It seems like opening day was just mere weeks ago, but, after 17 weeks of NFL football, the regular season has ended. After a very hectic final weekend of play, all the playoff teams are finally set. Rarely are we treated to so many spots coming down to the wire. The Dolphins, Ravens, Chargers, Vikings, Falcons and Eagles all punched their tickets to the post season while the Patriots, Jets, Broncos, Saints, Cowboys and Buccaneers were all left out of the party.
On the last day of regular season play, we were also treated to the Lions loss to the Packers 31-21 to complete the first ever winless sixteen game season. The game was tied at 14 to start the fourth quarter, but Green Bay put up 17 in the final frame to close it out.
Personally, I find this record much more impressive than a team going undefeated. A team can be extremely dominant and manage to win all or most of its game, but this kind of futility seems almost impossible to me. If it didn’t happen this year, I wouldn’t believe that it could happen. You almost have to try to be this bad. It’s lunacy.
Well, all that is in the past now though, it’s playoff time. This is when the real season begins. Nobody cares if you went 11-5, cough, New England, cough, and didn’t get an invite to the after school party (except those spoiled sports fans in Boston). The regular season is good fun, but this is the part of the season that really matters. This is crunch time. This is final Exams.
Baltimore Ravens (11-5) @ Miami Dolphins (11-5):
Time: Sunday at 1:00 PM EST on CBS
This is a very exciting match up, not only because this is definitely a wildcard game that nobody could have predicted in the preseason, but also because both of these squads finished in last place in their respective divisions last season with a combined win total of six.
How they match up: The Ravens finished with the second ranked defense in the NFL, a unit that gave up just over 260 yards per game. The Dolphins don’t have a juggernaut of an offense, but they do have Chad Pennington who just won his second comeback player of the year award. All he needs to do now is revert to his sub-par form for a few years and then resurface again in 2012.
Last time they played: Week 7: Ravens 27, Dolphins 13.
Prediction: How did the Dolphins win the AFC East? The Patriots seemed like they easily could have challenged for this year’s Super Bowl if they had in fact made the playoffs. I have no love for the ‘Fins because they don’t really seem like they are one of the top twelve teams in the NFL. The Ravens on the other hand, are devastating on the defensive side of the ball, lead by the ageless Ray Lewis and his 117 tackles. Let’s try a little Déjà vu and say the Charm city Boys take this one 27-13 again.
Indianapolis Colts (12-4) @ San Diego Chargers (8-8):
Time: Saturday at 8:00 PM EST on NBC
Just like the other AFC wildcard game, this one is ripe with crazy storylines. The Colts began the season 3-4 and have since rattled off nine straight wins to finish the year. The Broncos led the AFC West for the first sixteen weeks of the season and managed to lose the most important game to the hard-charging (pun intended) squad from San Diego 52-21. The Chargers became the first team in NFL history to start 4-8 and make the playoffs.
How they match up: If Peyton Manning doesn’t win the NFL MVP, then the award is a complete farce. The Colts have no running game whatsoever, and Manning is the heart and soul of this team. San Diego has a great offense, led by Phillip Rivers, but for most of the season, their defense has been quite porous. They won the AFC West even though they only finished 8-8.
Last time they played: Week 12: Colts 23, Chargers 20.
Prediction: No team wants to go head to head with San Diego right now, except maybe the Colts. As good as the Chargers have been the last few weeks, a four game win streak is great, but a nine game winning streak is dominant. The Colts just might be the best team in the NFL. I believe that San Diego would have beaten either of the other two wildcard teams, but for this game I’ll give it to the Colts in a barn-burner, 34-27.
Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1) @ Minnesota Vikings (10-6):
Time: Sunday at 4:30 PM EST on FOX
Even though the Eagles only won nine games, they are one of the most well rounded teams in the playoffs. With the ninth ranked offense and third ranked defense, few teams want to tangle with the rejuvenated Eagles. The Vikings came out on top in the rough and tumble NFC North after an eye-opening 20-19 victory over the defending champion Giants to end the season.
How they match up: This is the battle of two of the best defensive teams in the NFL. Both teams rank in the top ten, but this game will most likely be won on the front line. And by front line, I mean defensive line. Victory will be decided by how well the Eagles D-line handles all world running back Adrian Peterson. If he gets into the backfield unscathed too often, it will be a long day for Philly. On the other side of the ball, if the Vikes can get to Mcnabb early and often, they can make the Eagles offense one dimensional, and Brian Westbrook hasn’t been 100% all year.
Last time they played: Week 8 in 2007: Eagles 23, Vikings 16.
Prediction: The Eagles seem like one of the only teams in the NFL who can neutralize Adrian Peterson. He ran for 1760 yards while averaging 110 per game, but the Eagles only gave up on average 92 yards per game. The Eagles’ Brian Westbrook ran for 936 yards per game and the Vikes are the best team in the NFL against the run, but Pat Williams probably won’t be 100% while playing with a broken shoulder. In a complete guess, I’ll give this one to the Vikings 13-10 in a defensive struggle.
Atlanta Falcons (11-5) at Arizona Cardinals (9-7):
Time: Saturday at 4:30 PM EST on NBC
Remember when the Cardinals wrapped up the NFC West? On November 16th, Arizona had practically already won the division with a record of 7-3. Since then, they are 1-4 with the wins coming from Seattle and St. Louis. To say that the Cardinals have no chance to get far into the playoffs might be the most accurate statement in recent history.
How they match up: Atlanta has a rookie quarterback, a running back who is a starter for the first time, a no-name receiving corps, and an aging defense. With all of that, they had one of the best offenses in the NFL and a bend-but-don’t-break defense. The Cards are a team of two halves. In the first half of the season, they were a much feared foe, but in they just limped into the playoffs. We are seriously a few good San-Fran bounces away rooting for the Niners in this game instead of the Cards.
Last time they played: Week 16 in 2007: Cardinals 30, Falcons 27 (OT).
Prediction: While the other NFC wildcard game features two of the best defensive units; this game will showcase two of the biggest offensive juggernauts in the NFL. It’s also an intriguing match up because of the fact that Arizona’s Kurt Warner is still tearing it up at a very geriatric 67 years old and Matt Ryan is a spring chicken at 23. Since, Arizona doesn’t even deserve to be in the playoffs, I’ll give this one to Atlanta in a battle of old versus young gun slingers, 45-38.
30 year old freelance writer and The Father Life‘s resident beer columnist and sports editor. He also writes about fine beverages for drinkingmadeeasy.com and Chilled Magazine. On top of that, he writes about college and professional lacrosse for insidelacrosse.com. He’s also written for Genesee Valley Parenting Magazine, the Democrat and Chronicle Newspaper and ESPN.com. “Osburn on Tap” appears monthly in THE FATHER LIFE. For questions, comments, or if you have a story idea for Chris, throw him an email email@example.com. Also, follow him on twitter http://www.twitter.com/chrisosburn