I would like to open this post by apologizing to all my faithful readers for my lack of posts during the last couple weeks. Being back in the ‘Burgh for break has been fun, but unfortunately my catching up with old friends has distracted me from my journalistic responsibilities to you, the people. Consider it a New Year’s resolution to not leave you in the dark like this again
That said, here’s an AFC Wild Card round preview to help me make amends:
Jaguars at Steelers
Being from Pittsburgh, it simply isn’t in my blood to pick against the Steelers. I just can’t bring myself to do it. That said, I may never be less confident in a pick for the rest of my life. Honestly, I’d have more faith in a Steelers victory over the Pats right now than I have in this pick. The Jaguars are for real, and the Steelers are on the verge of turning their late season slide into a collapse to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
For the Steelers, there are two major keys to this game. The first is finding a way to slow down the smash-mouth running duo of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. Taylor in particular has been on a tear of late, with five 100+ yard performances in his last 5 starts, including 147 yards against the Steelers in a 29-22 victory week 15. If Dick LeBeau’s defense can slow down the Jags ground game, it’ll force QB David Garrard to beat the Steelers with his arm. Garrard has done a good job of controlling the ball, and his efficiency and consistency is what has turned this team from a decent team to a championship contender, but in the end, he doesn’t have the talent or the targets to beat the Steelers by himself.
On the other side of the ball, it’s going to be critical that the Steelers offensive line pulls itself together and plays at least decent. With Max Starks now out for the rest of the year, the Pittsburgh o-line is officially decimated, especially if Marvell Smith misses Saturday as is expected. If they can somehow manage to create some holes for Najeh Davenport, and give Ben Roethlisberger adequate time to find some open receivers, the Steelers should be able to move the ball and control the clock to the point where they should win easily. If the Steelers are going to win, Santonio Holmes and Heath Miller are each going to need to bring down a TD pass as the offense succeeds for the first time in a while from the red zone
For the Jags, the only key is to keep doing what they’ve been doing for the last third of the season. Garrard has been amazingly consistent and poised, and if they continue to find success on the ground while playing stout, hardnosed defense, they are nearly unbeatable
Fully realizing that this year’s Colts team is better than the Colts team that won the Super Bowl last year, I’m still very tempted to name the Jags as the second best team in the NFL right now. They are that good, and there’s a reason that I am very shaky about making this pick
In the end, the Black and Gold still prevail.
Prediction: Steelers 27-24
(Yes, that is my journalistic integrity that just flew out the window
Titans at Chargers
There isn’t a whole lot of hope here for the Tennessee faithful. The Chargers are playing good football right now, and while Tennessee did a good job of fighting their way into the playoffs, they only really grabbed the 6th seed because the not-so-clutch Cleveland Browns choked in week 16 (I for one couldn’t be happier).
For the Titans to have any chance, every player on the defensive side of the ball is going to have to have a career day, starting with DE Albert Haynesworth. Haynesworth and the rest of the Titans pass rush needs to be in Philip Rivers’s face all day long, forcing the Chargers to be one-dimensional. Then it’s just about finding a way to slow down LaDainian Tomlinson, which isn’t as hard as advertised if you can jam the line of scrimmage and take away his talents as a receiving back. If he’s forced to run into a log-jam of defenders, he’ll still make good things happen, but it won’t be enough to out-produce what the Titans will put together when they have the ball
My suggestion to the Chargers is the same as the one I offered to the Jags above: play your game, and the game is yours. The Chargers are a superior team on both sides of the ball, and barring another classy San Diego playoff collapse, the Chargers could make some noise deep into this post-season. Don’t get too excited though Bolt’s fans, this team isn’t about to go into Foxboro and walk away with a victory, although winning in Indy isn’t entirely un-plausible
Prediction: Chargers 38-13
NFC predictions will hopefully come later in the week