Saturday, January 8, 2011

NFL Playoffs Preview (Wild Card Weekend)

Though Christmas has gone by, for football fans, this is the season to be jolly. Those unfamiliar with the sport would of course wonder how anyone could be delighted during the freezing temperatures and dreary days of January. The excitement for football fans can be summed up in up one word: playoffs. After 17 weeks of grueling regular season football, 12 teams have emerged to battle each to for the right to call themselves champions of the National Football League. What makes this year so special isn’t the possibility that this could be the last we see of the league because of the expiring collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the players. No, this year’s playoffs have the chance to be extraordinary because almost every team (Sorry Seattle) has a chance to win the Super Bowl. After all, there are 4 four Super Bowl winning QB’s (Brady, Roethlisberger, Manning, and Brees) looking to increase their legend, and a pack of exciting stars (Vick, Rodgers, and Ryan) looking to forge legacies of their own. Wild Card weekend starts it all of as 8 of the 12 teams start their arduous journey to acquire the vaunted Lombardi Trophy.

New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks – No one (including me) is giving the Seahawks much of a chance against the defending champions. Part of it has to do with the fact that they came out of the horrid NFC West with a 7-9 record (the worst in the playoffs) which has sparked a raging debate concerning the seeding system of the playoffs. It’s not even the fact that the Seahawks were 31st in the league when it came to running the football, since that can be overlooked. However, what cannot be glanced over is that Seattle has a QB controversy……in the playoffs. Yes, a playoff team is actually not sure of whom (Charlie Whitehurst or Matt Hasselbeck) they are going to play at the most important position of their team. On the opposite side stands, Drew Brees, a man who outdueled Peyton Manning to win Super Bowl XLIV. If Pete Carroll picks veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck, who has proven that he can adequately handle the blitz, Seattle has a better chance at handling the New Orleans defense. Consequently, Seattle will end up making the game interesting, but the Saints’ explosive offense (read = 300 yards and 3 TD’s for Brees) will prove far too much for Seattle to handle.

Indianapolis Colts vs. New York Jets – If it were not for the Sunday afternoon game, the rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game would be the marquee match up this Wild Card Weekend. It’s tough to forget the classic chess match between Rex Ryan and Peyton Manning as the former attempted to put a stop to the Colts’ aerial assault. For a while it seemed as if the Jets would succeed with their defensive scheme but it was only a matter of time until Manning threw a TD pass to WR Austin Collie to break open the game. Haunted by their defeat last year, the Jets sought to improve their secondary and running game (both of which failed against the Colts) and acquired Pro Bowl CB Antonio Cromartie along with Pro Bowl RB LaDanian Tomlinson. With an improved secondary, the Jets have a far better chance at stopping an injury ridden Colts offense. Moreover, with Shonn Greene and LT running the football, the Jets should be able to keep Peyton Manning off the field and their defense well rested. Barring an awful game by Mark Sanchez, the New York Jets should be able to pull off the upset.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs – Led by QB Matt Cassel, the Chiefs are the feel good story of the playoffs. This is the team that no one expected to win the division since every expert was ready to hand the AFC West to the San Diego Chargers. Proving the experts wrong, the young Chiefs are hosting a playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium, which is arguably the toughest stadium for an opposing team to play in. Nevertheless, these are the playoffs, the land of crushed dreams and hopes. The feel good story of the Chiefs will get derailed by the burgeoning train that is the Baltimore Ravens. Led by Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata, the experienced Baltimore Ravens defense will feast upon the inexperienced offensive trio of Cassel, Charles and Bowe. Making matters even worse for the Chiefs are reports that Dwayne Bowe (leading WR) might not be completely healthy. Though the game may be close, it will ultimately be the Ravens that pull this one out.

Green Bay Packers vs. Philadelphia EaglesThe Green Bay Packers irrevocably changed the course of the Eagles season in Week 1. It was Clay Matthews’ sack of Kevin Kolb that gave Michael Vick the opportunity to start once again, and the rest as they say is history.

Of course, the Eagles lost that game despite Michael Vick’s late game heroics. After the game, Vick was quoted as saying that the result could have been different if he had played the entire game. Now at the beginning of playoff, Michael Vick gets to prove whether he was right or not. Honestly, after their victory against the Giants, it would have been foolish for anyone to bet against the Philadelphia Eagles and Mike Vick. However, the past few weeks have proven that Vick is mortal. More importantly, the league might have a blueprint on how to stop the Mike Vick Show. On the visiting team side of things stand about Aaron Rodgers and the explosive Green Bay offense. Eagles fans should be extremely worried since their defense has been inconsistent all season. Moreover, they have shown a susceptibility to the big play lately and the Packers offense thrives on the big play. All in all, this has the makings of a shootout because these teams are so evenly matched. The Eagles have a better chance of winning because of their RB LeSean “Shady” McCoy has had a spectacular season but his heroics have gone under the radar. This Sunday will be Shady McCoy’s coming out party.

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