The playoffs begin and the Wildcard round is usually one of the most interesting, this season should be no exception as there are four very strong wild card teams and a couple of very suspect division champions. Indeed it is well within the possibilities that all of the wildcard teams will win into the divisional rounds. Each of these games has potential to be very closely contested, it should be a great weekend to watch football. (For those keeping track at home the regular season results were 169 – 86 – 1 straight up and 137 – 112 – 7 against the spread.)
Please note that these picks are not to be confused with the real business of Football Forecasters and are not the recommended picks. Personally I do not bet football and anyone who has followed this little feature for any length of time will understand why. I participate in a pick’em league and these choices reflect those picks though my league choices are subject to last minute changes based on the latest injury and practice reports. Generally, these picks will appear on Wednesday evenings and for their limited amusement value.
Baltimore at Miami – The Dolphins have one of the great turnaround stories of the game as they have won ten games more than last season. This has been the result of good fortune to some extent; they were the real winners of the Brett Favre sweepstakes. They have played well also as reflected by the fact that they have the fewest turnovers in the NFL. A lot has been made out of their use of the Wildcat formations and trick plays but really, they play fundamentally sound football on both sides of the ball.
The Ravens defense seems to have found the fountain of youth and is playing as good as they ever had which is a very high standard. They may not be the best statistical defense but they are certainly as difficult to play against as anyone is and capable of turning around a game on almost any play. The greater surprise is the offense, which has big play potential for the first time in recent memory.
These teams met in week seven with the Ravens winning. This looks like a close game but the nod here goes to Baltimore again. The Miami offense relies on speed and the Baltimore defense has the players to neutralize their speed. In the other direction, the Baltimore running game can wear down the Miami defense and open up big play opportunities in the passing game, Ravens win 24 – 20.
Indianapolis at San Diego – The Chargers essentially returned from the dead after starting the season 4 – 8 and making the playoffs. They recovered by refocusing the defense and getting the offense healthy down the stretch. They did not play as badly as their early record might indicate.
Indianapolis also started the season with an uncharacteristic losing stretch. They have the longest winning streak going into the playoffs, they perhaps have not played as well as their record might indicate but they have proven the ability to win from behind with strong efforts late in games.
This game is a rematch of week twelve when the Colts won on a field goal as time expired. Both defenses are suspect and both offenses have advantages against the defensive weaknesses of the other side. The season play suggests that the Colts have found ways to win late and the Chargers have found ways to lose late, hard to pick against that trend, Colts win 24 – 21.
Philadelphia at Minnesota – The Vikings have struggled their way to a division title. They have a good running offense and a quality rush defense with everyone expected to be available on the defensive line. Their pass offense has been hit or miss and this is not a good team to come from behind in a game.
The Eagles are a frightening team, both good and bad. They have the capability to play at the highest levels on both offense and defense but they can be horribly inconsistent as well. They lack a power running game, which has cost them in the red zone; the offense depends largely on how McNabb plays.
Based solely on talent the pick for this one has to be Philadelphia. They have more ways to win and more weapons but they also have the ability to implode. Whatever the result there is a likelihood that this game may not be all that close, Eagles win 24 – 14.
Atlanta at Arizona – Arizona has been a team on the brink for some time trying to win their division and make their way into the playoffs. They managed to win the West this season though it is not clear that anyone else was really trying to win it. Their offense can be prolific but has been inconsistent at times. The problem for the Cardinals is on defense where they give up too many big plays, they have by far the worst scoring defense of any team in the playoffs.
Atlanta has been one of the big surprises of the season as they finished seven games better than last season and made wholesale changes to their roster, most of which seemed to have worked very well. The offensive line has played well protecting rookie, Matt Ryan who has played better than any quarterback has since Marino. Michael Turner has excelled as an every down back and is a break away threat. The defense is not great but it is effective.
Atlanta is the choice for the win based on their defensive advantage, which is not decisive but may be enough. If Arizona can jump out to an early lead and get Atlanta out of their running game they have good chances. If Atlanta gets rolling with the running game, they can pretty much dictate the tempo, Falcons win 28 – 24.