#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.
Jets @ Chargers
After a great all around performance against the Bengals last week, the Jets and their borderline cocky coach Rex Ryan are in for a rude awakening this week against the streaking Chargers. The Chargers come into their first playoff game on an 11 game win streak and coming off an all important first round bye. The high-powered Chargers offense goes up against the #1 rated defense of the Jets, but something has to give. I think the Chargers solid offensive line and big, physical receivers will be too much for the Jets secondary to handle.
Prediction – Chargers
Ravens @ Colts
The Colts and MVP Peyton Manning go up against the rugged Ravens in what looks to be a very intriguing divisional matchup. The Colts have a great, balanced offense while the Ravens have a solid defense and a superb running game. The Colts only flaw is their battered secondary, but I don’t think the Ravens have a good enough passing game to both keep up with the Colts offense and exploit the Colts secondary.
Prediction – Colts
Cardinals @ Saints
The Saints come into their first playoff game on a 3 game losing streak and searching for their lost confidence. The Cardinals, however, come into their matchup with the Saints after a shoot-out win against the Packers. This game should be another high scoring affair, but I think the key to the game will be which team can run the ball. I believe that the Cardinals passing game is at least just as good as the Saints passing attack, and the Cardinals running game is more consistent than the Saints running game.
Prediction – Cardinals
Cowboys @ Vikings
The Cowboys run into Minnesota on a 4 game winning streak. Their defense has been absolutely terrific during the 4 game win streak and their offense is balanced and extremely dangerous. The Vikings run defense is one of the best in the league and their passing attack is explosive with play-makers like Brett Favre, Sidney Rice, and Percy Harvin. The edge in this evenly matched game goes to the team that has been playing the best football of late, the Dallas Cowboys.
Prediction - Cowboys
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) Saints (7-0) – LW 1
After a sluggish first half the Saints exploded for 36 second half points and came back from a 2 touchdown deficit to beat the Dolphins by a score of 46-34.
2) Colts (6-0) – LW 2
Indy absolutely thrashed the Rams, 42-6.
3) Broncos (6-0) – LW 4
The bye week has given them a chance to prepare for another high-powered offense, the Ravens.
4) Vikings (6-1) – LW 3
Maybe they forgot they had Adrian Peterson because Favre threw 51 times.
5) Bengals (5-2) – LW 9
Absolutely pummeled the Bears, and Cedric Benson has quietly put together a terrific season thus far.
6) Patriots (5-2) – LW 6
They go into the bye week with high spirits after manhandling the Titans and the Bucs.
7) Steelers (5-2) – LW 8
Great win against the Vikings, I think they’re back.
8) Giants (5-2) – LW 7
Their secondary has been exposed the last two weeks against the high-powered offenses of the Saints and Cardinals.
9) Cardinals (4-2) – LW 15
They look like the frontrunners to win their division.
10) Falcons (4-2) – LW 5
With an average Michael Turner the Falcons have just an average offense.
11) Packers (4-2) – LW 13
Brett Favre returns to Lambeau Field and the Packers would love to get a win.
12) Eagles (4-2) – LW 16
They learned their lesson against Oakland, they had far from a let-down against the Redskins.
13) Cowboys (4-2) – LW 17
Miles Austin has emerged as a big play receiver and he and Tony Romo have good chemistry early on.
14) Ravens (3-3) – LW 10
They have to get their defense back to its old form.
15) Jets (4-3) – LW 14
Rematch at home against the scrappy Dolphins.
16) Texans (4-3) – LW 20
They held on against a resurgent 49er offense in the second half.
17) Chargers (3-3) – LW 18
They have too much talent to have a .500 record.
18) Bears (3-3) – LW 11
They got hammered by the Bengals.
19) Dolphins (2-4) – LW 19
They had the win against the Saints, but they couldn’t hold on.
20) 49ers (3-3) – LW 12
Vernon Davis has a emerged as a lethal weapon down the field.
21) Jaguars (3-3) – LW 22
They can’t have a let down against winless Tennessee.
22) Bills (3-4) – LW 25
Ryan Fitzpatrick has the Bills on a two game winning streak.
23) Seahawks (2-4) – LW 21
They’ve been off and on all season, but now that Tatupu is out for the season I think they’ll been off more than on.
24) Panthers (2-4) – LW 23
Delhomme is fighting for his starting job with A.J. Feeley and Matt Moore, ouch.
