In the words of our pot smoking friend Dave Matthews, “This is the Last Stop” in our NFL season. On Saturday, the first two games of this year’s playoffs will begin by showcasing the Falcons vs. Cardinals, and Colts vs. Chargers. On Sunday it’ll be the Eagles vs. Vikings and Ravens vs. Dolphins. There is a lot of irony in the first round of match-ups. Let’s start by the fact that the combined win-loss record of all of this weekend’s 8 playoff teams last year was an unimpressive 58-70. Two teams (Falcons and Dolphins) won a combined 5 games. Only 2 of the 8 teams actually had a winning record in 2007. This year, things have changed for the better. The combined win-loss record of the 8 teams is 81-46 (and 1 tie by the Eagles). The Falcons and Dolphins combined for 23 wins, which is more than 4x greater than last season (with 2 new head coaches and starting QBs, this is not surprising). Another startling fact is that 2 of the 8 Quarterbacks are rookies (Matt Ryan of the Falcons and Joe Flacco of the Ravens). Now lets look at the individual match-ups, and I’ll make predictions on the outcome (disclaimer: If you should bet on any game based on my predictions and lose, too bad.)
Atlanta Falcons vs. Arizona Cardinals
We are looking at two teams that haven’t been in the playoffs for quite some time (3 years for the Falcons, 9 years for the Cardinals). They have never faced each other in the playoffs, and the Cardinals have a 14-10 record against the Falcons in regular season history. This past season, the Cardinals had a 6-2 record at home while the Falcons had a 4-4 record away. In the postseason, the Cardinals have a 2-5 record with 1 championship, and the Falcons have a 6-8 record with a Super Bowl appearance but no ring. The Cardinals have 2 powerhouse receivers in Boldin and Fitzgerald, plus a Super Bowl winning quarterback in Kurt Warner. The Falcons have arguably one of the best rushers in the NFL in Michael Turner, and the Offensive Rookie of the Year quarterback Matt Ryan.
In my opinion, the offensive power of the Cardinals plus the home crowd starving for a playoff game will be too much to handle for the Falcons.
The final score: Cardinals 30 – Falcons 24 (sorry other Nate!)
Indianapolis Colts vs. San Diego Chargers
We go from 2 inexperienced playoff teams to 2 veteran playoff teams in the Colts-Chargers. Look for an exciting game full of offensive explosiveness, with two of the weakest defenses out of the 12 playoff teams. The Colts have a 9 game winning streak, Peyton Manning won his 3rd league MVP, and lets not even talk about all the options Manning has to pass to (Wayne, Harrison, Gonzalez, Clark). Manning will undoubtedly use Dallas Clark, who was the #1 tight end receiver in the NFL this year (up for debate, but not really). This will keep the Charger’s secondary on their heels, with too many options for Manning to choose from. The Colts have a 17-17 record in the playoffs with 4 championships/super bowls under their belt. They have faced the Chargers twice in the playoffs with a 1-1 record (they lost last year at home). Their regular season record against the Chargers is 9-14. The Chargers have Philip Rivers, LT, Antonio Gates, and Vincent Jackson. Their playoff record is 9-14, and they have 1 championship/superbowl to be proud of. The Chargers ended the regular season with a 4 game winning streak, and beat incredible odds after being behind by 3 games in their division with 3 games to go. (ahem….cough….choke….BRONCOS). So needless to say, both teams have the momentum going into the playoffs. The Chargers have home field advantage, and the Colts probably have the playoff experience.
In my opinion, the Colts will end up victorious in this classic playoff match-up
The final score: Colts 38 – Chargers 23
Baltimore Ravens vs. Miami Dolphins
First of all, let me say to pretty boy Jason Taylor: Sucks to be you! I wish you were still a Dolphin. Whoever predicted these two teams to face each other in the playoffs this year are crazy. “Why?” You should ask? Both teams had losing records last year (combined 6 wins between both teams), both teams fired their head coaches, and now have 2 different starting quarterbacks, one of which is a rookie (Joe Flacco). Last year, the Dolphins defeated the Ravens in the last regular season game for the Dolphins 1st win of 2007. So all that to say, the Dolphins could repeat this feat, but only to advance to the next round of the playoffs. For the Ravens we have one of the best defenses of the league (#3 in the league in opponents points, #2 for total yards, and #1 for opponent first downs). My guess would be that the game could be low scoring. Joe Flacco passed for just under 3000 yards in 2008, with 17 touchdowns. Le’Ron McClain was their top rusher at 902 yards for the season, and Derrick Mason their top receiver with just over 1000 yards receiving. Bottom line is the Ravens had one of the better rush offenses in the league, but one of the worst passing offenses in the league. They’ll probably win the game if they succeed on the rushing attack (ahem, are you paying attention, Dolphins?). And what about Chad Pennington, QB for the Dolphins? Ironic that he should beat the team that gave him the boot for the AFC East crown AND a playoff spot (sorry Favre, you should have retired). With a better than average rush and pass offense, the Dolphins should put up a pretty good fight. Cracking the Raven defense will be the key. And patience for Pennington will be important, as the Ravens lead the league in interceptions. Look for Pennington to choose a wide variety of receivers (Cobbs, Ginn Jr., Camarillo, Bess), and to hand the ball off to both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. The Dolphins have 20 playoff victories and 2 Super Bowl rings, while the Ravens have 5 playoff victories and 1 Super Bowl ring.
I’m going for the Dolphins, as they have a much more consistent offense than the Ravens. If the Ravens had a more consistent passing game I may change my mind.
The final score: Dolphins 24 – Ravens 13
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Minnesota Vikings
This will be an exciting game for two teams whose playoff hopes went down to the last regular season game. There will be a single deciding factor in this entire game: Adrian Peterson. Will he show up with steady hands or butterfingers? Peterson fumbled the ball 9 times this year. This will be the key for a Vikings offense that ranked #25 in the league (the Lions were even better than the Vikings). Look for Tarvaris Jackson to throw to Berrian, Wade, and Shiancoe. Look for Donovan McNabb to come through in the clutch as he has in so many playoff games past. With Brian Westbrook, DeSean Jackson, and nearly 7 other eligible receivers, McNabb will use a variety of offensive plays for sure. With the #6 offense and the #4 defense in the league, look for the Eagles to stop Peterson dead in his tracks.
The final score: Eagles 26 – Vikings 20
So in summary:
The winners: Cardinals, Colts, Dolphins, Eagles
The losers: Falcons, Chargers, Ravens, Vikings
Enjoy watching the game, for those few souls who survived my torturous post.