Saturday, January 9, 2010
Wild-Card Weekend Will Be Wild And Fun
New York Jets @ Cincinnati Bengals
The Jets are crested with bravado right now, thanks to their effervescent head coach Rex Ryan. They are also a week removed from easily kicking the Bengals all over the field at the last event to ever take place in the Meadowlands.
What To Watch From The Jets
Thomas Jones is a running back that leads the charge in the team's offensive game plan. He has carried the team much of the season, since their passing game has mostly been impotent. The ten year veteran has averaged a steady 4.2 yards per carry on a career high 331 attempts. His 1,402 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground are also career high marks.
Jones caught a career low 10 passes this year, but has averaged nearly 30 throughout his career. He is perhaps a weapon the Jets can use in the passing attack, since the Bengals may disregard him in this area.
Rookie Shonn Greene spells Jones, and has been very impressive. He has played 14 games, but has been used in just five games with frequency. He has still piled up 540 yards at a average of five yards per carry. He hasn't been used in the passing game at all, but he helps keep the Jets churning forward.
The Jets rank first in the NFL in rushing first downs, total rushing plays and yardage. This speaks very highly of their offensive line. The unit is strongest on their left side behind guard Alan Faneca and center Nick Mangold, and left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. All are Pro Bowl players.
Darrelle Revis is a shutdown cornerback, plain and simple. He is the guy who will be assigned to shadow Chad Ochocinco, forcing the Bengals to try to find their offense elsewhere. Veteran Lito Sheppard bookends the Pro Bowler, and Dwight Lowery is one of the top third cornerbacks in the league. This is the group who will have to carry the team, and allow Ryan to crowd the line of scrimmage with his blitz schemes.
David Harris is the teams star on the front seven of the defense. Harris has piled up 126 tackles, six sacks, two interceptions and forced two fumbles, but will be playing on a tender ankle. Sione Pouha has done a respectable job replacing injured Pro Bowl nose tackle Kris Jenkins, which helps to allow Harris and fellow inside linebacker Bart Scott to excel.
The Jets have a pair of average safeties, and can be exploited up the middle. If Harris isn't able to play to his capabilities, the Bengals will punch the ball up the Jets gut all day.
Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez has struggled mightily this year, throwing 20 interceptions. Yet he is the only rookie quarterback starting in the playoffs.Though Sanchez has had a lot thrown at him by opposing defenses this year, Bengals coaches Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer will be looking keep him off balanced all game.
What To Watch From The Bengals
Running back Cedric Benson was the nicest surprise to happen for the Bengals this year. He has churned out a career high 1,251 yards despite missing three games and most of a fourth. If he is going good, it enables quarterback Carson Palmer to methodically pick apart defenses in a controlled and well balanced attack.
Ochocinco is the Bengals main receiving weapon, and has stepped up his game after the team lost fellow wide receivers T.J Houshmanzadeh before the season, and the late Chris Henry during the season. He leads the team with nine touchdowns, and has caught 72 balls. He should keep Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis busy all day.
The Bengals offensive line was thought to be a huge question mark before the season began, so they drafted tackle Andre Smith with the sixth overall pick in the first round. Smith, however, has appeared in just six games and started once. Right guard Bobbie Williams was perhaps the only known commodity for this unit coming in, but the group has been quietly excellent all season.
Though neither the Jets nor Bengals rush the passer particularly well, Cincinnati has an excellent pair of cornerbacks in Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph. Both have six interceptions each and have defended 44 balls combined. They set the tempo of the Bengals defense.
The Bengals have an issue at the free safety position. Chis Crocker missed last week because of an ankle injury, and his replacement Tom Nelson hurt his knee replacing him. Though the Bengals safeties are good at defending the run, none are considered excellent pass defenders. Jets tight end Dustin Keller could be in line for a huge game.
Quarterback : Definite Edge Bengals
Running Back : Slight Edge Jets
Receivers : Even
Offensive Line : Slight Edge Jets
Defensive Line : Edge Bengals
Linebacker : Edge Jets
Secondary : Slight Edge Bengals
Special Teams : Slight Edge Bengals
Coaching : Even
The Bengals can basically rely on their passing attack more. Both teams are run heavy with excellent cornerbacks. Expect it to be a standstill in the trenches, because both teams should be able to have some success. The key will be if the Bengals can create more turnovers, perhaps scoring off of one.
Bengals 27 Jets 17
Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys stomped the Eagles just seven days ago to capture the NFC East crown. They not only beat the Eagles down for this accolade, they shut down Philadelphia's high powered offense completely with a 24-0 shutout victory. They are extremely confident they can repeat the feat in the first playoff game ever in their new stadium.
Game Of The Week
What To Watch From The Eagles
The Eagles have had a hard time running the ball consistently all year, especially between the tackles. Fullback Leonard Weaver has been a pleasant surprise, and is headed to the Pro Bowl. Philadelphia is hoping aging and oft-injured running back Brian Westbrook will provide a much needed spark on the ground. All of the Eagles catch the ball well.