25) Redskins (2-5) – LW 27
New offensive play caller, same results.
26) Raiders (2-5) – LW 24
JaMarcus Russell has made absolutely no progress since coming into the league.
27) Lions (1-5) – LW 28
They can get a seldom win against the Rams next week if Stafford and Johnson can return from injuries.
28) Chiefs (1-6) – LW 26
Larry Johnson basically summed up the Chiefs season in his twitter rant.
29) Browns (1-6) – LW 29
All around awful.
30) Titans (0-6) – LW 31
Vince Young gets a chance to get the Titans their first win of the season against the Jaguars.
31) Buccaneers (0-7) – LW 32
The season is lost. They should start rookie Josh Freeman.
32) Rams (0-7) – LW 30
Steve Spagnoulo has had a rough start to his tenure as head coach.
1) Saints (6-0) – LW 3
Drew Brees torched the Giants secondary. The G-Men didn’t get any pressure on Brees and paid for their lackluster defensive performance to the tune of a 48-27 smack down.
2) Colts (5-0) – LW 1
They only dropped from #1 because of their bye week and the Saints beat up on the Giants.
3) Vikings (6-0) – LW 4
Another exciting win for the Vikings. Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson have shown that they are a lethal combination.
4) Broncos (6-0) – LW 5
Eddie Royal’s punt return and kickoff return touchdowns sparked a huge win against the rival Chargers. The Broncos have taken a strangle hold on the AFC West.
5) Falcons (4-1) – LW 7
The Falcon’s defense stepped up, especially in the red-zone.
6) Patriots (4-2) – LW 9
They absolutely obliterated the pathetic Titans, 59-0. The offense looks like it’s back on track. We could see a repeat performance next week against the Bucs.
7) Giants (5-1) – LW 2
The Giants secondary was non-existent against the best offense in the NFL. The G-Men have to fix the holes in the secondary or they will get torched again next week against the Cardinals.
8) Steelers (4-2) – LW 13
They dominate the Browns every year, but their real test is next week against the Vikings.
9) Bengals (4-2) – LW 6
The Bengal’s defense couldn’t stop Texans qb Matt Schaub, who threw for 392 yards and 4 tds.
10) Ravens (3-3) – LW 10
Ray Rice brought the Ravens back in the fourth quarter, but kicker Steven Hauschka missed the game winning field-goal and the Ravens lost their third game in a row.
11) Bears (3-2) – LW 12
Cutler’s interception and Forte’s fumbles in the red-zone killed the Bear’s chances of getting a nice win against the Falcons.
12) 49ers (3-2) – LW 14
Frank Gore should put them back on track.
13) Packers (3-2) – LW 16
They shut out the Lions last week and can do the same to the Browns next week.
14) Jets (3-3) – LW 11
Sanchez has to cut down on the interceptions if the Jets want to get back to their winning ways.
15) Cardinals (3-2) – LW 21
Big test against the Giants next week.
16) Eagles (3-2) – LW 8
They ran the ball only 14 times against the Raiders last week; what kind of play calling is that?
17) Cowboys (3-2) – LW 18
The Cowboys’s record is a little deceiving, considering all of their wins have been against teams with a losing record.
18) Chargers (2-3) – LW 15
It’s the same old talented but inconsistent Chargers.
19) Dolphins (2-3) – LW 17
If Henne can play with consistency then the Dolphins will be a very competitive team.
20) Texans (3-3) – LW 20
They haave the potential to put up 40 points at anytime, but they’re too inconsistent to be taken for real.
21) Seahawks (2-4) – LW 19
The injury bug has striked the Seahawks again.
22) Jaguars (3-3) – LW 22
The Jags barely beat the Rams after a blowout loss to the Seahawks the previous week.
23) Panthers (2-3) – LW 23
They’ve reeled off two wins against bad teams. Steve Smith isn’t happy with the way he’s being used in the offense and who could blame him.
24) Raiders (2-4) – LW 32
Surprising win against the Eagles last week.
25) Bills (2-4) – LW
Hard fought victory on the road without Trent Edwards against the Jets last week.
26) Chiefs (1-5) – LW 28
The Chiefs are playing hard. They were very competitive in their games versus the Cowboys and Ravens.
27) Redskins (2-4) – LW 24
Maybe taking the offense play calling duties away from Jim Zorn can revamp their offense.
28) Lions (1-5) – LW 25
Stafford and Culpepper are injured, their down to Drew Stanton at qb.
