Friday, January 2, 2009

NFL Wildcard Weekend

Wildcard Weekend has thrown up some interesting match-ups for the first week of the playoffs, such is the nature of American sport being split into divisions. To cut a long story short, two teams are on the road this week against teams with inferior records. Let's look at the games that kick off the postseason, with the Professor giving his views on the chances of his beloved Miami Dolphins.


With 427, the Cards scored as many points as the New York Giants in the NFC, the problem is that they conceded just as many. A shaky defense like that is shown up in the playoffs like a turd floating in a pool. That said, they are pretty handy at home, and score plenty of points on their home turf. That said, a number of their home games were against divisional rivals who were out of playoff contention about 12 weeks ago. They earn a home game here by winning what has been the crappiest division in football for as long as anyone can remember. So the Falcons have every reason to be confident going into this. The fact that Arizona have the worst running game in the league (how the hell did they make the playoffs?!) will play right into the hands of Atlanta; expect them to blitz early and try to get some hits on Kurt Warner, so as to hinder the explosive passing game. If Warner doesn't find his top targets in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald early, they will get smashed. When Atlanta have the ball, they will mostly hand it off to Michael Turner, who I'm tipping will rip apart the Arizona defense, thus opening up the game for the likes of WR Roddy White. The key for them is Matt Ryan making good decisions; if he throws no picks, they should win. But with a rookie QB on the road, in a playoff game, let's just say, the opportunity is there for Arizona to make some big plays. I can't go past Atlanta in this one. They are a much more balanced team and, in Turner, have a running back that will give the Cards defensive line night terrors. Falcons by 13.

Professor's margin mayhem (tab line Falcons -1.5): This should be tighter than most are tipping. I am not necessarily a believer in the Falcons - whilst the two-headed running game featuring Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood (who both averaged 4.5 yards per carry!) is a massive weapon, the defence and aerial game is not scaring anyone. Warner to Quan/Fitty and Steve Breaston (who would be the feature wideout in most other systems) could make this very interesting. That said a 1.5 start for the Cardinals is laughable. Even those bullish about the Cards such as myself see a margin between 6-10.


It makes about as much sense as Chewbacca in "The Chewbacca Defense" that an 11-5 team has to play on the road to an 8-8 team. "This is just think about that for a second"... but at least the Chargers are probably the most talented 8-8 team ever. Incredibly, they were 5-8 when Denver were 8-5; Denver went on to choke worse than Jean Van De Velde/Greg Norman/South Africa pre-08/09 all rolled into one. Up to that point, San Diego ("it means whale's vagina"), had been very unlucky, but an impressive four game streak sees them making their own luck. The Colts will air the ball out in this one, not just because they have struggled to run the ball this season, but because the Chargers weakness is defending the pass. This is likely going to be the most high-scoring and definitely the most entertaining of the four match-ups this week. The Chargers will look to establish the ground game with LaDainian Tomlinson before Phillip Rivers starts airing it out to the likes of Chris Chambers and Antonio Gates. Indy's QB Peyton Manning will be looking for Reggie Wayne with Dallas Clark and Marvin Harrison chiming in with some catches. These teams have a thing going where every time they play it goes down to the wire; the last three contests have been decided by 2, 4, and 3 points. Should be a fantastic game with both teams having built momentum at the right time of the year. Could go either way, but I'll go with the Chargers by 4, only because they're at home.

Professor: Enough in the above to keep it going. Indy (-1.5) judging by the records should have the wood on the Chargers but the momentum behind the Bolts, Indy's numerous one-and-out playoff runs and the Bolts at home, means that I would take the Bolts here.


Has there ever been a more unlikely playoff dual than this. Last year, these teams combined for 6 wins and this year 22! The Ravens, true to their style of the last decade get by on a stifling defence and a solid ground game. Possession and field possession is their ethos. Add to that capable game management and the occasional deep threat from rookie QB Joe Flacco and whilst by no means a complete team, the Ravens are built for this time of year. If they weren't up against my team, the mighty Phins, I would be telling you to snap up the $20 on offer for this team to win the bowl. And you need to say nice things about the Ravens. Otherwise Ray Lewis will kill you.

Miami, on the other hand are one of the more balanced teams playing this weekend. Sound on defence, a young offensive line led by rookie Jake Long, a unheralded receiving core, the two-pronged running back tandem of Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown and noodle-arm Chad Pennington. Yes, noodle arm. A man who couldn't fit into the Jets system of the now unemployed mangenius, Chad Pennington has been one of the NFL's top passers this year. Seriously, if you prefer to get involved in the most annoying saga in the NFL (Brett Favre) over this guy, you deserve to spend Superbowl Sunday in line at Centrelink you giant douche.

As for this contest, it could well be the match of the round. Supercoach Sparano will need to give the Ravens a number of different looks on offense - including a good look at the Wildcat. Beyond that, turnovers will be crucial - but Miami have done well in that regard this year. Pennington with the 97.4 passer rating built upon 19 TD's and just 7 interceptions will be the key to this. Beyond that, trying to stuff the Baltimore running game led by the coolest man in the NFL Le'ron McClain will be crucial. One of the most interesting things about the Raven's running game is that you know where they are going. Typically, the Ravens stack their three best run blockers in one corridor.

I tip Miami getting within the 3.5 offered on TAB, and maybe keeping the dream alive for another week.


The Eagles put the Cowboys out of their misery last week and clinched a playoff spot in the process. They take on a Vikings team with the NFL's leading rusher in Adrian Peterson, and the league's best run defense. You don't have to be Einstein to work out that Peterson is going to be very busy in this one, but I'm predicting that Philly's RB Brian Westbrook may see less carries than usual. I think Philly are going to go to the air in a big way; this will be either spectactularly successful or a spectacular flop. I'm going with the latter as I'm still not convinced about the Eagles. They are far too up and down for my liking and will be frustrated by the consistency of the Vikings on both fronts. If Donovan McNabb is intercepted more than once than Philly will be under all sorts of pressure. To me, the Eagles are a better team than Minnesota on their day...key words being "on their day". The only possible setback for the Vikings would be a shocker from QB Doctorin' In The Tarvaris Jackson but I don't think Brad Childress will give him much rein in the offense. More likely, it will be Peterson powering Minnesota to a narrow 3 point victory. Surely the Professor jests (see below)! Eagles by how far now?! On the road?!

Professors Margin madness! Philly (-2.5) - that will do me. There has been a bit of momentum at the right time behind the Eagles, and you can't forget that they have toiled in the toughest division in football. I think that this could be a blowout in favour of the Eagles, the Vikings are a nice team, but if Philly click (that is a big if) they won't have the firepower to get this done. The only hope for the Vikings is a ridiculous day on the ground for Peterson in inclement weather. Eagles by 13.

No comments: