Wild Card Predictions|
|Colts vs Jets (-6)
|Falcons vs Packers (-6 1/2)
|Browns vs Steelers (-8)
|Giants vs 49ers (-3 1/2)
Adam Conn, Founder
My favorite time of year, NFL playoffs. For the first time in league history, the playoffs make sense.
With four divisions, it's clear who gets the home field advantage for their first game (the division winners)
and the wild cards must play on the road against division winners. With the previous playoff picture, having one wild-card at home
against another wild-card gave a slight disadvantage to the sole division winner who had to play in the first round. Now it evens up.
Hurrah for the NFL for figuring out the post-season!
These games are all compelling because, for the first time in recent memory, I don't think there's a big mismatch in any of them. I think either team could win any of these four games. The worst team
of the bunch coming in is the Falcons, but with Vick facing a severely injury stricken Packers, even they have a good shot of winning. My best bet is the first game.
Colts @ Jets
In Indianapolis, this game would be a toss-up for me. In the Meadowlands, the Jets cruise. Chad Pennington, i.e., Byron Leftwich Sr.,
has lived up to the potential earned by carrying a clipboard watching Vinnie Testeverde. The 2000 Draft has paid off for the Jets Shaun Ellis,
John Abraham, Pennington, and Anthony Becht are all starters picked in the first round. Laveranues Coles was the 14th receiver picked overall that year. Peter King
needs to issue an apology for giving that draft a C plus. (Oakland got the top grade for selecting Sebastian "The Polish Trifle" Janikowski, Jerry Porter, and Shane Lechler.)
The Jets beat New England in New England, and tromped Green Bay to carry some nice momentum into this game. Martin appears to be at full strength, as does the O-line.
The Colts have some gimpiness on an already weak defense. They haven't won convincingly since beating Philly. Vanderjagt is looking shaky from long distance.
Pick: J-E-T-S. Jets Jets Jets. They'll beat the spread.
Falcons @ Packers
Green Bay has never lost a post-season game in Green Bay. Green Bay is the only team to finish undefeated at home this season. Brett Favre finished second in the MVP voting.
Favre hasn't lost in his career when the temperature is below 34 degrees and the high for Saturday is predicted to be 33. Atlanta has lost three out of the last four games.
These factors make it very hard to go against the Packers this weekend. And being a Packers fan, I have to go with the Pack as well here, but this game makes me nervous.
The Packers may be without Donald Driver, Favre's favorite target this year. Terry Glenn must step up and be the #1. How frightening is that? But I think Glenn being the #1 will
be the ruse the Falcons will fall for Favre's first few passes will key on Javon Walker and Ahman Green. If Walker makes his catches, look for him to be the step-up guy, which will free Glenn to make a big play in the fourth quarter.
With Bob Christian out, the Falcons game is serverely compromised. Vick will get harried all day. Look for Darren Sharper and the corners to step-up and harrass Vick's passing all day, and for Warrick Dunn to get stuffed without a decent lead blocker.
The Falcons are a decent young team, but the receiver corp isn't up to playoff caliber. Keith Brooking and Patrick Kerney have to play the game of their lives to keep the Falcons in this one. If they can shut down the screen, they have a shot.
Pick: Packers. They'll win, but keep fans nervous until the end. I wouldn't be surprised for the Packers to be tied or down entering the fourth quarter, but win anyway. By the way, this will not be Favre's last season.
Browns @ Steelers
I expected the Browns to make the playoffs this year. But I don't expect them to win this one. Yes, they won without Couch earlier this season, but this is the playoffs. If Couch is in, they have a good shot. In fact, I'd pick them.
The Browns are going to have to run their way to win and the Steelers are giving up a miserly 86 yards per game.
Steelers are gimped up a bit with Bell and Scott questionable, and Bettis and Farrior probable. These are the four key players for the Steelers. But I think the Steelers have enough offensive weapons that they could and should win this game even with Kordell QBing.
It won't matter, however, since this is the end of the line for both teams.
Giants @ 49ers
The 49ers are way too reliant on Terrell Owens. They also seem to give up at the end of games. They haven't won convincingly since October. They strugged against the three worst teams in the NFC in December (Seattle, Arizona, and Dallas). They went 5-3 at home.
The Giants are riding a four game winning streak, beating two playoff teams in the final two weeks. Kerry Collins reached the 4,000 yard mark for the first time in his career.
Originally, when I looked at this game, I was going to pick the 49ers. I called the Giants choke against Houston and Tennessee. I've never been a Giants fan, and I dislike the composition of this team.
