The NFL’s Wildcard Weekend commences in just over twelve hours. I’m a nervous wreck. Aaron Rodgers hopes to lead Green Bay to a potential third shot at Brett Favre, the AFC favorites hope to regain lost momentum, and I prepare for what could be a joyous or calamitous evening. Yeah, I just used calamitous.
Last Week: 12 – 4 – 0
Season: 161 – 95 – 0
Saturday, January 9
(5) Jets at (4) Bengals (4:00PM ET)
If NFL fans were given the choice, these two teams would be the first replaced in the playoff field, which means that one of them will probably end up in the Super Bowl. I know it seems farfetched, but hello… the Cardinals last year, the Giants before that? The NFL playoffs are all about getting hot at the right time, not how poorly you end the regular season. I’m just saying.
The Bengals are at home and facing a rookie quarterback with a noodle arm. The wind in Cincinnati won’t help Mark Sanchez either. I know the Jets have a fantastic running game and stout defense, but a one dimensional offense is a recipe for failure in the postseason. I wouldn’t be shocked if we didn’t see a touchdown in this game.
If I’m Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, I run the ball on every. single. play. in the first quarter (the periods add emphasis). Regardless of success or failure, just run the ball. An aggressive, blitzing defense like New York’s will slowly become frustrated. They want to kill your quarterback, not stuff the run all afternoon. This will allow the Bengals to dictate the game while taking some of the gusto from the Jet defense. I know it sounds asinine, but it will work. It will also prevent Carson Palmer from blowing out his knee as he did on Cincinnati’s first pass play last time they hosted a playoff game. Protect Palmer, relax the defense; it’s the perfect plan. BENGALS
(6) Eagles at (3) Cowboys (8:00PM ET)
In two regular season contests against the Cowboys, the Eagles emerged like prisoners from Guantanamo Bay; tortured and abused. Losing the first two meetings will prove irrelevant if the Eagles win on Saturday. All sins will be forgiven. Donovan McNabb will be a hero. Andy Reid will be adored, and puppies will praise Michael Vick. Last week’s ugly defeat freed the Eagles from high expectations. It also moved a significant amount of pressure onto the Cowboys. The more relaxed, looser team normally performs better in pressure situations like the playoffs.
In addition to a defensive effort that we have yet to witness this year, the Eagles will need a functioning offense. The Cowboys have clearly solved Reid’s current attack. Therefore, an entirely new strategy will be necessary to advance to New Orleans. Here it is. Run the ball. Unleash Michael Vick. Designed QB running plays.
An effective, repetitive running game will confuse and surprise the Cowboys (and everyone else in America). This should open up the passing game later by giving the offensive line confidence early, and of course, requiring the Cowboys to move defenders closer to the line of scrimmage.
Implementing Vick into 30% of the offensive snaps is something the Cowboys haven’t seen. How to handle Vick will cause some confusion at first. Allow Vick to run, throw, option, whatever. Just keep the Dallas defense guessing. Vick’s presence will do this.
Finally, allow/instruct McNabb to run. As we’ve witnessed, the Cowboys take great measures to prevent the big play. The Eagles should send their receivers deep, and backs and tight ends out in the flats. This will eliminate the linebackers and give McNabb 7-12 rushing yards per play until Dallas adjusts. The Cowboys will then use a spy or move a defensive back closer to the line. Ultimately, these strategies won’t win the game, but keeping the Cowboy defense off balance will give the Eagles an advantage they desperately need.
By the way, my wife has already permitted me 40 days to grieve if Saturday goes poorly. I wanted more, but she said it worked in Dances with Wolves, so we’re sticking to that. The Cowboys are the obvious pick. Then again, I never thought I’d see Bear Grylls give himself an enema on cable television either. Enema is more similar to “Eagles” than “Cowboys.” Oh yeah, McNabb is due for a breakthrough performance. (Fingers crossed. The 68th time’s a charm. Right?) EAGLES
Sunday, January 10
(6) Ravens at (3) Patriots (1:00PM ET)
I watched the Ravens and Patriots week four contest on NFL Network this past week. On the original broadcast, CBS play-by-play man, Jim Nantz, shared how excited Ray Lewis was about the Ravens’ offense. For once, Nantz continued, Lewis thought the Ravens had an offense to match their defense. Again, that was week four. I wonder if Lewis would feel that way now.
Even without Wes Welker, it’s hard to go against New England because… 1. Joe Flacco has looked more like Sloppy Joe this season. 2. Baltimore will need to rush for over 200 yards to win – the returns of Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork will make this is unlikely. 3. Even with Ed Reed’s return, Baltimore’s defense is weak in the secondary. 4. Tom Brady. PATRIOTS
(5) Packers at (4) Cardinals (4:30PM ET)
This is step one in the 219 step process of making Wisconsin forget about Brett Favre. Fair or not, Aaron Rodgers can’t afford a poor outing in his first playoff start. If Rodgers performs up to par, the Packer offense will be difficult to stop. While it may surrender some offense, Green Bay’s defense makes a lot of big plays. I expect at least two Arizona turnovers.
Everyone is hesitant to pick against the Cardinals after last year’s run. I’m not. Kurt Warner will keep it close, but ultimately it’ll come down to whether or not the Cardinal defense can stop Rodgers. Due to an overrated and excessively cocky secondary, I’m not a believer.
Also, if the Eagles emerge victorious on Saturday, what percentage of America pulls for Green Bay on Sunday? It’s got to be above 90%, no? Rodgers eliminating Favre would almost be greater than Rocky knocking out Clubber Lang, almost. PACKERS
If I were Charles Barkley…
After a horrible 2009 season, the playoffs bring new life. The lines are tighter and the games are less predictable. Thus, I’m emotionally prepared to go 0-4. As is the weekly custom, there is one over/under as well (because they used to be too much fun not to have at least one).
New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals (-3)
Philadelphia Eagles (+4) at Dallas Cowboys
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots (-3.5)
Green Bay Packers (+1.5) at Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 8 – 7 – 1
Season: 110 – 109 – 6
Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals Over 47
Last Week: 0 – 1 – 0
Season: 7 – 9 – 1
(Lines as of 1/8, 11:40PM ET, from bodog)