Donovan McNabb long ago cemented himself as one of the great quarterbacks in Eagles history, yet he still is lacking a championship that will make his career legendary. He has been his usual efficient self this season, and came out recently with a rare quote saying the Eagles would win Saturday. Not known as a brash talker, Eagles fans had to be both surprised and pumped up to hear their team's leader make such a proclamation.
DeSean Jackson is the team's Pro Bowl wide receiver and most electric player. He leads the team with 12 touchdowns, and nine came off receptions. Eight of those touchdowns came off plays of 50 yards or longer, tying an NFL record with Devin Hester and Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch. He is bookmarked by exciting rookie Jeremy Maclin.
Pro Bowl tight end Brent Celek could be a big part of the final tally. He led the team with 76 catches this year, and scored eight times. He poses a serious problem for the Cowboys average strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh, and Dallas might have to ask free safety Ken Hamlin to take that assignment instead.
Trent Cole is the Eagles Pro Bowl defensive end, and probably their best player. He leads the team with 12.5 quarterback sacks, and is third on the team in tackles. He needs to play big, because Philadelphia has an assortment of mediocre linebackers playing behind him.
Asante Samuel may be the team's Pro Bowl cornerback, but Sheldon Brown helps make the duo one of the best tandems in the league. Samuel has a league leading nine interceptions, while Brown has six. Veteran safeties Quintin Mikell and Sean Jones have provided steady play at safety all season.
What To Watch From The Cowboys
The Cowboys can run the ball down opposing teams throats all day. Running backs Felix Jones and Tashard Choice bother average well over five yards per carry, and starter Marion Barber piled up 932 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.With over 2,100 yards and 14 scores on the ground as a team, they present big problems to the Eagles front seven.
Quarterback Tony Romo had one of the best seasons in his young career this year. He tossed just nine interceptions versus 26 touchdowns, and gained 4,483 yards in the air to a receiving corp not many thought much of heading into the 2009 season. His critics point to his not yet winning in the playoffs, so this game is a big moment for him. Another loss could have fans almost forgetting all he has done so far.
The Cowboys defense has come together at the most critical time, and has played excellent football lately. They are looking to carry this momentum into the playoffs, and perhaps lead the team to a title. Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware is their star and perennial Pro Bowler. He has 11 sacks and forced five fumbles. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff is also headed to the Pro Bowl, and he tallied an impressive six sacks from his position. He will pose an immense problem for backup center Nick Cole, who is starting for the injured Jamaal Jackson.
Dallas has been a mess in their kicking game this year. Nick Folk had a meltdown, and was replaced by Shaun Suisham. Suisham was cut by the lowly Washington Redskins himself this year because of poor performance. The Eagles have Pro Bowl kicker David Akers, and that could be the difference the Eagles need to pull out a win.
Head coach Wade Phillips was purportedly on the edge of job security this season. Even with a division title in hand, he might not be out of the woods yet. Owner Jerry Jones expects titles, and Phillips may still need a deep run in the playoffs to ensure his return next year.
Quarterback : Slight Edge Eagles
Running Back : Definite Edge Cowboys
Receivers : Slight Edge Eagles
Offensive Line : Slight Edge Cowboys
Defensive Line : Slight Edge Cowboys
Linebacker : Definite Edge Cowboys
Secondary : Slight Edge Eagles
Special Teams : Definite Edge Eagles
Coaching : Edge Eagles
I picked the Eagles as my NFC Super Bowl team before the season, so no reason to back out now. The memory of late Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson will loom large, and it will be evident the team misses him. I expect McNabb to pull the team through in the end to honor him, much like the team has done most of the season.
Eagles 34 Cowboys 31
Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots
These teams met in Massachusetts in week three of this season. New England won 27-21, thanks to creating more turnovers. It was a heated game that saw injury as well as proud players battling to the end. A repeat seems evident this weekend.
What To Watch From The Patriots
Tom Brady is not only the quarterback, but he is the face of the franchise. He may be the most popular Patriots player ever, and he capped off the season by winning the Comeback Player of the Year Award after missing most of last year because of a major knee injury. The team goes as he goes, which is usually with good results.
New England comes into this game with a few offensive issues versus a very good Ravens defense. The Patriots will be missing Pro Bowl wide receiver Wes Welker and the 123 receptions he had this season because of a knee injury last week. Rookie Julian Edelman will take his place, and the team hopes the oft-injured player performs well like he has done when he has been able to play.
New England has a deep stable of running backs, yet none would be categorized as special or even game changing backs. Laurence Maroney, Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, and Kevin Faulk should all get touches to see who has the hot hand the Patriots need to ensure a better chance of victory.
The pass rush of the team has been steady, and linebacker Tully Banta-Cain came virtually out of nowhere to lead them with 9.5 sacks. A career special teams star, the seventh year pro has supplied a much needed edge rush. With inside linebackers Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton tackling almost everything that moves, his impact has allowed a mostly young secondary excel.
