out the Bengals on Sunday night. The Bengals sat several of their usual starters, but also face some injury issues as well as the mental ramifications of the loss of teammate Chris Henry heading into this game.

Offense: Seems like a very long time ago that Carson Palmer was considered an elite QB in this league. Ever since the knee injury he suffered a few years back in the playoffs against the Steelers, he has never really been the same. That being said, the Bengals rely heavily on a running attack that was ranked ninth in the league. Chad Ochocinco still gets his catches and Cedric Benson leads the way on the ground. Given how well the Jets play defense on the ground, Palmer will need to step up from his performance of the 26st ranked passing offense to have a chance here.

The Jets are led by rookie QB Mark Sanchez, who learned after his first few weeks that the NFL is no joke. The Jets rely heavily on their running attack and finished ranked first in the entire NFL this season in rushing yardage. Thomas Jones seems tougher then ever, and if he can carry it effectivly, it will reduce the chance of Sanchez turning it over and making the Jets rely on a 31st ranked passing offense.

Advantage: Bengals

Defense: The Bengals had a very good year on defense. That’s right, they were more reliant on their defense then their offense for a change. This team that finished sixth in total defense, seventh against the rush, and sixth against the pass. The team is also one of the tops in the league in getting turnovers and has ballhawks all over the secondary. The key is to not be outthought, otherwise this is a team that can wreck havoc in the playoffs.

The Jets followed the lead of their first year head coach Rex Ryan and finished with the overall number 1 defense in the league. Eighth against the rush, first against the pass, and also first in points allowed. They are led by Darelle Revis who many consider to be the best cover corner in the game, and Ryan has brought his all-out blitzing style from Baltimore.

Advantage: Jets

Overall Outlook: Let’s face it, no one on the planet expected the Bengals to be a playoff team this year. Yes, they won their division but to look back at the Steelers, Ravens, and Browns, those games were against average to below average teams. Yes they played some big games and are 6-2 at home, but they face a hard nosed, smash-mouth football team here, and may look over-matched. The Jets do not weaken on the road as they finished 5-3 away from home. I see the Jets defense handling the business here and doing enough ground work on offense to take the upset, and a rematch of the win a few weeks back against the Colts.

Prediction: Jets 24 Bengals 17

3. New England Patriots vs 6. Baltimore Ravens

The Patriots got banged up in the season finale, but do you ever look past Tom Brady? The Ravens with coach John Harbaugh make the post-season for the secnd straight year.

Offense: If anything, the Pats have found some kind of running game this year. Granted it is the usual group effort, but with Maroney, Taylor, Morris, Faulk and well anyone else to wear a Pats’ helmet, they managed to finish ranked 12th. The passing game was as good as ever, finishing third overall. However, the offense has lost star Wes Welker for the season who hauled in 123 catches this season. The guy dubbed a “Welker Clone,” Justin Edelman will have to step it up big time to take pressure off of Randy Moss and the line will have to buy Brady time.

The Ravens run, run, and run and do it well with the likes of Ray Rice and a revamped Willis McGahee, finishing 5th overall in rush yards. Second year QB Joe Flacco looked at times seems to have regressed, had a hard time finding receivers with a passing attack that finished 18th overall. His main weapon is the aging and often banged up Derrick Mason, and one wonders if he has enough weapons at receiver.

Advantage: Patriots

Defense: The Patriots are not the squad from the Super Bowl years, but still managed to finish seventh overall. They were 13th against the rush and appear to be slipping, and 12th against the pass. Belichick is still a clever defensive mind and can shake it up and mix it up with the best of them, yet it remains to be seen if he has enough talent on the field to get the job done.

The Ravens are also a small step behind on defense, but finished third overall in total defense in the NFL. They are ranked fifth against the run and eighth against the pass, and we have to believe that All-Pro safety Ed Reed will find a way back. The Ravens still know how to get to the QB and still know how to get turnovers. If they can find a way to get to Brady and shake him up along with the Pats injuries, they can make a game of it.

Advantage: Ravens

Overall Outlook: The Patriots were 10-6 last year and did not make the playoffs, which proves they still can win games. They were 8-0 at home this year and that’s where this game takes place. The Ravens struggle on the road and were 3-5 overall away from home this season. The offense still does not seem ready for prime-time and this is not the match-up for mistakes. Tom Brady will live to play another day, but as much as everyone wants to see an Indy rematch, we’ll have to wait. The Pats will still have to beat San Diego and well, that’s another story for another week.

