The first game of Wildcard Weekend is Saturday at 4:30 pm EST as the Seattle Seahawks (7-9) host the New Orleans Saints (11-5). The fact that Seattle at 7-9 is in the playoffs at all is bad enough but the fact that they get a home game is a travesty. Perhaps the NFL should consider a New Year's Resolution about requirements for playoff qualifications, but that's just another thing we can complain about with regard to some of the NFL’s operations. Who knows, perhaps we'll here Jayson Braddock rage about that this week.
Charlie Whitehurst's performance in the Seahawks' 16-6, NFC West-clinching win on Sunday night has coach Pete Carroll once again fielding questions about which quarterback will start on Saturday. As of this Tuesday morning, Carroll is still stating that he hasn't decided if Whitehurst or Matt Hasselbeck will start and that the two will split reps in practice this week. If Hasselbeck starts it’s possible that the spread will drop below 10. So if you are planning on taking the Seahawks to cover, my suggestion would be to place your wager early in the week. (Either that or save your money.)
These two teams squared off in week 11 at the Superdome with the Saints winning 34-19. Drew Brees was 29/43 for 382 yards and 4 TD’s in the game. Although the Seahawks picked off Brees twice, by in large they had no answer for the New Orleans aerial attack. Matt Hasselbeck had a nice day in the air himself going 32/44 for 366 yards and a TD but the Seahawks lost two fumbles and had four drives end with field goals.
No matter who’s under center for Seattle, last year’s Super Bowl Champions open as a 10.5 favorite on the road and are expected to easily advance to the Divisional Playoff round. But that’s why they play the games….
The second game on Saturday is the New York Jets (11-5) vs. the Indianapolis Colts (10-6). This is the marquee game of the weekend as far as the media is concerned as people seem to want to see Rex Ryan’s mouth vs. Peyton Manning’s arm. The rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game will once again be played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis at 8 pm EST.
Last year the Jets led the AFC Championship Game 17-6 and Peyton Manning took the Colts 80 yards in four plays, hooking three straight times with Austin Collie, including the 16-yard TD pass that made it 17-13 with 1:13 to go in the half and the Colts never looked back winning the game 34-17 and Advancing to the Super Bowl.
Rex Ryan had this to say about Saturday’s prime time match-up. “Peyton Manning has beaten me twice in the playoffs; that’s well documented, you’ve got all the stats. But this is about this year, and I’ve waited a whole year for this."
The Colts open as a 3 point favorite at home which would mean that if the game were played at a neutral site, this one would be a pick’em. Hey Rex, everyone else has waited a year to see this one too.
The first game on Sunday is the Baltimore Ravens (12-4) vs. the Kansas City Chiefs (10-6). The Chiefs had an opportunity to become the 3 seed yesterday but they came up short against the Raiders. The Ravens were one of the AFC pre season favorites (along with the Jets) to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl and appear to be healthy and firing on all cylinders.
The stats show that Matt Cassell was the NFL’s top rated passer against the blitz this year and he’s going to have to be the game MVP in this one if the Chiefs are going to have a chance because the Ravens will be primed to stop Jamaal Charles, Thomas Jones and Dexter McCluster on the ground.
Anyone who watched the Ravens play the Falcons of Texans in prime time this year knows that teams have been able to move the ball on them through the air in crunch time. The defensive group still has Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Co. but they are clearly not the same fearsome force they once were.
As for the Ravens, Joe Flacco has quickly become a season veteran with plenty of playoff experience and while they have a wonderful receiving corps in Todd Heap, Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and TJ Houshmandzadeh, the success of the Ravens offense revolves around Ray Rice. Ray runs, Ray catches, Ray blocks..... Ray Rice may be the most complete back in all of football as he is appropriate to be in the game in every situation and excels in all areas.
Surprisingly the Chiefs weren’t able to beat Oakland at home Sunday and one wonders what the announcement that Charlie Weis will be leaving had to do with that, but the Chiefs were 7-1 at home this year and Arrowhead stadium has never been an easy place to win on the road. That said the Ravens are a 2.5 point favorite on the road and this one is expected to be up for grabs late in the 4th quarter.
The last game of the weekend may turn out to be the best match-up of QB’s as at 4:30 pm EST the Aaron Rogers led Green Bay Packers (10-6) faces the possible league MVP Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles (10-6).
Rodgers may not be mentioned with Brady, Manning and Brees but that’s because he hasn’t done it in the playoffs yet. Anyone who follows the game closely knows how good Rogers is. Now is his time. It will be interesting to see how the Packers deal with Vick and rolling to his left. The Packers come into Philly as a 2.5 underdog. If the Packers are going to walk out winners, one would expect that Charles Woodson will have his name printed somewhere prominently on the stat sheets when this one is finished.
A word of caution to those of you blindly betting the Eagles here because “they have Michael Vick and De Sean Jackson.” The Eagles opened the week as a 2.5 favorite at home. Consider the fact that the Packers 6 losses have been by a total of 20 points and you'll quickly come to the conclusion that the Packers will not get blown out Sunday. While Vick and Jackson have had phenomenal years and can come up with a TD from any point on the field at any moment, keep in mind that the Eagles haven't exactly been world beaters this year as they were in fact beaten 6 times and if not for an eight minute collapse by the Giants, they would have been beaten 7 times and may have not even made the playoffs.
It's not that I'm trying to sway anyone from betting on the Eagles but I find so many people that think the Eagles prime time blowout of the Redskins is what they were about this year, and it's not. Additionally, Vick and Jackson are a small in stature as they come for their positions and have both been known to be knocked out of games. So while it may be enticing to go with the flash, and it is, make certain that you understand that both of those players finishing the game is far from a certainty. Lastly, you may have forgotten but way back in week one, the Packers came into Philly and beat the Eagles 27-20.
Hank Koebler will be back later in the week with a preview of each game and breakdowns of all the teams involved. - Mike Cardano
Mike is the founder of Around the Horn Baseball and Xtra Point Football.
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