NFL Wild Card Weekend Preview

Matt Lichtenstadter ('12), Eastside Staff

It’s time for the playoffs. The playoffs have the best teams and the most exciting football of the year, all in 4 weeks. And, this is also the most analyzed 4 weeks in sports. And I will now do my part to contribute to this, by analyzing the playoffs straight through until the end. I may be wrong, but I don’t care. This is what I think, and that’s it.

5 New Orleans Saints @ 4 Seattle Seahawks 4:30 PM Saturday NBC
Yes, we all know how comical the mismatch is on paper. The Saints are 10.5 point favorites, which is quite a lot for a road team at any time, let alone the playoffs. Take off the 3 points the odds makers give to the home team, the Saints are 2 TD favorites. Is the mismatch as comical as we see it?

New Orleans Offense vs. Seattle Defense:
Yeah, I know the Saints are going to win this battle. But let’s give the Seahawks some credit. They have had their moments this year, and they get a bit of a break with the mounting toll of the Saints injuries. Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory are on IR, and the Saints will have to lean on Reggie Bush, Julius Jones, and DeShawn Wynn to carry the load. But, when have the Saints ever been a running team? It’s Drew Brees, and always will be. As long as he’s playing, I can’t say that New Orleans will struggle on offense. Seattle has some great defenders like Lofa Tatupu, but the Saints are too good offensively for the Seahawks to stop them, and yes, the Saints will run the ball very well.

Advantage: New Orleans

Seattle Offense vs. New Orleans Defense:
The first question everyone is asking is who is starting for the Seahawks? Matt Hasselbeck, but I don’t truly think it matters. Charlie Whitehurst played decently enough to lead Seattle to victory against the Rams, but since Hasselbeck is the starter, it doesn’t matter. Even though the Saints have injuries here too, I don’t think Seattle’s offense, which is off and on more than any other team, can cope with what Gregg Williams will throw at them. The Seahawks cannot run the football for anything, and that will make the Seahawks one dimensional, and so on and so forth. Even with the injuries, I can’t see it helping the Seahawks any.

Advantage: New Orleans
Intangibles: The Seahawks play at the home of the 12th man, in College Station, TX. No, they are in Seattle and that stadium is pretty hard to play in. Don’t underestimate the injuries taking their toll on the Saints, and a cross-country trip on a short week as well. Hey, the Seahawks have something going for them.

Advantage: Seattle

Player to Watch: Reggie Bush
He must have great games for the Saints offense to be as good as it was last season in the playoffs. He gets a good start against the terrible Seattle rush D, dead last in the NFL.
Pick: New Orleans

I just can’t see Seattle winning this game, even under the helpful circumstances for them. Pete Carroll may enjoy being the head coach of the 1st 7-9 team to make the playoffs, but he won’t after this game. Week 11 will repeat itself here.

6 New York Jets @ 3 Indianapolis Colts 8:00 PM Saturday NBC
The last time we saw a rematch of the previous year’s conference title in the following year’s playoffs was after the 2004-2005 season, when the same Colts played New England in the divisional round. It didn’t go well for the Colts. Will the Jets suffer the same fate?

New York Offense vs. Indianapolis Defense

The Jets seem to have the perfect formula to beat the Colts, a great running game, and a QB who can at times play game manager. But, the Colts have now decided to start to stop the run. They stopped Jacksonville, Oakland, and Tennessee, 3 of the best running teams in the NFL, in 3 consecutive weeks. What makes me think the Colts can’t do this again? Well, the Jets have the wrinkles in their offense that the other 3 don’t have, for example, a semi-decent passing game, which the Colts have to respect. If Mark Sanchez plays as he did last season in the playoffs, then the Colts will struggle. Sanchez has had his “bye” week, and he should be rested and ready for the playoffs. The Colts have done a great job in the past 3 weeks, but that will change here.

Advantage: New York

Indianapolis Offense vs. New York Defense
Rex Ryan may think his D is the best in the league, but remember what Peyton Manning did to them in the 2nd half of the AFC Title game last year. The Jets don’t develop a consistent pass rush with their front 3, and that forces them to blitz, very, very, often. Peyton Manning loves to pick apart the blitz. And, he has a running game now to back up his arm. Donald Brown and Joseph Addai are running very well, and the Jets can stop the run, but Peyton can now use the play action to his advantage. The Jets lacked a corner last year to stop Pierre Garcon, and now they have Antonio Cromartie. But, they won’t have enough to stop the mighty Colts.

Advantage: Indianapolis

Intangibles: The Colts are getting healthy at just the right time. The Jets are much better on the road than they are at home. The Colts are great at the “Big Oil Drum”. I like the home team here.

Advantage: Indianapolis

Player to Watch: Jacob Tamme
The Jets couldn’t contain Pierre Garcon because they didn’t have the corner to defend the Colts wideouts. Now, they have 2 of the best, but somebody will be left open. That guy will be Jacob Tamme. Can he step up to the role that Dallas Clark played?

Pick: Indianapolis

Even though the Jets have the perfect makeup to beat the Colts, I can’t go against Peyton Manning right now. He actually has a running game now, and he is red hot. The Jets won’t be able to back up their talk.

5 Baltimore Ravens @ 4 Kansas City Chiefs 1 PM Sunday CBS
The Ravens have won the most road games in the playoffs since 2000, including 3 in the last 2 seasons. The Chiefs haven’t won a home playoff game since Marcus Allen was a star running back in 1993. Young vs. Old, who wins?

