With 17 weeks in the book, it is time to offer some thoughts on each of the Wild Card matchups, going in chronological order:
However first of all, some comment on the Wes Welker injury. It happens – first quarter, guy makes a cut, untouched, season over. (or whatever, given how coy Bill Belichick is) It is tempting to say that this validates the Colts decision to sit their starters and turn their backs on an unbeaten season (not accomplished since the 1972 Miami Dolphins) – which has its eloquent defenders. The defenses are fair and reasonable. However, the argument misses a couple of key points:
- History. The unbeaten season is historically a fairly big deal – there is a reason that it has not been chased down in 37 years – it’s hard! No true football fan believes that the 1972 Dolphins are the greatest team of all time. But they are the one that never lost a game, and so there is immortality. Maybe the players don’t care – somehow I doubt it.
- Causation. The 2007 Patriots did not lose the Super Bowl due to the chase of history. There may have been stress factors, and dealing with being cast as villains – but really that might have been 2% of the cause. The Giants were just better once – which is how single elimination tends to work.
- You never know. Welker blew out his knee in a somewhat meaningless game. But it was the first quarter, he was not touched. Manning could have been hurt in the same manner. Football is a hard game. Heck, airplane travel is dangerous – but the Patriots made the trip. They are not faberge eggs – you hope they don’t go out like this, but it’s a risk with the sport.
- Customer service. The teams that DO play preseason games in January should declare their intentions. Fans deserve (especially paying ones) to watch football. They already are saddled with 2 preseason games, they should not be forced to buy a third or fourth.
Rant over. Now to the playoff games:
- Jets at Bengals: One of three Week 17 rematches this weekend. The Bengals did play their varsity against the Jets and the Jets, in a win or else mode, pasted them. That said, the scenery changes to Cincinnati this weekend. Both teams have stout defenses and pedestrian offenses, though the Bengals can throw the ball better. The Jets are trying to keep Mark Sanchez away from having a role in the final result of games, but you cannot hide him forever. He has star ability and presence, but he is a rookie and has looked like one. The Jets have the league’s best defense and it’s best defensive player (Darrelle Revis). The team can run and win bad weather games. But the Bengals have a little more firepower and I suspect they held back a bit tactically. Bengals 17, Jets 13
- Eagles at Cowboys: This is a little different. Eagles had a lot to play for – a division title and a bye. The bye of course increases the odds of winning it all geometrically. The Cowboys manhandled them up front and won with defense and running. There is the usual adage about the difficulty of beating a team three times, but the Cowboys physicality makes it hard to pick against them. Cowboys 27, Eagles 17
- Ravens at Patriots: The Ravens are 9-7, theoretically limping into the postseason, like the 10-6 Patriots are. However, I look at the Ravens 7 losses, and see that they were all to playoff teams except for a loss to the Steelers, and that they were outscored in those games by a combined 38 points. In other words, the losses were competitive. Add their second in the AFC +130 scoring margin, and the resume looks more impressive. The Patriots have a higher scoring margin and 10-6, and playing at home, so they are in good shape, right? Well, there is the Welker injury, that is one thing. Tom Brady’s 3 broken ribs and resulting mediocre play is another thing. They smashed bad teams and played well at home. On the road their defense seemed not very good, and they had a knack for collapsing facing adversity. The character seems lacking a bit. They can beat the Ravens, but I have a hard time picturing it, with the injuries and all. Ravens 23, Patriots 20
- Packers at Cardinals: Well the Packers belted them 33-7 this past Sunday. However, Arizona did play Matt Leinart extensively, and I am not sure how much they cared about the result. The Cardinals have a true track record now, and this year even have some very big high profile wins. The inconsistency is there (really the NFC is wide open), but the Cardinals know how to work in big games, especially if the weather is not a big deal. The Packers with Rodgers can flat out score, and Charles Woodson has been magnificent defensively. However, their protection has been an issue at times this season and I am not convinced they are ready to win this sort of game – not yet anyway. Cardinals 30, Packers 27