It’s a great time of the year to be a sports fan and not only because of the recent end to the lockout. A week before the NHL season kicks in, here football fans get to enjoy the best weekend of the NFL year for- the Divisional round of the playoffs.
The Wildcard weekend is meant to separate the contenders from the pretenders- I’m looking at you Minnesota Vikings- and I’m especially pumped for this weekend’s matchups because I believe we are left with, by far, the best four teams in each conference. You can legitimately see each and every one of these teams going on to win the Super Bowl after a win this weekend. I do not believe that there are any teams out there better than the four left in each conference. Does anyone really believe that, even with a healthy RGIII, the Redskins are better than the Falcons, ‘Niners, Packers, or Seahawks? Exactly.
With all this being said, let’s take a look at who the big winners will be this weekend.
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos
When we get down to the elite teams, it’s all about the QBs. Our matchup here? Peyton Manning vs. Joe Flacco. Although Joe gets a bit of a bad rap in my opinion (he’s better than the public gives him credit for, but definitely worse than he gives himself credit for) this QB matchup is certainly one-sided. More important for me in this matchup though are the team’s respective defenses. Baltimore has the reputation for being a great defensive team and Ray Lewis’ impending retirement definitely gives the team a big emotional boost. But Denver, the team with far-and-away the better offense, has a better defense too. Don’t forget this is a defense that brought Tim Tebow a playoff win. IT’S THAT GOOD! Elvis Dumervil and Vaughn Miller are two of the best defensive players in the game today and unlike Ray Lewis, the Bronco’s token grizzly vet- Champ Bailey- looks to have a few more years of high-quality football left in the tank. If the week 15 matchup in Baltimore was any indication, things could get ugly at the Mile-High.
Broncos 35, Ravens 24
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
To emphasize our QB theme here, I love the QB matchup for the Packers. Not because the Packers have arguably the best QB in the game who is the reigning MVP with a playoff pedigree. And not because the ‘Niners are starting a QB who doesn’t even have a full season under his belt, let alone a playoff start to his name. Fine, these facts are also taken into consideration. I love the QB matchup here most importantly because of the Bill Simmons’ coined term- the Aaron Rodgers Eff You Mode. Let me explain. Aaron Rodgers plays as though he has something to prove and a chip on his shoulder more than any other QB in the game. And who are the Packers playing this weekend? Oh, just his hometown team he grew up cheering for that passed up on him and made him sit in the green room for a good four hours at the 2005 NFL draft. The same team that also beat GB at Lambeau in week 1 and has since forced “NFL Experts” to essentially discount the Packers chances to return to the Super Bowl. I think it’s time that this unbelievably awesome statement comes to be:
As much as I’d like to base my pick entirely on the Aaron Rodgers Eff You Mode, I do also have some more tangible reasons why the Packers will win at Candlestick. For one, the Packers seem to be the hotter team right now, which as the Giants showed last year, is an extremely important factor. With Joe Webb starting for the Vikes last weekend, GB essentially got an exhibition game to work out the kinks, while SF was idle. The Packers are also healthy for pretty much the first time all year. I think Clay Mathews, Charles Woodson, and the Pack secondary will be able to handle the inexperience of Colin Kapernick, who is also missing a big target in Mario Manningham.This seems to open the door to Randy Moss having an increased role in the ’Niners offense. Please God, don’t let Moss burn the Packers again. For the Packers offense, the nice little run of actually having a decent running game, with the unexpected combination of DuJaun House and Ryan Grant, will likely come to an end against the stellar SF run defense. Aaron Rodgers will likely be forced to throw the ball nearly every down; however this may not be such a bad thing. The Packer receiving corps has battled injury problems all season but has finally gotten healthy. Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley, and James Jones provide Rodgers with the best set of weapons in the league. Pair that with an improving offensive line and an injury to Justin Smith, a focal point of the SF defense, and the Packer offense might just go off.
Packers 31, 49ers 27
Yes, you`ve put your detective skills to the test and figured out I`m a Packers fan. But I swear to God I am not alone in picking the upset here!