But it's hard to pick against momentum and the better team. I think the Giants are deeper in offense than the 49ers, and have more of a will to win this game. So I grit my teeth and pick the Giants. I actually think this might be a high-scoring game, unlike the previous matchup. If this is another 41-0 game like the Giants/Vikings matchup a few years back, Mooch doesn't come back. If the Giants win by more than 10, Mooch is gone.
Matt Phillips, Staff Writer
Colts @ Jets
Why: The Jets haven't lost at home since October 27th, and have won their
last two games by a combined score of 72-34. Their defense has not let up
over 21 points (and only twice over 17) since their bye week, which
started the team's turnaround after their 2-5 start. Chad Pennington is
the highest rated quarterback in the AFC. Curtis Martin, although,
hobbled by two bad ankles, had a solid season after a horrible start.
The Colts have gone 2-2 in their last 4 games, including being shellacked
by the Giants. They lost Qadry Ismail in that game, who was their #2
receiver. As such, they have to rely a lot more on Reggie Wayne. Against
a good Jets secondary, who will have Marvin Harrison double covered the
whole game, and a strong Jets front 4, Manning will have problems finding
How the Colts could win: A lot of the game relies on the Jets' safeties
doubling Harrison. If the linebackers fail to contain the running game,
and the Jets need to bring a safety into the box, look out.
Falcons @ Packers
Prediction: Green Bay
Why: Last week's crushing loss to the Jets notwithstanding, the Packers
have had one of the most impressive seasons in the entire NFL. Brett
Farve was an early MVP favorite and ended up finishing second. He has a
solid running game behind him with Ahman Green. Yes, Donald Driver is
questionable, but Terry Glenn has shown flashes of brilliance this year.
Also, they have the best intangible in Lambeau Field, where they have not
lost this year. Green Bay has the #3 pass defense, so it's obvious that
their job will be to contain the running game of the Falcons.
After a 41-0 shutout of the Panthers, the Falcons have looked lackluster
on their way to a 3-2 record. They needed overtime to beat Minnesota, and
lost to Seattle in the extra period, too. These games should not have
been close, but their defense has let up some big games to some good
running backs. It's not going to be easy to contain Brett Favre, even
without Driver, if they have to worry about Ahman Green, too.
How the Falcons could win: Michael Vick. He is their offense. He has to
put up huge numbers like he did against Minnesota. Green Bay's defense
has to contain him early.
Browns @ Steelers
Why: It's always interesting when teams play three times in one season,
especially after one team has one both games. It's said that one of the
hardest things to do is to beat a team in all three games. However, I
think the Steelers can do it. Cleveland did finally establish a running
game, but, when it seems they're finally running on all cylanders, Tim
Couch breaks his leg. Yes, Kelly Holcomb did have a good run replacing
Couch earlier in the season, but he's also coming off injury, and hasn't
The Steelers have the number one defense against the rush. Look for them
to make William Green a non-factor in this game. If that happens, and the
game rests on Holcomb, Pittsburgh should win easily. Maddox should not
have any problems finding his receivers.
How the Browns could win: They need to establish the running game early
and open up the passing lanes for Holcomb. That will be tough against the
Pittsburgh D. Also, if Cleveland's defensive line can play up to their
potential and get to Maddox, it could change the course of the game.
Giants @ 49ers
Why: These teams met in the first game of the season, where the 9ers
prevailed, 16-13. However, the Giants team that played that game is
nothing like the current Giants team. Sure, they're down a receiver, but
Amani Toomer had a team-record setting year, and Tiki Barber led the NFC
in yards from scrimmage. Kerry Collins is the hottest player in the
league, going 48-64 (75%) for 622 yards and 5 TDs against one INT in the
last two games, both against playoff teams. Then there's Jeremy Shockey,
who is not only the only rookie on the Pro Bowl team, but he led the NFL
in receptions by tight ends.
The Giants still have to contain Terrell Owens, but they did a fine job of
that in the first game. The secondary has improved since then, with the
emergence of Will Petersen. However, the 9ers running game has also
improved. The Giants are capable of stopping the run, but are still
hurting from the loss of Keith Hamilton.
How the 49ers could win: They need to go long early and often. Terrell
Owens has to be ready with his Sharpie for the hometown fans. If the 9ers
can establish any kind of decent running game, they should get the chance
to go over the top.
Brian Wilmer, Staff Writer
Colts @ Jets
The X-factor: The Colts establishing the run early. Getting a solid start with Edgerrin James and/or James Mungro is absolutely vital to the success of the Colts' offense. Proving that the run is a viable threat will provide the necessary openings for Peyton Manning to utilize the play-action game, thus freezing the front seven and putting weapons such as Marvin Harrison and Marcus Pollard in favorable matchups in the defensive backfield.