Prediction: Patriots 31 Ravens 17

NFC Games

4. Arizona Cardinals vs 5. Green Bay Packers

In the season finale the Packers crushed the Cardinals who played without QB Kurt Warner. The Cardinals are the defending NFC Champions, while the Packers return to the playoffs without Brett Favre for the first time in three decades.

Offense: The ageless wonder Kurt Warner continues to push forward and lead this offense. The Cardinals finished 11th overall in total offense this past season. They also have one of the very best receiving groups in the NFL, but may have to do it without Anquan Boldin who suffered an ankle injury last week. None of that seems to matter to Larry Fitzgerald, who always looks like a man amongst boys on the field. As usual, the Cards rush attack was below average at best finishing 28th overall, but rookie Beanie Wells showed some life late in the season.

If there is a team out there that can run with the Cards on offense, it’s the Packers. They finished third overall this season and have weapons all over the field. WRs Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and James Jones can play a possessions game or can burn you deep. Ryan Grant leads a solid rush attack as well. QB Aaron Rodgers knows full well that a victory here can give him one more shot at beating Brett Favre and officially cement him as THE man in Green Bay. He may have lost twice this season, but a post-season win over his rival is what will be remembered when this season is over.

Advantage: EVEN

Defense: The Cardinals have never been known much for defense but did manage to finish 15th this season, yet they dont stop either form of offense very well as they are ranked 17th against the run and 23rd against the pass. Add to it that their top corner Dominique Rogers-Cromartie is likely to miss the game with injury, and the Cards can be in for a long day stopping the high powered Packers offense.

The Packers step on to the field with the third best defense in the league and are first against the run, which is not what the Cards weak rushing attack wants to see. They also managed to finish fifth against the pass, and have a defensive MVP candidate in Charles Woodson. The Packers seem to have found the secrets of the 3-4 defense, and the linebackers have been playing great football. Now its up to the secondary to take down the Cards big three receivers.

Advantage: Packers

Overall Outlook: To me this year’s Packers look like last years Cardinals. They got red hot at the right time, and may be looked upon as underdogs. Last year Mike McCarthy’s team started stong and finished weak. This season it seems like they worked the kinks out early and are ready for a big run. The Cardinals are very enigmatic this year, and you don’t really know what team is showing up. Only 4-4 at home this year, they actually see an opponent come to town with a more favorable record as the Pack was 5-3 on the road. Bring on Favre and the Vikes, one more time.

Prediction: Packers 34 Cardinals 27

3. Dallas Cowboys vs 6. Philadelphia Eagles

Dallas man-handled the Eagles in the season finale to take the NFC East division title. Dallas looks to buck history and beat the Eagles three times this year.

Offense: At times this season, Tony Romo and the ‘Boys looked lost. Terrible performances against Washington, Green Bay, etc. led many to believe that T.O. was a bigger loss then Dallas led on. Then there were games like last week when a true balanced attack made the Eagles look meek. Romo has never faired well in playoff games so this one looms large for him. The Cowboys offense was 14th overall this year, so it is right in the middle of the pack. The Cowboys running game will have to create space, finishing seventh overall on the season.

Someone forgot to wake up Donovan McNabb last week and tell him there was a game on. McNabb in the past has had good success against the Cowboys, and he certainly has weapons to work with. He still leads the fifth ranked offense and does it mostly through the air, where the Birds finished ranked 10th. The birds need a running game to show up, whether it will be the power of Leonard Weaver or the speed of McCoy and Westbrook. They also need a whole lot more out of All-Pro “Mr Everything” DeSean Jackson.

Advantage: Eagles

Defense: The Cowboys looked like the team of the 90’s again, as they finished number two in the league in overall defense this year. Despite the great numbers, they were 20th against the pass, so the Eagles can spread them out and make things tough for them. They have a true superstar in DeMarcus Ware on that defense and he always makes it tough and looks like a modern day Lawrence Taylor.

Blitz? Where was the Eagles bread and butter last week? Maybe they didn’t want to show too much, but Tony Romo had all day to throw last week. The Eagles finished a very unusual 19th in defense this year, but still finished amongst the top teams in turnovers and sacks, they will need lots more of that to stand a chance here.

Advantage: Cowboys

Overall Outlook: It is always so tough to beat a team 3 times in the same year. Dallas played the Eagles tough in Philly earlier this year and took them apart in Dallas last week. However come playoff time the Eagles seem to find a way to come together and play tough as a team. They have played from the 6 spot before, they have been to the NFC Champ game 5 times under Reid and somehow, some way will find their way past this one in what will be the best of the games on opening weekend.

Prediction: Eagles 28 Cowboys 27

Come back next week and see my previews of the Divisonal Playoff games.

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.

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