Rematches mark start of playoffs
It’s Déjà vu all over again. Hey Yogi, don’t feel bad if you’re watching the NFL playoffs this weekend and feel like you’re catching an old episode of the Twilight Zone. You’ll either be feeling nostalgic or convinced you’re caught in some kind of time warp that’s whisked you back in time.
It’s a very strange set of circumstances and one of the most interesting opening rounds of the playoffs I’ve ever seen. Never do I remember three different match-ups on Wild Card weekend that included the same exact teams matched up the week before.
But that’s exactly what we have this weekend. The Packers traveled to Arizona and have to go right back there again this week. The Eagles had to go to the house that Jerry built to decide the NFC East title. Now they pack their bags for that same house just outside Dallas.
The Jets hosted Cincy needing to win to get in and got ‘r done. The Bengals didn’t seem to have their heart in the game. They shouldn’t have trouble getting their hearts pumping this weekend as it’s their turn to do the hosting.
The Ravens qualified by beating the Raiders at Oakland and will travel to New England to face the Pats. This is the lone odd ball game where the two opponents didn’t face each other last week.
For the most part, though, the NFL is dishing up three pretty wild and weird matchups for Wild Card weekend. Here’s hoping those dishes include déjà vu winners all over again.
Packers +3 at Cardinals: This game didn’t mean much when these two clubs met last Sunday. One team played like they wanted to win the game. The Cards played like they didn’t want to show all their cards. This game will decide who took the right approach.
I think it will prove to be Mike McCarthy who played his cards correctly. McCarthy played Aaron Rogers all the way while Whisenhunt gave Kurt Warner limited action. I think it’s always been difficult to turn the enthusiasm off one week and turn it back on the next week. More often than not the power switch fails when you play games like that and I believe the Cards will have trouble turning the switch back on this Sunday.
I do believe the Cards will play much tougher this coming weekend. But the Packers have already been able to throw the first punch and I think Aaron Rogers will come out throwing more punches and plenty of passes. Rogers ended the season as only the second Packers’ QB to have a 100-plus passer rating. Bart Starr was the first.
Grant and Green combined for 93 rushing yards against the Cards, which doesn’t sound like much of anything. But when you compare it to what Arizona was able to rush for it looks like plenty. Hightower carried 6 times for 24 yards and Wells only gained 19 yards on 6 attempts.
The Cards only won 3 of their last 5 regular season games. They lost to the 49ers, Titans and Packers. Their wins against the Rams and Lions cannot be considered blockbusters based on the poor records of both teams. I think Arizona is in trouble here.
The Packers won 7 of their last 8 games. Rogers is red-hot and the Pack played great defense in every game coming down the stretch with the lone exception being the loss to Pittsburgh. Boldin’s status is questionable for this game and Cromartie is dinged up a little as well. When all is said and done I have to take the team that led the NFL in turnover ratio with a plus 24! PACKERS.
Eagles +4 at Cowboys: Contrary to the Packers/Cards game, the matchup of these two NFC powerhouses had great meaning last Sunday. The carrot dangled in front of them was an easy target, win the game and win the NFC east championship. The Cowboys shut ‘em out! Dallas broke up a 6 game Eagles’ winning streak.
But on closer inspection should we have been as impressed as many experts were by the 6 game streak? I don’t think so. In order, the win streak consisted of Da Bears (need I say more), Skins (4-12 enough said), Falcons (mediocre at best), G-men (G-whiz, sure wish they would’ve show up for the second half of the season), Niners (give Philly some credit there) and Denver (turned out to be pretenders). So there you have it, the Eagles 6 game winning streak was not all it was cracked up to be.
The Cowboys exposed that fact last Sunday. Romo threw for 311 yards and two TDs. He’s thrown 11 TDs and two picks the last six games. Barber and Jones both ran for 91 yards and look like they’re ready to roll. They say it’s tough to beat a team twice in a season (the Cowboys did that to the Eagles this year) and even tougher to win back-to-back games over the same tough opponent. I don’t believe Philly is as tough as everyone thinks. COWBOYS.
Jets +4 at Bengals: The Jets were the last team to receive a playoff ticket. But they’re the first team up this weekend with the early game on Saturday. This contest has a little different scenario than the game last Sunday night because the Bengals will be the host. Again, I don’t think the home field advantage will help them overcome the dizziness they’re feeling after being pummeled by the Jets.
Granted, the Bengals had little to play for and Cedric Benson didn’t even play. But most of their starters did play at least the first half, and they didn’t look like they ever had a chance or even wanted to be there. The Bengals were not in high gear to the say the least. In fact, they never got out of first gear.
Many people have, and will, accuse the Jets of backing into the playoffs. The Colts pulled Peyton Manning in week 16. Then, last week the Bengals had little to play for and in fact may have created a worse situation by winning and bringing the gun-slinging Texans to town. So I might have to agree with that statement about the Jets backing into the money games. But you know what, the Jets still get the playoff ticket stamped. They’re in and they’re going to be a formidable foe.
They have more confidence than ever and they had a lot to begin with. What team wouldn’t be a little cocky when the coach says things like, "I didn’t come here to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings." You have to love that swagger. I loved his dad, Buddy, and Rex looks like the same type of no-nonsense coach you need if your team is going to win the money.
I hope I’m not going down the wrong path. But I like high energy teams and plenty of momentum and all three of my choices so far provide both of those items. I think the teams that were more interested in resting players and playing it safe will pay the price this weekend. One thing I know about momentum is that once you rest it, sometimes it’s difficult to restart ole Mo. The Jets won 5 of their last 6 games. The Bengals lost 3 of their last 4 and barely beat Kansas City. I’m siding with more MO!!! JETS.
Ravens +6½ at Patriots: What are we to do here? There’s no matchup from last week to review. And no momentum advantage that I can see for either club. The Ravens won 3 of their last 4 games and should have won all 4. If not for penalties, Baltimore would have demolished the Steelers two weeks ago.
The Pats won 3 of their last 4 as well. And who knows about the loss last week at Houston. Welker’s season ended with a knee injury and Belichick was playing musical QBs for awhile with Brady and Hoyer.
If the Ravens can eliminate costly penalties I think they have a chance to pull off the upset. Brady is reportedly dinged up a bit with a rib and finger injury. Tom Terrific will have to check off to someone other than Wes Welker so it won’t be as easy as it has for most of the year. The Ravens get the check in my opinion at the running back position. I give the Ravens a big edge with McGahee and Rice over whoever the Pats run out there behind Brady. RAVENS.
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Dennis Ball