Both teams in this game feature high-octane offenses and average defenses. Chad Pennington and Peyton Manning are both very polished and heady performers, and the offenses both feature equally-effective forces. This is a game that will come down to a mistake (a Peyton Manning interception?) or a big play here or there (Marvin Harrison touchdown late?).
Brian's pick: Colts 31, Jets 28.
Falcons @ Packers
The X-factor: The weather forecast. Snow is in the forecast on Saturday night, and Green Bay does not lose at home in the playoffs. The Falcons are an indoor turf team, and these conditions are not favorable to their offense.
Brett Favre is again on a national stage with a chance to work his playoff magic, and Ahman Green is one of the elite backs in the NFL. Despite the Packers' defense being slightly banged-up, the only real offensive threat for the Falcons is Vick himself, and as long as the defense is able to contain and not give up outside running lanes, Vick should be kept reasonably in check. There is no real big-play threat at the running back or receiver positions, and this should be hazardous to the Falcons' playoff health. Look for a Packer win here, and while Mike Vick will have plenty of opportunities to shine in the playoff sun, this day will not present one of them.
Brian's pick: Packers 24, Falcons 10.
Browns @ Steelers
The X-factor: Jeff Reed. This free-agent signee from the University of North Carolina has brought a consistency to the kicking game not seen since the team moved to Heinz Field. He has been 14-for-15 in his last 5 games, and with a close traditional rivalry, these games usually come down to a field goal here or there. The Steelers have every right to have confidence in their chances with this man kicking the football.
The Steelers' offensive revival has been led by NFL castoff and XFL MVP Tommy Maddox. The further involvement of Plaxico Burress in the passing game has been a catalyst to the Steelers, and the excellent work of Amos Zereoue filling in for the injury-riddled Jerome Bettis has led them from a team questioning their playoff future at the beginning of the year to a division champion.
The Browns' offense is led by Kelly Holcomb, who was the league's leading passer early-on, and played well enough to have Browns fans calling for his replacing Tim Couch on a permanent basis. William Green has also stepped up of late, and has played more worthy of an individual drafted 16th overall. Green has two 100-yard games in the last five weeks.
Games like this usually come down to a play either way, and I think the Steelers will win behind Jeff Reed.
Brian's pick: Steelers 20, Browns 17.
Giants at 49ers
The X-factor: The special teams. The Niners' kicking game has been inconsistent all year, while the Giants have enjoyed reasonable success with relatively-unknown Matt Bryant. The Giants would normally have the edge in this area; however, long snapper Dan O'Leary has been placed on IR, and Trey Junkin has been signed to replace him. Junkin is a 20-year veteran of the league; however, he was released by the Cowboys in their training camp for inconsistent snaps, including one that cost the Cowboys a preseason game. His snaps from center could cause timing problems with the rookie Bryant, and that could be costly.
The Niners have been slowed of late by Terrell Owens' groin injury. Even if he is at full speed, the Giants feature an excellent defensive secondary, led by the Wills (Allen and Peterson) at corner, and Shaun Williams at safety. If the Niners do not establish the run game early, the defensive backfield will be able to key on Owens, thus neutralizing his effects. Meanwhile, the Giants' offense has been extraordinarily hot in recent weeks, and if Tiki Barber runs with the same purpose he displayed last week and somehow manages to hold on to the football, the Giants should outclass the Niners in this game.
Brian's pick: Giants 27, 49ers 21.
Philip Delyani, Special Guest
Colts at Jets
Pennington has had an amazing year, but the defense is suspect. Look for
Manning and Harrison to have a huge day and simply out score the Jets. Also
Dungy is a defensive coach who will confuse Pennington. I'd say final is
Falcons @ Packers
As interesting as a Vick and Favre showdown could be, this one is simple.
It's December, it's Wisconsin, and even with Glenn as the primary target it
will be Green Bay 28-17.
Browns @ Steelers
First off, how angry is Miami that Cleveland is still playing and they're on the
golf course. Despite some dramatic come from behind wins, the Browns and
Holcombe will not survive "blitzberg". As one Browns player put it so
eloquently "they [other team] might out gain us and out score us....but in
the end, we win the game..." Look for the Bus to go for 100 yards and a TD
on the way to a 28-10 win.
Giants @ 49ers
This is probably the most interesting game. Which Giants offense shows up
will determine the edge. If they can score and not give San Fran the ball 4
times via fumbles they might be able to hang around and win. If they have
to settle for FGs and they fumble, look for Terell Owens to rebound and have
a pom-pom shaking good time at the Giants expense. Since I gave scores for
the rest, I guess I have to give one here. But it's really a close call.
Look for San Fran to get away with a 21-17 win.