What To Watch From The Ravens
When the Ravens are mentioned, their defense is the first topic. Ray Lewis is headed for the Hall Of Fame some day, but the inside linebacker has yet to show any signs of slowing down. He had 133 tackles this year, which led the team. Strong safety Dawan Landry has also matured into a leader, having 84 tackles and a team leading four interceptions. The return of free safety Ed Reed is big news for a team needing more time to get to the quarterback this year as compared to past seasons.
Baltimore loves to run the ball, and they have three running backs who do it well. Ray Rice was the teams best player this year and is going to the Pro Bowl. He had 1,339 yards on the ground and 72 receptions for 702 yards in the air. Factor in his 5.27 yards per carry and eight touchdowns, and his abilities are easily seen. Will McGahee is their short yardage guy, and he has scored 14 times. Pro Bowler Le'Ron McClain spent most of this year blocking, but is capable of carrying the load. He had 902 rushing yards last year.
What makes the Ravens go is their offensive line, which is mostly young but has 12 year veteran center Matt Birk leading the way. Rookie Michael Oher and third year veteran Jared Gaither are a pair of mammoth tackles that allow guards Ben Grubbs and Marshall Yanda to get to the next level to clear out linebackers for the running game.
The key to the Ravens victory may be the play of cornerbacks Frank Walker, Domonique Foxworth, and Chris Carr. There is little doubt the Pro Bowl combo of Brady to Randy Moss will be used often. Who will be up this task is the question, as is the question of how fully recovered Reed is now.
Quarterback : Edge Patriots
Running Back : Edge Ravens
Receivers : Slight Edge Patriots
Offensive Line : Even
Defensive Line : Slight Edge Ravens
Linebacker : Edge Ravens
Secondary : Edge Patriots
Special Teams : Even
Coaching : Definite Edge Patriots
One thing you can't buy is experience, and the Patriots have a deep roster of players who know how to win in the playoffs. The Ravens alsoi have a few leaders who know what is like to win it all on defense. If they can get to Brady often, the loss of Welker will be magnified even more. If the Ravens young offensive line can push the pile, they could run the Patriots into the ground. Yet the Patriots have a Hall Of Fame quarterback who could make the difference in the waning moments.
Patriots 30 Ravens 21
Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals
This is the third game of Wild-Card weekend featuring a pair of teams that closed their 2009 seasons playing each other. Green Bay crushed the Cardinals 33-7 in Arizona, though the Cardinals did pull out several of their players early on.
What To Watch From The Packers
The Packers took awhile to get the ground game going, but the offensive line jelled together and running back Ryan Grant ran for 1,253 yards and scored 11 times. Though Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers got much of the press, Grant has been an underrated and valued player. He could make the difference Sunday.
What Green Bay gives Rodgers is an assortment of weapons to throw the ball to. Eight different players have over 20 receptions. Greg Jennings and Donald Driver start at wide receiver and have 70 and 68 receptions respectively. Tight end Jermichael Finley pitched in with 55 catches. They will keep Arizona's secondary busy all day.
The defense is led by a good secondary featuring cornerback Charles Woodson and free safety Nick Collins. Both are Pro Bowlers, and Woodson shares the league lead of nine interceptions. Collins has six himself. Their abilities have allowed rookie outside linebacker Clay Matthews III lead the team with 10 sacks and go to the Pro Bowl.
What To Watch From The Cardinals
Arizona did get 793 rushing yards from rookie running back Beanie Wells and 598 more from Tim Hightower, but they prefer to throw the football most often. Quarterback Kurt Warner has Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald to go to, but there is a question if fellow wide receiver Anquan Boldin will be healthy enough to be effective. Boldin is dealing with sprains in his left ankle and knee.Steve Breaston will slide into the starting lineup if he can't play.
The defense may also be in trouble because their Pro Bowl cornerback, Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, is nursing a knee injury. They will need him at full speed to cover the excellent Packers receivers. Pro Bowl strong safety Adrian Wilson then will be able to concentrate just in Finley, giving Arizona more defensive versatility.
Arizona relies on their defensive linemen to give them the bulk of their pass rush so that their liebackers can drop back into pass coverage. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Darnell Dockett shares the team lead of seven sacks with defensive end Calais Campbell. Their other starting defensive end, Bertrand Berry, has six sacks. If this group can harass Rodgers behind an offensive line that has struggled at times, it may lead to a Cardinals victory.
Quarterback : Even
Running Back : Even
Receivers : Even
Offensive Line : Even
Defensive Line : Even
Linebacker : Slight Edge Packers
Secondary : Edge Packers
Special Teams : Even
Coaching : Slight Edge Cardinals
The Cardinals are trying to defend their NFC Championship, and face a team that mirrors them in many ways. Both teams have injuries at key spots, as well as quarterbacks who love to get the ball in the air often. The teams both have inconsistent running games, and the difference in this game may be decided by who grounds out the most positive plays.
Cardinals 37 Packers 35