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


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

Back at the Keyboard: AFC Wild Card Predictions

January 2, 2008

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