[NFL] Divisional Playoffs Preview

Wildcard weekend lived up to the hype. Both Saturday games went down to the wire. Arizona, in its first home game since 1947, took down the young Falcons 30-24. San Diego won the coin toss in overtime and defeated Indianapolis, 23-17, on a Darren Sproles 22 yard touchdown run. Never before have I been surer that the NFL needs to institute the same overtime the NCAA uses. Even though experts will tell you that if you win the overtime coin toss you are only 52% likely to win the game, it still doesn’t seem fair to me. I don’t like that a coin flip can pretty much decide if a team moves on in the post season.

The Sunday match ups weren’t quite as close, but both were much closer than the final score suggested. Baltimore took out Miami 27-9, but the Fins finished with two more first downs and only ten yards less total offense. The story of the game was the turnover battle. The Dolphins, who only had thirteen turnovers all season, gave up the ball five times. Also, when it comes to the long ball, Chad Pennington has an arm like a thirteen year old girl.

The Eagles led the home team Vikings 16-14 at the half after Adrian Peterson’s three yard touchdown run. It seemed like this game was going to be a barn-burner, but then they played the second half. After neither team could put up any points in the third, it was all Philly in the fourth as they scored the games final ten points to take the game 26-14. Tarvaris Jackson looked like a quarterback who’s never before seen the post season in only completing 15 of 35 pass attempts. Other than a 40 yard run, the usually unstoppable Peterson looked more like Clark Griswold than Clark Kent.


Baltimore Ravens (11-5) @ Tennessee Titans (13-3):

The Titans earned a week off by finishing with the best record in the AFC. They were one of the most surprising stories in the NFL this year as most experts picked them to finish below the Colts, Jags and perhaps even the Texans in the wild and wooly AFC South. I’m really surprised more people aren’t talking about the Ravens. They went from a 5-11 last place finish in ’07 to an 11-5 record in ’08 with a rookie quarterback.

Time: Saturday at 4:30 PM EST on CBS

How they match up: This game is a battle of two top ten defenses and two less-than-exciting offenses. Even though the Titans were much ballyhooed this season, the Ravens defense is a bit better and so is their offense. That might be the story of the game, Tennessee has almost no passing game and it’s not easy to get far into the playoffs with a one-dimensional offense, especially against the second ranked Ravens.

Last time they played: Week five: Titans 13, Ravens 10.

Prediction: This will be a battle of two of the best defensive units in the NFL. These teams ranked first and third in total points allowed so don’t expect much scoring. This one might be a real pitchers duel. Even after all I’ve said, I see the Titans continuing their Cinderella season with a 17-14 win; they just don’t lose important games.

San Diego Chargers (8-8) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4):

I still can’t believe the Chargers made the playoffs let alone stopped the Colts nine-game win streak last week. Look at San Diego’s record and they really don’t look scary, but if you watched the game last week, they can be downright frightening. If LaDainian Tomlinson is too hurt to play, they don’t have much of a chance unless the Chargers enlist Billy Zabka and the Kobra Kai to take out James Harrison.

Time: Sunday at 4:45 PM EST on CBS

How they match up: Much like Bizzaro Superman and regular Superman, San Diego and Pittsburgh are almost the exact opposite of each other. Steele Town has a bad offense and the top defense in the NFL. The Bolts have the eleventh ranked offense and one of the worst defensive units in the NFL.

Last time they played: Week eleven: Pittsburgh 11, San Diego 10.

Prediction: The game will be decided by the battle between the Bolts offense and the Steelers defense. If Tomlinson plays, this will be a much different game, although Darren Sproles is still a decent option. This is probably the hardest score to predict out of any of the games this week because in their last showdown, the final score of 11-10 had never occurred before in the history of the NFL. I’ll stay around the same score level and predict that San Diego will keep on rolling and take out the Steelers 13-10, in overtime.


Arizona Cardinals (9-7) @ Carolina Panthers (12-4):

Wow, do I owe apologies to every member of the Arizona Cardinals. I pretty much wrote them off as a team with no shot at winning a dance contest, let alone a playoff game. They sure proved me wrong. Now that they have proven that they can win a home playoff game against an inexperienced team, it’s time for a real challenge. Can they go into Bank of America Stadium and beat the Panthers? Just so you know, Carolina is 8-0 at home this season.

Time: Saturday at 8:15 PM EST on FOX

How they match up: At times, the Cardinals offense can be downright nasty. Kurt Warner, the ageless wonder, led the second ranked passing attack even after receiving his AARP card. Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, and rookie Steve Breaston all finished with over 1,000 yards receiving, and now that Edgerrin James has returned as the primary back, Arizona is tough to stop. Neither of these teams has a top of the line defense, but Carolina was the third best rushing team in the NFL with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

Last time they played: Week eight: Carolina 27, Arizona 23.

Prediction: This is shaping up to be an old school shootout between one of the top passing teams and one of the top rushing teams in the NFL. It would be a toss up if it weren’t for one fact. The Arizona Cardinals can not win on the east coast. I’ll give it to the Panthers 38-24 merely because Charlotte, NC, is on the east coast.

Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1) @ New York Giants (12-4):

The Giants didn’t get a lot of respect in the preseason, even though they knocked off a New England team that won nineteen straight games. They quickly proved that they weren’t going out like Tag Team, Sir Mix-a-Lot, and the Crash Test Dummies as one-hit wonders. The Giants wrapped up a first round bye a long time ago and eagerly awaited their opponent. Their foe is a team they are very familiar with as they play each other twice per season. It’s always interesting when teams who occupy the same division square off in the playoffs.

Time: Sunday at 1:00 PM EST on FOX

How they match up: The G-men and the Eagles are probably the two most well-rounded teams in the NFL. New York has the seventh ranked offense and the fifth ranked defense and Philly has ninth ranked offense and the third ranked defense. Brandon Jacobs is raring to go after a few weeks off to rest his ailing knees. Donovan Mcnabb looks like he’s ready to lead the Eagles far into the playoffs after passing for 300 yards against the Vikes.

Last time they played: Week fourteen: Philadelphia 20, New York 14.

Prediction: These teams played twice this season. The Giants took the first game 36-31 in week ten, in a game that was extremely important for playoff seeding. The Eagles took the second game in week fourteen, 20-14, but New York had already wrapped up the division. Since New York is the home team and didn’t tie the Bengals this year, I’ll give it to the G-men 24-10.

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