Now that we know how the regular season will conclude, it’s time to advance to the playoffs. There are many similar faces to last season, as 9 of the 12 teams were also in the hunt in 2009. Here we go.
New York Giants (6) at Dallas Cowboys (3)
In this battle of division rivals I expect to see a very competitive game down to the final 2 minutes. The last time the Giants entered the postseason as a six seed they went on to win the Super bowl. However, this is a different type of Cowboys team. Last year they proved that they could in fact win in January. That confidence boost will propel them through the regular season and all the way through the playoffs. I expect Romo to perform well against a sometimes-suspect pass defense. The Giants will rely heavily on the running game for most of the season, but yards may be difficult to come by in this game, as the Dallas Cowboys will have one of the better run defenses in the league. Given those 2 mismatches and the home field advantage, I like the Cowboys to defeat the Giants 31-24.
Minnesota Vikings (5) at San Francisco 49ers (4)
San Francisco should get a relatively easy ride up to the post-season, given the weakness of their division. Minnesota, on the other hand, will need to fight off several teams to claim a playoff spot. As I said in my blog from 2 days ago, there is a good chance that Favre will not make it through the regular season. If this is the case, then the playoff hopes of Minnesota will rest in the hands of running back, Adrian Peterson. And even if Favre does make it to the postseason, I am not sure how effectively he will be able to play, thus, the game is still in Peterson’s hands. Given his fumbling issues, I am not sure those are hands you want to rest your playoff hopes in come January. Similarly to the Giants/Cowboys matchup, this matchup will be between a terrific running attack against a stifling run defense. Both the 49ers and the Vikings boast strong running games and comparable run defenses. However, playing behind a wild crowd that hasn’t seen a playoff game since 2003, and supported by the Defensive MVP, Patrick Willis, the 49ers will play one of their best games of the season. This result may surprise some, but the 49ers will top the Vikings 28-16.
Moving now to the AFC…
Tennessee Titans (6) at San Diego Chargers (3)
Both these teams will have a lot of confidence coming into their first playoff game. I expect the Chargers to be on a roll, winning probably 4 of their last 5 games. As for the Titans, they will enter knowing that out of 6 teams competing for the wildcard, they were one of the two who obtained it. I expect the Chargers to exploit one of the absolute worst pass defenses in the league, but also envision them getting crushed by the Titans’ running game. After the first few possession, fans of both teams will begin to think, “Hey, if we can just stop them on one possession, I think we have a real shot. I’m not so sure they can stop us.” Ultimately, this game will come down to whether or not Vince Young can handle the pressure and deliver a playoff win, giving San Diego yet another gut wrenching playoff loss. I think the soon-to-be Heisman winner is ready to make a major step in his professional football career with this somewhat shocking playoff upset. The Titans win the most entertaining game of Wildcard Weekend, coming from behind to win by the score of 35-31.
New England Patriots (5) at New York Jets (4)
After going 1 and 2 in the AFC East and finishing with identical records, the score is officially settled in this wildcard matchup. Am I biased as a Jets fan? Perhaps. Would any Patriots fan pick them over the Jets? Probably. Are people going to disagree with this? Naturally. Do I care? No. The fact is, even if these two teams weren’t such heated rivals, the matchup would still be very even. The Jets will probably be able to run against the Patriots, but you can be sure New England will force Sanchez into a few poor decisions, I just hope they don’t cost New York the game. The pass attack of the Patriots should be kept relatively in check, but then again, this is the postseason and that means Brady is usually at his finest. It’s a bit optimistic on my part, despite a solid matchup from a neutral point of view, but I’m taking the Jets over the hated Patriots 20-17.
NFC Divisional Round:
San Francisco 49ers (4) at Green Bay Packers (1)
Green Bay will be well rested and ready to defeat the San Francisco 49ers in a traditional 1990’s playoff matchup. Look for Rodgers to shred the mediocre-at-best pass D of the 49ers. While San Fran is strong against the run, Green Bay will simply not run often, a pattern I expect to see emulated throughout the season. Patrick Willis and Frank Gore will make some plays, but Green Bay is just too well rounded to lose at home in their first postseason game. They win it 34-21.
Dallas Cowboys (3) at New Orleans Saints (2)
Dallas enters the divisional round determined to avenge their 34-3 shellacking from last year’s divisional game against the Vikings. The Saints enter ready to defend their title. Drew Brees will move the Saints up and down the field against one of the Cowboy’s only true weakness, pass defense. Tony Romo will move the Cowboys up and down the field against one of the Saints only true weaknesses, pass defense. So, how do I decide the winner? Tony Romo is more likely to blow it than Brees, thus, New Orleans wins 35-28.
AFC Divisional Round:
Tennessee Titans (6) at Indianapolis Colts (1)
Already proud of the season thus far, Titans fans will be giddy at the thought of taking out the kings of the division, the Colts, to advance to the AFC championship game. Vince Young may be able to orchestrate a miraculous comeback against the Chargers, but the Indianapolis Colts are an entirely different monster. Playing for the third time of the season, I anticipate Manning to carve up the Titans poor pass defense to the tune of over 350 yards. The Colts win this one easily, 28-10.
New York Jets (4) at Baltimore Ravens (2)
The Jets and Ravens are two franchises that are certainly linked together by coaches, players, and style of play. Both boast 2 of the top 5 defenses in the league and 2 of the top 5 rushing attacks. Both have a young quarterback at their helm. Both teams already played once this season in the first Monday Night game of the year. In the first matchup, the Jets hosted the Ravens in their new stadium. However, after getting the first round bye, the Ravens now welcome the Jets into their stadium. I anticipate a grueling game with at least 5 turnovers, a missed field goal (or 2), and some big time plays from both young QB’s. It will be anything but pretty, but I like the Jets to pull the mini-upset, defeating the Ravens 13-10, to advance to the AFC championship for the second year in a row.
New Orleans Saints (2) at Green Bay Packers (1)
Playing their first playoff game over the last 2 years outside of their dome, the New Orleans Saints will enter as slight underdogs to the Pack. Rodgers and Brees will both eclipse the 300-yard mark and both teams will eclipse the 30-point mark. For me, the deciding part of this game will be the weather. Green Bay will be better adjusted and with nearly 100,000 cheese heads at Lambo, The Packers will advance to the Super Bowl, 33-31.
New York Jets (4) at Indianapolis Colts (1)
Meeting for the second year in a row in the AFC championship game, I predict a similar outcome. The Colts’ receivers are better than last year as are the Jets corners. The running game for NY may be better or it could be a bit worse. The defense for Indi is probably a little better. Just for the hell of it, Indianapolis wins 30-17, the same score as 2009.
Green Bay Packers (1) at Indianapolis Colts (1)
Both number one teams will advance to the Super bowl. Manning and Rodgers, two of the top candidates for MVP, face off in an offensive showdown. Neither team has a particularly dominant matchup in any aspect of the game, with the exception of experience. The Colts players have been to the Promised Land before, won it, then returned last season to taste defeat. I believe Manning will not allow his team to fall 2 years in a row. The Indianapolis Colts are my Super Bowl pick, as they conquer the up-and-coming Packers, 31-25.