NFL

NFL Wild Card Weekend Features Home Underdogs, Playoff Stalwarts

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The NFL’s Wild Card Weekend is upon us, giving us the penultimate weekend for football doubleheaders (single tear rolling down the cheek). While most of the teams feature a similar cast of characters to last year, there are a few new faces, along with a new overtime rule that will go into effect for the first time.

Back in the spring, the league voted, for playoff play only, that if a team wins the toss in overtime and kicks a field goal on its first possession, the game is not over. The other team would still get a shot to tie/win. If an opening drive touchdown is scored, however, the game would end. Hopefully, one or more of the games is close to enough to make this a relevant rule change. On to the matchups!

New Orleans Saints (11-5) at Seattle Seahawks (7-9)

Saturday, 4:30PM eastern

How they got here: Seattle became the first sub-.500 team to get into the playoffs by knocking off the Rams at home in Week 17. Before that win, the ‘Hawks had dropped five of six, losing by an average of over 18 points each time… New Orleans turned it on after a 4-3 start to the year, but the slow start caused them to fall short of a division title.

Outlook: N’awlins is a ten-and-a-half point favorite on the road, probably because of a 6-2 record away from home. They will be playing their third game in 12 days, however, and will be without RBs Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory. Seattle will start a dinged up Matt Hasselbeck, who threw for 366 yards against the Saints earlier this year in a 34-19 New Orleans victory.

History Lesson: It was the 2003 season during Wild Card weekend when Hasselbeck proclaimed during the coin toss of OT against the Packers that Seattle “wanted the ball because we’re gonna score and we’re gonna win.” He then threw a pick-six that resulted in a Green Bay win.

New York Jets (11-5) at Indianapolis Colts (10-6)

Saturday, 8PM

How they got here: Indy won their seventh AFC South title in eight years, but didn’t clinch until the season’s final Sunday… The Jets had a red hot start to the season, then either sputtered or put it on cruise control down the stretch, losing three of their last five. They slid in as the AFC’s final wild card team.

Outlook: Indy has been banged up all year long, but has gotten healthier over the past month, resulting a stouter run defense. They won their last four, and will try and stop a Jets’ ground game that ranked fourth in the league. The Colts come in as a three-point favorite.

History Lesson: New York started last year’s playoffs a Wild Card team and got all the way to the AFC title game, where they were knocked off by these same Colts, 30-17. NY had an 11-point second quarter lead before ‘The Brain’ took over and threw three TDs.

Baltimore Ravens (12-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)

How they got here: Baltimore earned their third strait playoff appearance by tying for the division crown with Pittsburgh, but losing the tiebreaker. They won their last four and six of their last seven, with the only loss coming to Pittsburgh… Kansas City’s only loss at home was this past week to Oakland, as the Chiefs rode the league’s #1 ground game to a division crown.

Outlook: The Ravens are a three-point favorite on the road, where they have played their last five playoff games. They are a respectable 3-2 in those contests, and in this one they hope to have Ed Reed and Michael Oher ready to go. Both were banged up last week against Cincy, but are hoping to give it a go… KC must have something in the water at the team complex, as both Dwayne Bowe and Brian Waters missed practice on Wednesday with an illness.

History Lesson: Since the Ravens’ inception into the league, they have only traveled to Kansas City once, back in 2006, which was also the last time the Chiefs made the playoffs.

Sunday, 1PM

Green Bay Packers (10-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)

Sunday, 4:30PM

How they got here: Philly rode their big play offense to a division title and their fourth playoff appearance in five years. Green Bay, a chic preseason Super Bowl pick, grabbed the final spot in the NFC thanks to wins over the Giants and Bears the last two weeks.

Outlook: These two teams met in week one with GB coming out on top, but Michael Vick didn’t appear until the second half when Kevin Kolb went down. Dom Capers’ D will get a steady dose of Vick in this one, but it’s Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers who is the NFC’s top rated passer. Philly is a two-and-a-half point favorite on their home turf, where they have been a pedestrian 4-4 this year.

History Lesson: On last year’s Wild Card Weekend, Green Bay lost a crazy road game in Arizona, 51-45, on a walk-off defensive touchdown… The Pack has the best cumulative playoff record of any NFL franchise (25-15).