29) Browns (1-5) – LW 29
Their offense is dreadful, no qb and no wide receivers.
30) Rams (0-6) – LW 31
At least their somewhat competitive in their losses.
31) Titans (0-6) – LW 27
They have serious problems, hence their 59-0 defeat at the hand of the Patriots.
32) Buccaneers (0-6) – LW 30
They face the Patriots next week, that could be ugly.
1) Saints (4-0) – LW 4
Everyone knew the Saints offense was going to be lethal, but who would have known that their defense would be this good. They lead the lead with a plus 7 turnover ratio.
2) Colts (4-0) – LW 3
Peyton Manning has the Colts offense in full stride, leading the league in passing touchdowns, passing yards, and receiving yards.
3) Giants (4-0) – LW 1
The G-Men are on a roll and Steve Smith isn’t playing like just the “other” Steve Smith, but everything rides on Manning’s status for the upcoming weeks.
4) Vikings (4-0) – LW 6
Brett Favre played great in the Vikings win against the Packers, and Jared Allen was in the Packers backfield for seemingly the entire game. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention their beast of a running back. What’s his name again?
5) Patriots (3-1) – LW 7
The Patriots’s defense has picked up their play the last two games. Brandon Meriweather has taken over as the big play defender for the injured Jerod Mayo. The Pats are rounding into shape, look out.
6) Ravens (3-1) – LW 2
If it wasn’t for some bad roughing the passer calls and Mark Clayton’s hands, or lack there of, the Ravens would still be undefeated.
7) Jets (3-1) – LW 5
Sanchez had a little bit of a hiccup, but he gets a big new toy to throw to in Braylen Edwards.
8) 49ers (3-1) – LW 10
Statement game for the 49ers this week against the Falcons.
9) Steelers (2-2) – LW nr
Mendenhall has to keep his momentum in order for the Steelers to get back to their winning ways.
10) Broncos (4-0) – LW 15
Their defense was dominant against a pretty good Dallas offense and Brandon Marshall has once again emerged as a big play receiver.
11) Bears (3-1) – LW 13
Cutler looks great and Forte got back on track against the Lions.
12) Falcons (2-1) – LW 8
Tough game in San Fran against the 49ers.
13) Bengals (3-1) – LW 12
I don’t know how they keep winning, but whatever they’re doing, it’s working.
14) Eagles (2-1) – LW 11
McNabb and Westbrook are back this week.
15) Jaguars (2-2) – LW nr
Garrard is playing unbelievably well right now and MJD has a chance to take it to the house every time he touches the ball.
16) Chargers (2-2) – LW 9
Chargers have yet to put together a complete game.
17) Texans (2-2) – LW nr
Their offense is starting to come together.
18) Packers (2-2) – LW 14
Their offensive line is non-existent.
19) Cardinals (1-2) – LW nr
The Cardinals need to incorporate a more balanced offensive attack.
20) Cowboys (2-2) – LW nr
Romo has to cut down on the turnovers.
21) Dolphins (1-3) – LW nr
It’s going to be tough to win with Henne’s inexperience at quarterback, but their defense is solid and their running game is capable of carrying the offense.
22) Seahawks (1-3) – LW nr
Seneca Wallace can only do so much behind an injured offensive line.
23) Titans (0-4) – LW nr
Kerry Collins looks awful, and where did LenDale White go?
24) Bills (1-3) – LW nr
Trent Edwards isn’t doing too well with the new no huddle offense.
25) Panthers (0-3) – LW nr
They’ll get their first win when Delhomme decides to throw it to the guys wearing the same jersey.
26) Lions (1-3) – LW nr
Their first break in years, Matt Stafford isn’t seriously injured.
27) Redskins (2-2) – LW nr
Redskins rebounded from their pathetic loss to the Lions last week by beating the woeful Bucs. I think change is in their future.
28) Chiefs (0-4) – LW nr
The Chiefs are 2 for 26 on third down conversions over their last two games. Not a good recipe for success.
29) Buccaneers (0-4) – LW nr
The Bucs give up big play after big play, no wonder they’re winless.
30) Browns (0-4) – LW nr
Quinn or Anderson? Quinn or Anderson?…Neither?
31) Raiders (1-3) – LW nr
McFadden’s injured, Russell can’t pass for over 150 yards, and Coach Cable is possibly going to be arrested. What more can I say?
32) Rams (0-4) – LW nr
This year’s Detroit Lions?
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.