Friday, January 7, 2011

Polamalu’s Hair: Wildcard Weekend

There were thirty-two teams that mattered back in September when the 2010 NFL season began…we’re now down to twelve as the first round of the playoffs gets underway in four cities around the United States.

There are eight teams in action around the league on Wildcard Weekend, including the defending Super Bowl champs, an “elite” team that went down to the wire to get in and even a team with a losing record.

Here are my predictions:

New Orleans @ Seattle

I need to clear a couple of things up before we get into this match-up: Yes, a team with a losing record is actually hosting a playoff game (I called the league office to double check and everything!). Secondly, no, the Saints aren’t being paired up with a 7-9 team because they’re the defending Super Bowl champions.

Alright, now that we’ve got that sorted out, let’s get into it:

The Seattle Seahawks won a pretty ugly game against the St. Louis Rams last Sunday to get into the playoffs, which snapped a three game losing skid and a run of five losses in six games. Believe it or not, the Saints struggled near the end as well, losing two of three after winning six straight. New Orleans will be without their two top power running backs this weekend in Pierre Thomas (done for the season) and Chris Ivory (placed on the IR). Luckily they still have a guy like Reggie Bush who they’ll have to rely on and a veteran like Drew Brees under centre.

I predict the pressure of hosting will be a factor for the Seahawks on Saturday and so I’m giving this one to the Saints, who will win despite the injuries they’re dealing with.

NY Jets @ Indianapolis

This one is intriguing – a 6-2 home team hosting a 6-2 road team in a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game, which was won by the Colts. Since the Jets seem to revolve around hype and controversy, it was no surprise to hear NY coach Rex Ryan telling reporters that “it's personal” when it comes to Peyton Manning and the Colts.

The Jets lost three of five to round out the regular season after winning nine of their first 11 games. On the other side of things, the Colts needed to string together four straight wins to get into the playoffs after going on a mid-season slide where they dropped four of five.

Taking a closer look at the quarterback battle that will be going on here, Peyton Manning’s numbers this season are far superior to those of Mark Sanchez. Manning has thrown for 1,409 more yards, almost double the touchdowns and has a way higher passer rating than his Jets counterpart. Sanchez has thrown fewer interceptions, but has been limited in practice this week due to a sore throwing shoulder.

I think it’ll be a close game but the Colts will be able to dig deep and pull out the win on the strength of a good showing by Peyton Manning.

Baltimore @ Kansas City

The Baltimore Ravens and their stingy defense travel to KC to face a Chiefs team that is 7-1 at home so far this season.

Led by veteran Ray Lewis, the Ravens gave up an average of just 16.9 points a week through 16 games, third best in the league, while the offence averaged just over 22. The Chiefs are used to giving up about 20, while scoring almost 23 on any given week.

Much like the Colts, Baltimore is on fire heading into the postseason with four straight wins under their belt and six in their last seven games. When the Ravens do lose, it isn’t by much – the most they’ve fallen by is five points this season. On the other side of that coin, the Chiefs have lost by at least 20 points on three different occasions.

There isn’t much between Ravens QB Joe Flacco and KC’s Matt Cassel, so I’m going to guess that the Baltimore D takes over this game and leads them to victory.

Green Bay @ Philadelphia

Of all the games this weekend, this is the one I’m most excited for. The Jets/Colts will be good, but I’m excited to see how Philly’s Michael Vick performs on the big stage.

He’s put up some great numbers this season and turned in some grand performances, but they won’t mean anything without some playoff success. Vick has been hurt but says he’s all healed up and ready to go for Sunday’s tilt with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

These two clubs boast identical 10-6 records heading into the postseason but it’s worth noting that the Eagles are a modest 4-4 at home, which seems to be cancelled out by the fact that the Packers are just 3-5 away from Lambeau Field.

What’s interesting here is that the 4-4 home record for Philly includes that Week 1 loss to Green Bay where we saw Michael Vick come in about halfway through and orchestrate a solid comeback (our first look at the “new” Vick) and a Vick-less Week 17 loss. The Packers, meanwhile, have lost three straight on the road (two without Rodgers) and tend to score about 12 points less away from home than they do when they’re playing at Lambeau.

Green Bay might have a slight edge defensively over Philly, but with guys like DeSean Jackson and Michael Vick on the field, I have to go with the Eagles.

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