Greg Gillis' NFL Wild Card PreviewWild Card weekend usually has some surprises. It will be hard to say anything is a surprise this year. You can make a legitimate case for every one of the 8 teams to win this weekend. But only four will.
By: Greg Gillis, Pierce County Herald
Wild Card weekend usually has some surprises. It will be hard to say anything is a surprise this year. You can make a legitimate case for every one of the 8 teams to win this weekend. But only four will.
The Jets play the Bengals in Cincinnati. Last week, the Jets routed the Bengals at the Meadowlands on Sunday Night Football. This time, it’s in the Jungle. The Bengals won the AFC North after years of domination by the Ravens and Steelers. The Bengals were 10-6, including a perfect 6-0 against the AFC North (Ravens, Steelers, and Browns), and 6-2 at home. The Jets were 9-7 in the regular season, 5-3 on the road.
The stats are pretty close: the Jets score 22 points per game, the Bengals allow just 18. The Bengals score 19 a game, the Jets give up 15. The Jets offense average 4.5 yards per carry, the Bengals 4.1. The Jets throw for just 162 yards per game, the Bengals manage just 196. Defensively, the Jets allow 3.8 yards per carry, the Bengals 3.9. The Jets allow just 154 passing yards, the Bengals 203.
Bottom line: The teams are pretty even, so go with the better defense and better running team. That’s New York. Plus, the Jets have one of the best cover corners in the NFL in Derrell Reviz, who can take away Chad OchoCinco. But the Bengals have an experienced QB in Carson Palmer, and a running back who came to life after leaving the Bears in Cedric Benson. This one could go either way, but the numbers point to the Jets.
Two weeks ago, I thought the Eagles had a chance to win the NFC Championship. Now, I’m not sure if Philadelphia can win the Wild Card game in Dallas. Philly just had to win last Sunday in Dallas to get the 2nd seed and a bye this weekend. Instead, they couldn’t do anything right and lost to the Cowboys. This weekend, it’s back to Dallas for the 3rd meeting of the season. Dallas is 2-0 and going for the sweep. The only significant difference in the stats is that Dallas averages 4.8 yards per carry with Marion Barber and Felix Jones, while Philly averages 4.3 ypc. Dallas scores 23 points a game, Philly gives up 21. Philly scores 27 points a game, Dallas allows just 16.
Donovan McNabb actually has some weapons to throw to in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, although Maclin has been hurt. Brian Westbrook missed quite a few games with a concussion. Meanwhile, the Cowboy defense has finished the year strong, and Tony Romo and Miles Austin can move the ball through the air when the NFL’s top rushing team isn’t running the ball. But Andy Reid gets to NFC Championship games. The Cowboys haven’t won a playoff game in 13 years.
Bottom Line: Both teams were 11-5. Dallas is 6-2 at home, and Philly is 5-3 on the road. A coin flip game. Heads it’s Dallas, tails it’s Philly. The coin lands on its side, then shows tails. Eagles get the win in a close one.
The Ravens play the Patriots in the noon game on Sunday. New England suffered a huge loss on Sunday. Not the game in Houston, Wes Welker blowing out his ACL and MCL during the game. Welker is the 2nd most important player on the offense behind Tom Brady, and one of the 3 key players on the team along with Brady and Vince Wilfork. When Wilfork doesn’t play, the defense doesn’t look good. The secondary has struggled this year, but much less when Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork are in the lineup. Both were out last week. Both will play this week.
The Ravens had a good year last year, making it to the AFC Championship game against the Steelers. This year the playoffs start in Foxboro. Joe Flacco is the best QB the Ravens have had since, well, since they moved to Baltimore from Cleveland and became the Ravens. The running game is solid with Ray Rice and Willis McGahee. And while the defense isn’t what it was in the glory days of the early 2000s, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are still difference makers.
Baltimore runs the ball better than the Pats, New England had a better passing game. At least they did before Welker got hurt. They still have Randy Moss, Ben Watson, and Kevin Faulk so they still have some guys who can make plays. New England’s secondary is suspect, but the Ravens don’t have a great vertical passing game.
Bottom line: Tom Brady has never lost a home playoff game. The streak continues. Pats advance.
Finally, the Green Bay Packers head back to Arizona to play the Cardinals. Green Bay won 33-7 last week against Arizona, but played the starters much longer than the Cardinals did. The Packers are the 5th seed, meaning to make the Super Bowl, they will need to win 2 road playoff games to get to the NFC Championship game, and could only host that if Philly, the 6th seed, was still alive.
Green Bay finished the regular season 11-5, and finished the second half of the season 7-1. The defense ended the season second against the run at 3.6 yards per carry. They gave up just 201 yards passing per game, and only about 19 points a game. The offensive line figured things out, after giving up 40 sacks in the first 8 games they allowed just 11 sacks in the last 8 games. The Pack scored 29 points per game. The Cardinals score 23 points a game, and give up 20. They have a dynamic passing offense with Kurt Warner throwing to Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston. Boldin was injured Sunday, and is questionable for the Wild Card game with knee and ankle injuries. Early Doucet is no Anquan Boldin. Some of the other dynamic passing offenses the Packer have seen this season include Minnesota (2-0 against GB) and Pittsburgh (Ben Roethlesberger threw for 503 yards in the Steelers win). With Al Harris out, the Packers can’t stop three good receivers.
Tim Hightower won’t carry the offense, the Packers are good against the run. It’s the pass where the Packers can struggle. Jarrett Bush won’t stop any of the top 3 receivers. Of course, it could be a Pittsburgh kind of game, because the Packers should score against the Cardinals.
Bottom Line: The Cardinals defense isn’t great. Also, unlike Minnesota who has Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor and Pittsburgh who has Rashard Mendenhall and Willie Parker, Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells don’t give the Cards the same running threat. If the Packers can pressure Kurt Warner, they can win the shootout. If not, Warner will pick apart the secondary and could break 500 yards like Roethlesberger. The Packers played a very soft schedule (Cleveland, St. Louis, Detroit twice, Seattle, and Tampa Bay to name a few of the bottom feeders). Fortunately for them, it’s not much harder this week.
It comes down to Boldin, If he can’t play or isn’t effective, the Cardinals won’t win. But if he can make plays and Warner has time, the Packers will give up points. The guess is Boldin won’t be effective, and the Packers move on. But don’t be shocked if the Cardinals move the ball and win if Boldin can take some of the pressure off Fitzgerald.