Playoff Predictions – Wild Card RoundJanuary 7, 2011
The regular season is over. How did I do on my preseason predictions? Not too well.
Let’s see, the Chiefs, Seahawks, and Bears all won their divisions, after I had picked them to finish in last place. In fact, it seemed that any time I said a team would have a poor season, they ended up surprising.
Except of course for the Redskins. As I predicted, they finished in last place.
It looks like my Super Bowl prediction of Texans vs. Packers isn’t going to happen. The Packers could still make it (although I hope they do not), but the Texans didn’t even qualify for the playoffs. Their offense might have been championship caliber, but their defense was horrendous.
If I was that bad at predicting the regular season, will I do any better predicting playoff games? Let’s find out.
Saints at Seahawks
For the first time in NFL history, we have a losing team in the playoffs! The Seahawks won the atrocious NFC West with a 7-9 record, and will face the defending champions.
At first glance, is there any reason to think the Seahawks have a chance?
Will they be able to outcoach the Saints? I doubt it, as Saints coach Sean Payton is one of the best in the business. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll may have been successful in college (although much of that success might have been due to running a dirty program) but hasn’t been able to duplicate that success in the pros.
Other minuses for the Seahawks include their bad passing defense (not good when facing Drew Brees), a weak running game, and a banged up quarterback (Matt Hasselbeck) who even when healthy looks to be well past his prime.
Despite those factors, there are a few reasons for the Seahawks to be optimistic. The Saints don’t have much of a running game since they’ve lost running backs Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory to injury. If the game is close, that could be crucial.
Homefield advantage will also be in the Seahawks favor. The Saints will also have to travel across the country on a short week which never helps a team’s chances. And the Seahawks stadium – Qwest Field – is regarded as being one of the loudest in the NFL.
But really, I can’t see any way for the Seahawks to win this game. The Saints should score a lot of points, and I can’t picture the Seahawks matching them.
Prediction: Saints 35 – 10
Jets at Colts
The Jets have had a ton of hype around them all season. In preseason, they were featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks series, and their coach Rex Ryan has been in the news all year for his outlandish statements (and apparently his foot fetish).
I thought all the hype would be their undoing and they would have a disappointing season, but they surprised me and made the playoffs. But despite the playoff berth, I am left with the impression that this team – and QB Mark Sanchez in particular – doesn’t play well in big games.
They were featured on Monday Night Football in week one, but only scored 9 points in a loss. In a post-bye matchup against the Packers, they were shut out. When they played the Patriots for first place in the AFC East, they got trounced 45-3. And when they needed a win to clinch a playoff berth, they fell to the Bears.
This is a little surprising since the team did win two playoff games last year, and gave the Colts quite a battle in the AFC Championship game. Maybe the extra hype and the preseason Super Bowl talk just added to the pressure?
On the other hand, there’s Colts QB Peyton Manning. For a guy who has won a Super Bowl, there’s a lot of talk about Manning’s relatively poor playoff record (9-9).
Side Note: I find it funny that people consider Manning to be a choker, but think of Brett Favre as being clutch. I’m guessing that since Favre won a Super Bowl early on in his career, that first impression stayed with us. Even though he’s had much bigger and more frequent playoff flameouts than Manning.
This has been one of Manning’s poorest seasons. Part of the problem is that his receivers haven’t seemed to be able to stay healthy. As a result, he seems to be forcing the ball more than ever, resulting in quite a few costly interceptions. And yet, the Colts still won 10 games and the AFC South.
It seems like even on Manning’s bad days, the Colts offense still puts up points. So even though the Jets have a strong defense, I feel like the Colts will still finish with a decent scoring output.
The question is: Will the Jets be able to match? Based on the team and Sanchez’s track record, I don’t see it happening.
Prediction: Colts 24-10
Ravens at Chiefs
This game matches two teams who seemed to be heading in the opposite direction at the end of the season.
