#5 Saints @ #4 Seahawks (1/8/11, 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX)
Keys to the Game
- Reggie Bush – with Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory both out for the playoffs, Bush will have to step up and finally show that he can run the ball between the tackles. If he can, the Saints can go a long way. If not, they will be lucky to get past the lowly Seahawks.
- Saints Secondary – Matt Hasselbeck is prone to throwing interceptions and the Saints’ secondary has to channel their magic from last year’s postseason in order to take advantage. Last year’s Super Bowl team was 3rd in the NFL with 26 interceptions while this year’s Saints squad is dead last in picks with only 9.
- Limit the Turnovers – obviously the team who commits the fewest turnovers is more than likely going to win the game, but this applies more to the Seahawks then any other team. The Seahawks are 1-4 when Hasselbeck throws 2 or more picks and 5-3 when he throws 1 or none.
- Special Teams – the Seahawks are in the top 10 in kickoff return yards and average, punt return yards and average, and rank 1st in kickoff return TDs with 3.
Prediction - the Seahawks struggle, to say the least, against high-powered offenses and the Saints definitely qualify as that. The Seahawks have given up 30 or more points in 8 of their 9 losses including 34 points to the Saints in their week 11 loss. They’ll give up 30 plus once again as the Saints will pull away in the second half and beat the Seahawks by a score of 31 - 13.
#6 Packers @ #3 Eagles (1/9/11, 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX)
Keys to the Game
- Hit Vick – Clay Matthews and the blitzing Packer defense have to get to Vick early and often. They have to make Vick uncomfortable in the pocket and force him to roll to his right.
- Stay Away from Samuel – the only danger in the Eagles secondary is Asante Samuel. The Eagles have rookies all over the secondary including the cornerback position opposite Samuels and at the safety position.
- Get to Rodgers – order to account for their inexperienced and depleted secondary, the Eagles must use various blitz packages to get to Rodgers. The Packers have a suspect O-line and Rodgers tends to hold on to the ball just a tad too long.
- Run the Ball – the Eagles have to be able to run the ball with Shady McCoy in order to counter the many blitzes they’ll see from the Packers. Plus, Charles Woodson has a knack for making big plays in the playoffs and linebackers Desmond Bishop and Nick Barnett and very good in pass coverage.
Prediction - the Eagles have been fluttering of late, losing to rookie QB Joe Webb and the Vikings and Stephen McGee and the Cowboys in the previous two weeks, and needing big second half performances in order to get the W against the Giants and Cowboys in the weeks prior. I like Rodgers to get his first career playoff victory as the Packers beat the Eagles by a score of 33 – 23.
The #1 seed Colts and #2 seed Chargers are rewarded with a first round bye.
#6 Ravens @ #3 Patriots
The Ravens have the advantage on the defensive side of the ball, but this years’ defense isn’t nearly as dominant as years past. The Patriots lost Wes Welker, their most consistent wide-receiver to injury (torn ACL & MCL) in week 17 and will be without him for the postseason. I think even without Welker, the Patriots still have too much on offense for the Ravens to keep up with. I look for it to be a good game, but in the end the Patriots will be advancing into the divisional round.
Prediction – Patriots
#5 Jets @ #4 Bengals
The Jets absolutely demolished the Bengals in the Meadowlands in their week 17 matchup. The Jets ran all over the Bengals injury plagued defensive line. Their effectiveness on the ground allowed for only 15 pass attempts for Mark Sanchez which limits the chance of turnovers and greatly increases the Jets’ chances for a victory. With that being said, I think the Bengals have the advantage in the playoffs. Chad Ochocinco is questionable with a left knee injury, but Cedric Benson will be back along with many key players on the defensive line. The Bengals have to be able to move the ball through the air and stop the run in order to defeat the Jets. They must force the Jets to throw the ball with rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. If the Bengals can execute their game plan than they have a chance to win, if not then we might see a repeat of their week 17 matchup.
Prediction – Bengals
The #1 seed Saints and #2 seed Vikings are rewarded with a first round bye.
#6 Eagles @ #3 Cowboys
The Cowboys and Eagles are familiar with each other to say the least. The ‘Boys have beaten the Eagles both times they have played them this season and have shown that they can win with both stout defense and an offensive explosion. With that being said, the Eagles are a veteran team with a lot of weapons on offense and a defense that is superb at creating turnovers. I think that the Eagles’ experience coupled with the Cowboys’ lack of performing under pressure are the main factors that will ultimately send the Eagles into the next round.
Prediction - Eagles
#5 Packers @ #4 Cardinals
The Packers versus Cardinals is one of the most intriguing matchups in the wild-card round. Both teams have explosive offenses with big-time play-makers at the wide-receiver position. So this game will come down to two things: who can run the ball and who can get the big stops on defense? The Packers and Cardinals have both shown the potential to sustain a consistent running game, but neither team has totally committed to the run game. Therefore, I think that the team with the most consistent defense will ultimately prevail with the win and the Packers are that team. The Packers have veterans in the secondary like Charles Woodson who create turnovers and young, athletic linebackers like A.J. Hawk, Clay Matthews, and Nick Barnett who fly to the ball.
Prediction - Packers
1) New York Giants (2-0)
Plaxico Burress who? Mario Manningham and Steve Smith have played like pro-bowlers so far.
2) Baltimore Ravens (2-0)
Their offense has drastically improved and their defense is always stingey.
3) Atlanta Falcons (2-0)
“Matty Ice” has picked up where he left off last season and his new toy Tony Gonzalez has been a difference maker.
4) Minnesota Vikings (2-0)
Adrian Peterson is a straight beast and their defense is solid, but I want to see what happens when Brett Favre has to air it out.
5) Indianapolis Colts (2-0)
Vintage Peyton Manning against the Dolphins, but they have to find a way to sustain drives and get their defense off the field.
6) Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1)
Parker and Mendenhall have to get back on track if the Steelers want to repeat.
7) New York Jets (2-0)
Their defense is for real and don’t sleep on Sanchez, he looks very comfortable early on in the season.
8) New Orleans Saints (2-0)
Drew Brees has the Saints’ offense looking virtually unstoppable. If the defense gets better, watch out for the Saints.
9) San Diego Chargers (1-1)
LT’s hurt and defense has key injuries, but Philip Rivers can chuck the pigskin.
10) San Francisco 49ers (2-0)
Mike Singletary has the 49ers playing smash-mouth football and say what you want about Shaun Hill, but he’s 9-3 as the starter.
11) New England Patriots (1-1)
Brady and Belichick don’t look to be on the same page so far and the defense has lost most of its leaders.
12) Philadelphia Eagles (1-1)
They need McNabb to come back quickly if they want to compete for the top spot in the NFC East.
13) Chicago Bears (1-1)
Jay Cutler has to be more consistent in order for the Bears to make some noise.
14) Dallas Cowboys (1-1)
Their defense gives up too many big plays and Romo needs to limit the turnovers, especially in big spots.
15) Buffalo Bills (1-1)
Trent Edwards and Fred Jackson have been impressive so far and they could easily be 2-0.