NFC Wild Card Predictions

January 5, 2008

Redskins at Seahawks

There is one stat, and one stat alone that stands out to me in this game, and I give The Sports Guy Bill Simmons all the credit in the world for finding it. Over the past three seasons, Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck is 21-3 when starting at Qwest Field. The only quarterbacks to overcome the Twelfth Man – Seattle’s notoriously loud fans — the last three seasons: Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, and Alex Smith. Granted, Alex Smith is pretty much terrible at this stage of his career, but at this point I’d take any the three aforementioned quarterbacks over 36 year old career back-up Todd Collins, despite his recent good play.

For Washington, the key is going to be getting an early lead for two reasons. One, it will hopefully quiet some of the Qwest Field faithful, who take more pride in causing more false starts than any fans in America. Secondly, it will give them the opportunity to get RB Clinton Portis and their ground game moving. If they control the clock and don’t turn the ball over, they might be able to come away from Qwest victorious and set up an intriguing re-match with the Cowboys in the divisional round.

Seattle’s key to this game is just the opposite – don’t let the ‘Skins take control early. The Twelfth Man is the runner up for MVP on this team, right behind Hasselbeck, and come playoff time, it wouldn’t be a wise decision to bet against the ‘Hawks at Qwest, regardless of the opponent. Expect Hasselbeck to hook up with WR’s D.J. Hackett and Deion Branch all day long, and don’t be surprised when Collins throws multiple picks in his first playoff start.

Prediction: Seahawks 31-18

Giants at Buccaneers

It’s always risky (if not stupid) to bet on a young QB on the road in the playoffs, and in picking Eli Manning and the Giants to win this game that is exactly what I’m doing. Call it a cardinal sin of sports betting, but I just think the Giants will be too much for the Bucs in this one, despite Tampa’s home-field advantage.

For the Bucs, it’s going to be key that they shut down RB Brandon Jacobs and the Giants running attack. When you force Eli Manning to beat you with his arm, you risk letting him hit Plaxico Burress deep down field once or twice for big plays, but you’re also almost guaranteed to force multiple turnovers. The Pats proved it last weekend – if there are guys in Eli’s face, he will make mistakes. Shut down Jacobs and get to Manning quickly, and the whole team with self-implode, starting with the quarterback.

The Giants, on the other hand, need to make sure that this game is not in Eli’s hands with 2 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan need to be in QB Jeff Garcia’s face all day long, and if they can force multiple turnovers that way, the Giants should come away victorious.

I have a feeling this is going to be a messy game, featuring a plethora of turnovers. My guess, the G-Men and their superhuman pass rush wreak too much havoc against a very average Tampa offense, while the Giants ground game is enough to bail out a couple ugly Eli Manning interceptions.

I learned two things watching the G-Men lose 38-35 loss to the Pats last Saturday:

A. This team really, really wants to win

and

B. Eli Manning is not a big game quarterback, and he will choke with the game on the line.

Look for the Giants to overcome lesson B this week in Tampa, but don’t expect my pick to be so kind next week against either Dallas or Green Bay.

Prediction: Giants 24-10

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