The Chiefs were a surprise to many people this year, including myself. I thought Matt Cassell was just an average QB, but he’s played remarkably well this year, helped considerably by a strong running game led by Jamaal Charles. But the Chiefs offense struggled in their last few games.
The Ravens seem to have a lot of momentum heading into the playoffs. Their defense has looked especially strong lately, and their running game, headed by Ray Rice has been performing well. At first glance, this seems like a team built for the playoffs.
And yet, I have to wonder if that is truly the case. It’s hard to win in the playoffs if your quarterback doesn’t play well. Ravens QB Joe Flacco seems like an emerging star, yet so far in his young career, he has not shown the ability to step up in big games. Even in the Ravens win over the Patriots last postseason, Flacco didn’t perform especially well.
It will be interesting to see if the Chiefs stadium plays a part in the outcome. The Ravens have been a good road team and have won a good number of road playoff games in recent years, but Arrowhead Stadium is know for being one of the toughest places to play.
As for my prediction, the Ravens seem to be the more talented team, but the Chiefs have a couple of players capable of making big, game changing plays: WR Dwayne Bowe and DE Tamba Hali. I think they make some plays to keep it close, but ultimately, superior talent emerges.
Prediction: Ravens 17-14
Packers at Eagles
Before the season, most people (including me) had the Packers as a Super Bowl contender. Injuries and occasional lapses slowed them down, and forced them to struggle just to make the playoffs.
Now that they’re in, the Packers seems as dangerous as anyone. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has had an excellent season, and the Packers’ passing game looks like it should be able to do some significant damage against the Eagles’ shaky pass defense.
The Packers’ defense is also playing well. Linebacker Clay Matthews had an excellent season. Eagles fans will remember him as the guy who knocked Kevin Kolb out of the game in week one. They may be a little susceptible to the run, but that shouldn’t be a huge concern against the pass-happy Eagles.
Before the season, this looked like a rebuilding year for the Eagles, as they entered the season with unproven QB Kevin Kolb. But of course, Michael Vick became the starter in week two, and had a phenomenal season, carrying the Eagles to a divison title.
Towards the end of the season, Vick’s play dropped off a bit. Some attributed it to injuries. Others said that defenses were figuring out a way to stop him. Others claimed Vick was reverting back to some bad, old habits.
It should be noted that even though Vick didn’t play as well as he had earlier, the Eagles offense was still scoring a lot of points. Even in the loss to the Vikings, the offense looked to be moving fairly well, but were undone by turnovers.
At first glance this looks to be a mismatch in favor of the Packers. They seem to have more across the board talent, and their strengths match up well against the Eagles’ weaknesses.
But that won’t mean a thing if the Eagles are able to make some big plays.
The Eagles have been the most proficient big play team in the NFL. The long touchdowns by DeSean Jackson, and the electrifying runs by Vick have been well publicized. But the Eagles also have big play threats in WR Jeremy Maclin and RB LeSean McCoy. With that kind of explosive talent, the Packers will have to be constantly on guard, knowing that the Eagles are capable of scoring on one play from any spot on the field.
Even on the vulnerable-looking defense, there are guys capable of making some big plays. They were among the league leaders in takeaways this season, highlighted by Asante Samuel’s 7 interceptions. Playoff games can often hinge on a key turnover.
Last week’s games also give the Eagles an advantage. While the Packers were fighting for a playoff spot, the Eagles – their playoff seeding locked in – rested most of their starters, giving them a virtual bye week. That week of rest could do wonders for their hobbled players.
I think this game comes down to whether or not the Eagles can make enough big plays to overcome the Packers’ talent advantage. If Michael Vick plays as he did for most of the season, the Eagles will put up a lot of points. But if defenses really figured out how to neutralize him, or if he’s truly slowed down or reverting to past form, then they may struggle.
I was about to pick the Packers, but then I realized that Michael Vick has overcome quite a bit this season. Is one subpar week against the Vikings enough reason to doubt him? I think he finds a way to pull out the win.
Prediction: Eagles 31-28