Wildcard Weekend Preview

In a bizarre interview with Michelle Tafoya after winning the 2008 NBA Championship, Kevin Garnett shouted three words that appropriately describe the 2010 NFL Playoffs.

“ANYTHING IS POSSIBLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

OK, maybe not anything, but throw out the Jets and Bengals and you have ten legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

Some people are against this parody because unpredictability renders unimportant pre-game shows filled with shallow predictions. I embrace it. Sure it makes picking games nearly impossible, but the randomness of these single game playoffs makes them exciting. I’ll trade being right for entertainment everyday.

So how should we go about examining these games? Which trends/stats are useful? Which are meaningless?

Momentum is the main key to success in the NFL playoffs. In the previous decade, only one Super Bowl Champion entered the playoffs with a losing streak: The 2007 New York Giants. They of course lost in a very competitive Super Bowl preview against the then undefeated New England Patriots.

Speaking of undefeated.

Congratulations to Bill Polian for creating the worst lose-lose scenario since the 2004 Presidential Election. Super Bowls are important, that’s obvious, but you CANNOT cheat your fans/coaches/players out of a chance to be legendary. If the Colts win the Super Bowl they’ll forever be asked, “what if?” If they lose, everyone will point to Week 16 and the debacle that was Curtis Painter. In reality backing into the playoffs doesn’t make them a worse football team, Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning. But the atmosphere is toxic in Indianapolis. The fans are distraught and the players have to be perturbed. I have a hard time believing this season will end in a good way for Indy.

End rant.

The stats show that the league has morphed into a passing league. Of the top five rushing teams in the NFL, only the Jets (1) and  Ravens (5) made the playoffs. The Titans (2), Panthers (3) and Dolphins (4) all failed to finish above .500.

Of the top 10 passing teams, only the Texans (1) and Steelers (9) FAILED to make the playoffs.

In order to win the Super Bowl, a team will have to pass the ball and defend the pass.

The Jets pass defense ranks number one, but nobody trusts Sanchez. McNabb, Favre, Romo, Warner and Brees can all throw the pill, but their teams rank in the bottom half of the league in pass defense. Dallas can pressure the quarterback though, which balances out their inabilities in the secondary.

The Cowboys have the perfect combination of momentum and ability. They won their last three games of the season (at New Orleans, at Washington, home to Philly) by a combined score of 65-17 (16 points/game). In Week 15 they handled the unbeaten Saints in the Superdome and in Weeks 16 and 17 they boasted shutouts. Romo, Witten and Austin can make plays and Crayton, Barber and Jones are reliable role-players.

Just keep the ball away from Roy E. Williams for the love of God.

The pressure falls on DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff. Nobody in Dallas’ secondary is dependable, these three have to get pressure. If the Cowboys can consistently pressure the opposing quarterback I really like them to make a run.

That’s assuming Romo can get all the snaps down at holder. (Sorry, I had to)

The KG Clause is still in effect though, and if come Monday Dallas is already out I won’t be surprised. That’s the beauty of the NFL Playoffs; Anything is Possible.

WILDCARD PICKS:

NYJ (+2.5) @CIN

As stated above, neither of these teams has a legitimate shot at winning the Super Bowl. Gang Green’s defense can compete with anyone, that’s documented.  But the Jets can’t score enough. The Bengals are just unimpressive, they haven’t beat a team with a winning record since Week 10. There are two players that can win this game for Cincinnati: Mark Sanchez and Carson Palmer

Sanchez must protect the ball. When the Jets win the turnover battle they’re 8-0, their running game and defense is that good. If Cincinnati doesn’t take the ball from Sanchez, then the game will rest upon the right arm of Carson Palmer. If the Bengals trust that Cedric Benson can win them the game they’re in trouble., the Jets feast on one-dimensional offenses. Palmer will have to throw for 200+ yards in order to gain his first playoff victory.

I just don’t see that happening.

Jets 17 Bengals 10

DAL (-4) v PHI

The Eagles are far too dependent on the big play for me to have confidence in them. Can the Eagles come out with 600 yards of offense and a 30-point victory? Yes, but I want the more consistent team. Sure Philly went vanilla in the second half last week, but Dallas shut them out nonetheless. Great offenses don’t get shut out. The Eagles’ offensive output is directly correlated with DeSean Jackson’s impact. Jackson is battling a sore groin and in two games against  Dallas has less than 100 yards.

Wait? What’s that you say? Andy Reid has never lost a first round playoff game?

Doesn’t matter. That’s like saying the Knicks never lose when I wear my Willis Reed jersey at a game (which is entirely untrue because they always lose when I attend games).

It’s about the here and now, it’s about the variables that matter in the current matchup. The Cowboys have momentum, and you don’t pick against the big MO in the playoffs.

Cowboys 28 Eagles 17

@NE (-3) v BAL

Tom Brady hasn’t lost at home since 2006, why start now?

The loss of Welker hurts, but New England was beginning to open up their run game anyway. The best Patriot teams, the Super Bowl winning Patriot teams ran the ball effectively. Julian Edelman can scamper a bit over the middle too, so all isn’t lost. In the end, it comes down to defense for New England.

Remember? Pass the ball, stop the pass.

The Patriots were middle of the road this year, sitting comfortably at 12th in the league in pass defense. Joe Flacco is no big threat either. I’ll admit I was “Wacko for Flacco” (copyrighted by Matthew Berry) earlier in the season. After Week 3 I was on One on One Sports drooling about how good the Ravens were. But after very careful reconsideration I don’t think Joe Flacco is ready to single-handedly win a playoff game. OK maybe not that careful.

The Ravens defense isn’t what we think it is either. (There’s a Denny Green joke there somewhere)

Patriots 24 Ravens 10

GB (PK) @ARI

So the Packers lose both Aaron Kampman and Al Harris on defense…and it gets better. Crazy. I guess sometimes the “X’s and O’s” outweigh the “Willie’s and Joe’s” huh Cris Carter?

On offense Green Bay boasts the number one fantasy quarterback in Aaron Rodgers and the most underrated running back in the NFL in Ryan Grant. Add three very solid receiving options in Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and Jermichael Finley and you have a dangerous team. No team was better than the Packers against the spread this year too, they finished the regular season 11-4-1.

I’m afraid that we’re all sleeping on the Cardinals though…didn’t they do this exact same thing last year? Nobody talks about them, they win the NFC West and then roll off three wins and get to the Super Bowl. That scenario isn’t out of the realm of possibilities.

Green Bay is a better team, but this one’s close.

Packers 27 Cardinals 24

Rich Ryan

WSOE Sports

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