After 17 gruelling weeks the NFL has finally hit its playoff stride.
This weekend sees the start of the league’s opening playoff round and features clubs very familiar with one another.
Wildcard weekend kicks off at 4:30pm tomorrow as the New York Jets face the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals. From there comes a premier NFC battle as the Philadelphia Eagles travel to Cowboy Stadium to take on the Dallas Cowboys. Both games are on NBC.
On Sunday the action continues at 1pm as the Baltimore Ravens tussle with AFC East champs the New England Patriots on CBS. After that the Green Bay Packers face the Arizona Cardinals at 4:30pm on FOX.
All have faced off in memorable regular season games this year and, aside from the Ravens-Patriots contest, are rematches of games last week.
The Jets punched their playoff ticket after beating up on the Bengals 37-0 in New Jersey. It was a perfect storm of cold weather, great running and pass protection for the Jets.
Based on the Bengals’ struggles in recent weeks (1-4 going into tomorrow) momentum would seem to be with the Jets. Factor in their emotional state after burying Chris Henry and Cincy looks vulnerable.
This reporter is buying the Jets running (behind Thomas Jones) and shutting down Cincy again (with more great play from Darrelle Revis) in a dominant 24-9 victory.
Over in the NFC Dallas officially removed their December curse with a stunning 24-0 win over Philly. Incredibly McNabb did not throw a TD while Romo enjoyed roughly 180 yards on the ground from Barber and Jones.
Dallas is an incredibly hot team (3-1 in their last four games) but Philly receiver DeSean Jackson has impressed this reporter. Look for Philly’s revenge via a 38-28 victory.
Back in the AFC the Ravens remember their week four 27-21 loss to the Pats. Aside from late miscues that game saw a Baltimore secondary that was utterly abused.
Without Wes Welker (lost for the year in last week’s 34-27 debacle at Houston) the New England pass attack looks slightly less fearsome.
Lately Baltimore has done well eating up yards on the ground with McGahee and Rice. This reporter expects those guys to ravage New England’s defensive front, the Raven defense to tighten and Baltimore QB Joe Flacco to make passes when needed in a 25-19 upset.
Finally the last wild card game sees Green Bay marching in off a 33-7 thrashing of the Cardinals.
One of the things the Packers did well in that game was throw the ball as Rodgers (235 yards) and Driver (65 yards) burned Arizona often.
However that showing came against a team that clearly took things easy as Warner spent much of the game on the bench. With Warner on the field Arizona is much more dangerous team that can light up the scoreboard quickly.
Green Bay’s balance will be put to the test with the Cardinals’ ability to run the ball (with Hightower and Wells) and throw deep on offense while stifling run games on defense.
However this reporter sees Nick Barnett and Charles Woodson stepping up when it counts in a 42-36 Packers shoot-out.