Full disclosure – I had a previous commitment which precluded me from watching the best (and perhaps, only good) one of the four wildcard matchups – the hellacious Arizona 51-45 win over Green Bay – aside from highlight form. I expect it will be NFL Network’s game of the week – so some more complete thoughts are warranted then. Obviously sounded like a great game – if not a great defensive performance until the end – and full marks to Arizona for stemming the tide when the Packers seemed to have turned things around. As for the rest of it:
Jets 24, Bengals 14 – The Jets continued their physical, mauling defense and stifled the Bengals passing game. Darrelle Revis is the best cover CB in the league obviously, and the Jets front seven is good enough to not make him defend more than he (or any defensive back) can. But the offensive side of the ball was where the Jets triumphed. The Jets have been ultra careful not to expose Sanchez – and they did a great job keeping him from being stuck in “pass when we have to pass” situations. They remained unpredictable with their running game and used it to give Sanchez some easy throws which he made. And hey he showed poise.
Cowboys 34, Eagles 14 – The Eagles are an outstanding football team. They hung 45 up on the Giants very recently, they beat some good opponents, their offense is young and gifted in so many places. The Cowboys just match up very well with them, especially in the trenches where so many games are won. The Cowboys just flogged the Eagles up front and the rest took care of itself. The way the Cowboys have played since shocking New Orleans a few weeks back, they are going to be a very tough out.
Ravens 33, Patriots 14 – A complete wipeout. The Ravens and Patriots have been different teams all season – the Patriots have been so beaten up by injury and attrition, their lack of depth at receiver was exposed. Their defense has been below average much of the season. The Ravens suffered from a lot of bad luck and lot of close losses. But their upside is so much greater than the Patriots and they played near the top of their form. This was a physical beat down – and the shocking beginning upset any game plan the Patriots might have had. Just a sad day in Mudville. The Patriots Era is not over – not by any stretch – but Belichick (one of his poorer coaching seasons) has some work to do.
So now the iron enters the fray. The Wild Card memories reek with the bias of recency – and we tend to forget that the reason the teams with byes got them was because they deserved them largely. Does this mean we will see four servings to the firing squad?
Cardinals at Saints – The Cardinals defense got lit up by a very talented Green Bay team. The Saints indoors might be even more gifted. Kurt Warner has proven how good he is when is protected. Facing a very aggressive Gregg Williams defense, the challenge will be to rob Warner of time. Can it happen? Sure – especially with Anquan Boldin hurt (though he might be available, who knows – either way not 100%). The Saints ended the season on a 3 game losing streak, including a varsity-free Week 17. However, the bye, being at home, and their ability to generate speed all bode well. I admire the Cardinals toughness – this is a better team than the one that stumbled into the Super Bowl last season – but the Saints have too much firepower under the dome. Saints 34, Cardinals 24
Ravens at Colts – This is not your father’s Colts team. I am not sure how much I have seen them really light it up. It is a testament to Peyton’s brilliance that they have not dropped off offensively. That said, the Ravens defense is good – maybe not as good as they looked against the fossilized Patriots attack, but good. The Colts though have had trouble exploding at times – though augmented by better defense than normal. Their first meeting was a 17-15 tight game where the Ravens had 5 FGs, and against a good team you need more TDs. Colts inside though should have a little better luck. Colts 24 , Ravens 17
Cowboys at Vikings – Vikings stumbled down the stretch. Cowboys are surging and riding a nasty physical defense and an explosive balanced offense. The Vikings, aside from pasting a character-free Giants team, have shown vulnerability. The size on the inside of their defensive front bodes well against the Cowboys, but the outside defense, I am less certain. Also Favre has been good at serving up key turnovers against good teams. There are so many pro Cowboys signs that I should veer the other way and pick a Vikings rout, but the Cowboys have looked so strong. I will hate myself for this: Cowboys 27, Vikings 24
Jets at Chargers – The Jets defense and blitzing will cut into what the Chargers like doing – throwing the ball deep. The Chargers will have to be patient, and might have to win a rock fight. The Jets running game also plays well against a very suspect Chargers defensive front. And as last week showed, Sanchez can make a play or two if the situations are handled smartly. That said, the firepower for th Jets is limited with Braylon Edwards being more likely to drop a big play than make one. The Chargers will struggle, but not enough. Chargers 20, Jets 10