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
If it were ever possible to feel less confident after a playoff victory, Texan fans are definitely feeling this confusion. Although, let’s face it. Does any of us really know a Texan fan? Anyways, the running joke on the New England side has been that they get two bye weeks. The bye they earned last week for being the AFC’s two-seed (which Houston should have had in the first place by beating Indy in week 17!) and a second bye because of their matchup with Houston. If I’m a Texan fan I don’t think I’m watching this game. It would just be way too depressing. This team legitimately could be the best team in the NFL. I picked them to go to the Super Bowl in the preseason for crying out loud! However, they really haven’t lived up to their potential and late-season loses to the Vikings and Colts demonstrate the team’s downward trend. Most disappointing to me is the team’s defense. Going into the year, the Texans had a top-five defense on paper and were the most balanced team in the league. Although the injury to Brian Cushing hasn’t helped, the defense has given up 42 to the Packers and Pats but more alarmingly, 37 to the Jaguars! At home.
History tells us it’s hard to beat the same good team twice in a season. But in their previous matchup in Foxborough, NE made Houston look very ordinary. I do think that Foster, Schaub and Co. are motivated to pull off the upset with everyone on the face of the planet not giving their team a chance to win this one (please refer to Foster’s twitter avatar) and this game will be a decent one. But at the end of the day, I think that Vince Wilfork will lead the way in diminishing Foster’s impact on the game. Plus, in the Brady/Belicheck era, you kind of have to pick the Patriots at home in the playoffs. Most importantly though, who doesn’t want to see another Manning/Brady Conference Championship!?
Patriots 37, Texans 24
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons
I’ll be honest. Even as a die-hard Packers fan, I think this is the game I’m most pumped up for this weekend. To me it is just so intriguing. I don’t know where to start! Let’s go back to the QBs. Matty Ice vs. Russell Wilson. Big edge to Ryan, right? Well hold on a second. Matt Ryan appears to have been a great QB in the NFL for some time now, yet Wilson, THE ROOKIE, has more playoff wins than Ryan, who has an 0-3 record. This is such a good stat and the reason why I was using his nickname sarcastically. I would like to go on a rant about how ridiculous it is for a QB who has no playoff wins to have the nickname of Matty Ice but I’ll save that for another day. I’ll be the first one to admit that I have pretty much ignored Wilson’s ability all season and I still can’t really see him being a top tier QB in this league down the road. But there is just something about this Seattle team right now and I feel like I have to ignore my doubts based on what he’s accomplished this year. I still give a slight edge to Ryan just because of the weapons he has surrounding him, not to mention a Tony Gonzalez who is still looking to win his first playoff game, but I don’t believe this edge is big enough to declare Atlanta the clear-cut winner. Enter Marshawn Lynch. He’s been absolutely unbelievable as a Seahawk and has somehow become a top-five back in the NFL. I can’t believe that. He is the equalizer for the offenses in this game. As good as the trio of White-Jones-Gonzalez is for the Falcons, Michael Turner is just not the back he used to be and, quite frankly, I’m shocked that Atlanta hasn’t handed over the #1 reigns to Jacquizz Rodgers. Even though the NFL has become such a passing league, the gap between Lynch and Turner seems to make up for the gap between these teams QBs. I’m willing to call a draw on offense in this game.
Defense and special teams are where Seattle can pull off the upset in this one. Seattle has the best defense in the league aside from maybe SF. They do definitely have the best secondary in the league and the physical play from Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, and Co. might be enough to cancel out the ability of the Falcon receivers. I can’t see the front seven having any problems keeping Turner’s impact on the game to a minimum. As far as special teams are concerned, Leon Washingston is one of the most dangerous players in the game when he is on the field. Heck, since Seattle is the team of destiny, I’ll say that he breaks a return for a touchdown in this one.
Seattle wins this one and as much as I want to say that this is the game the Falcons break through, Seattle may just be this year’s Giants. I think the Falcons just might be the San Jose Sharks of the NFL and if they fail to win another home game in the playoffs, the Falcons will be the new go-to team to compare playoff failure to, forget the Sharks. Sometimes you just get that feeling about a team and I, like many others, just have that feeling about SEA. My feeling, however, might be more a feeling of sickness, as I have still yet to get over the Monday Night Football debacle and want a rematch the arrogant Pete Carroll, the cocky Golden Tate, and the rest of the Seahawks. (Totally unbiased terms there, for the record.) The Packers and Seahwawks appear to be on a collision course to meet in the NFC Championship Game and as much as I, along with so many other GB fans, have been willing this rematch to occur, it seems like the Football Gods are in agreeance that this needs to happen!
Seattle 27, Falcons 24