Baltimore Offense vs. Kansas City Defense

The Ravens offense may not be the most potent in the league, but they have a consistent QB, a great RB, and a wide-out that can make plays. That’s a pretty deadly combination, in the playoffs no less. The Chiefs D is 14th in the NFL, so they are pretty decent, but can they stop the Ravens O? I don’t think so. Ray Rice can run wild when he has to, and Joe Flacco has Anquan Boldin, who has had the big year we all expected. The Chiefs D is good enough to contain the Ravens to a point, but not enough for an advantage pick by me.

Advantage: Baltimore

Kansas City Offense vs. Baltimore Defense

You will be surprised by what I have to say here. The Chiefs have the league’s best rushing offense, with Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles. The Ravens are 5th in the NFL in stopping the run, so I think the KC potent back tandem can be contained here. But here is where the shock comes. The Ravens are 21st in stopping the pass, and Ed Reed is injured. Matt Cassel has Dwayne Bowe, who had a point in the season where he was the hottest player next to Mike Vick. Cassel also has rookie Tony Moeaki, who can make amazing catches and also make good plays everywhere on the field. Now, the Ravens D has had chokes this season, most notably against the Texans, who became their old selves in order to give the Ravens the win. I think Kansas City can exploit this weakness. Enough to the point where I actually think the Ravens will have serious troubles.

Advantage: Kansas City
Intangibles: The Ravens win on the road in the playoffs. The Chiefs are one of the most dominant teams in the NFL at home. The Ravens haven’t looked so hot in the last 2 weeks, but they’ve at least won, compared to the Chiefs, who got whacked at home by the Raiders. Even so, I still like War Paint and the War Chant.

Advantage: Kansas City

Player to Watch: Matt Cassel
He has to have a great game in order for the Chiefs to win. He has a chance to do that. Will he have games like the St. Louis game? Or games like he did in Indianapolis? That’s the big question surrounding this game.

Pick: Baltimore

Even though the Chiefs may have the Ravens D in problems, I don’t see that having too much effect on the game. Baltimore was my preseason Super Bowl pick for the AFC, and even though I won’t try to weasel them into the Super Bowl, I still think they’ll win this game.

6 Green Bay Packers @ 3 Philadelphia Eagles 4:30 PM Sunday FOX

The Packers beat the Eagles in Week 1. This is a very different Eagles team, and also a different Packers team. Which team wins in this rematch?

Green Bay Offense vs. Philadelphia Defense

Aaron Rodgers didn’t have a good game back in Week 1, but the Eagles were healthy at that point. The Packers were healthier on offense then, but now, I would take the Packers weakened offense over the Eagles weakened defense. Aaron Rodgers has the weapons on the outside to pick apart any defense, let alone an Eagles D which has lost 4 starters due to injury. The Eagles D haven’t looked very good since the Redskins game. If the Packers can hang a 45 spot on one of the best D’s the NFL, hangover or not, that is impressive. They also scored 27 points, albeit against a bad pass D, with a backup quarterback. That’s even more impressive. The Packers can set up everything with Aaron Rodgers throwing, and despite the fact that the Packers can’t run the ball for anything, they still have an offense that can tear apart the Eagles young and undermanned secondary, and line backing corps missing it’s heart and soul.

Advantage: Green Bay

Philadelphia Offense vs. Green Bay Defense

Michael Vick is well rested from his quad injury. The Eagles have a dynamic running back in LeSean McCoy, and speed on the outside that only Al David could’ve wished to draft. The problem for the Eagles is that their offensive line still has some problems. Those problems cropped up against the Bears, Giants and Vikings. It was that the Eagles can’t contain a blitz. Those teams sent the house after Mike Vick, and he struggled against it. When he’s faced with a pass rush like that, he reverts back to the old Mike Vick habits which make us scratch our collective heads. The Packers have the D Coordinator in Dom Capers that can send the house after Mike Vick, and disguise it well enough that Marty Mornhinweg can’t detect it. Mike Vick will have to have the time to make the throws and plays that make us say, “Wow!” I don’t think he will, with Clay Matthews bearing down on him and with the Eagles offensive line issues.

Advantage: Green Bay

Intangibles: The Eagles haven’t been that great at home. The Packers have had to essentially play playoff games for the past 2 weeks in order to get here, and they are the hot team in this matchup. Even though the Eagles are rested, the Packers have a slight advantage here.

Advantage: Green Bay

Player to Watch: Dmitri Patterson
He has been burned by many a wide-out at times this season. If he gets burned like that again, it will be a long day for the Eagles secondary and D coordinator Sean McDermott. Aaron Rodgers and Donald Driver could have a field day against Patterson if he plays as he has in the past.

Pick: Green Bay

Even with Mike Vick being the amazing superhuman that he is, this is the matchup the Eagles feared the most. The Packers are the hot team, and can expose the Eagles weaknesses better than maybe any other team in the NFC. The Eagles haven’t played a complete game since Week 14, and that’s excluding the benchwarmer game last week. Take the amazing 4th quarter against the Giants out of the picture, and they aren’t here right now. The Packers take this one, maybe easier than people expect.
I hope this is enough for you, and hope you take my opinion seriously, as compared to Chris Mortensen, and or Primetime.