Posted: 10 Jan 2005
Wildcard Weekend has come and gone and, with it, so go the Packers, Broncos, Seahawks, and Chargers. The latter two put up pretty good fights in a pair of close games (no receptions for Rice! OMGWTF!). As for the former two, though...well, Favre had a pretty bad day as Favre goes. His numbers were OK at 22-33 except for the 4 picks he gave up. Nobody likes to see The Pack lose a playoff game. To their credit, though, the Vikings came out of the gate ready to win, and that's precisely what they did. Plummer had a decent game for the Broncos, especially in the 3rd quarter with 2 TDs, but you just can't compare to Peyton fucking Manning who went 27-33 for 453 yards and 4 TDs. So it goes.
As such, we're brought the divisional matchups of Jets/Steelers, Rams/Falcons, Vikings/Eagles, and Colts/Patriots. Let's see what we've got, here.
The New York Jets (10-6), led by Chad "*gulp*" Pennington, travel to meet the Pittsburgh Steelers (15-1) and the indomitable Ben "who?" Roethlisberger on Saturday at 4:30p. They only met once this season, in Week 14, and it was a close game until the 4th quarter when Pittsburgh put up two TDs. The Jets seemed to lock the rookie Steelers phenomenon down, though, holding him to 144 yards at a 9-19 completion rate. This should be a good game. A really good game. The Jets will have to rely on RB Curtis Martin with Pennington's weak shoulder slowing down the passing game. As they showed this past weekend, though, Pennington can actually still rifle passes in there at a distance. However, they're going to have to play better than they did against the Chargers if they're going to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. My prediction? Sometimes you have to trust in Occam's Razor and realize the most obvious solution is the correct one, and I think it's pretty clear that the Steelers will win this one. The biggest story in the 2004 NFL season will be if the Steelers march to a 15-1 record only to lose their first playoff game to the Jets, and I don't think that's going to happen. The Jets showed a good game last weekend, but I'll say Steelers win this one fairly easily. I'll say 34-17.
That same day, at 8:00p, we'll have the St. Louis Rams (8-8) at the Atlanta Falcons (11-5). Marc Bulger isn't a terribly great QB, so the Rams can't necessarily rely on him alone. What else do they have? Torry Holt? Marshall Faulk? He's not exactly having a newsworthy season, either. So, what're they doing here? They're 8-8. In beating the Seahawks, they officially became the first team to win a playoff game without a winning record. Of course, the Vikings did the same thing the next day. Well, OK, let's take a look at the Falcons. They're led by Michael Vick. He's the QB who comes out in most people's top five QBs playing the game today, but don't always see why. Well, at least, we don't up here in AFC country. To me, though, he's sort of the Nomar Garciaparra of QBs. He's heralded when he wins, but no one but sports radio nuts ever really say "Wait, he pops out 90% of the time. What's so important?" I do know, however, that the Falcons beat the Rams in their one meeting this season, and beat them pretty handily at 34-17. I also know, however, that the same Falcons' losses this season were to Seattle (9-7), Tampa Bay (5-11 and, OK, they were 1-1), Detroit (6-10), Kansas City (7-9), and New Orleans (8-8 and, OK, also 1-1). What this is saying to me, though, is that they tend to do poorly against teams they may underestimate. I'll call this one an upset, but a close one. Vick will have at least one rushing TD on his own, Bulger will not. Rams win on a Wilkins field goal in the 4th, 27-24. No OT necessary, but the Falcon's last drive will be exciting.
Alrighty, then. At 1:00p on Sunday, we have the Minnesota Vikings (8-8) at the Philadelphia Eagles (13-3). Jesus H Christ. Culpepper, McNabb...I think I just peed a little. I honestly have no idea what to expect here. The Vikings are obviously back on their heels, but that win over the Packers this past weekend was Huge with a capital H. I think this one all depends on McNabb and the Eagles. Culpepper's going to be bringing his game because he has no choice, and if Randy Moss isn't benched for his newest incident this past weekend, they'll be good to go. If the Eagles that this season lost to Arizona, Buffalo, and Dallas show up, then Minnesota will be even more good to go. If we see the Eagles that we're used to seeing, though, the infallible Eagles, then can be anyone's game. That said, though, I think I have to give the edge to the Vikings even though they lost their one meeting with Philadelphia this season. All in all, though, I think it'll be close. One team will hit a 2-point conversion late in the game to send it to OT, and the Vikings will eventually win it with a score of 40-34.
And so it comes down to Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts (12-4) at Tom Brady's New England Patriots (14-2), the defending champions, at 4:30p that day. I'll be honest, this game scares me. This game scared me last year. Peyton Manning scares me. And why not? That motherfucker threw for 4500+ yards, beat Marino's record with 49 TDs, and had an unchallenged 121.1 passer rating. What I want to see is the New England defense do what they did in last year's playoffs. I want to see my man, Tedy Bruschi, with at least one pick. I want to see the Ty Law-less safeties shut down the Colts receivers. If the Patriots are going to lose this postseason, and I say this because I'm incredibly biased as a Pats fan and a Manning hater, I want it to be to the Steelers. Roethlisberger is the new Tom Brady, if that means anything. He's not a spectacular QB, he's just in the right place at the right time and has a solid, all-around team behind him. I respect the Steelers. I do not respect the Colts, even if they have one of the greatest QBs to ever play the game at the helm. That guy rubs me the wrong way, good or not. OK, that fan commercial is funny. I'll give him that one. I want to see Corey Dillon run right through the NFL's 24th-ranked rushing defense. I don't even want this one to be close, but I'll go ahead and call it a Patriots win with a score of 34-27. We beat 'em in Week 1 and we can do it again.
In summary, that leads us to New England at Pittsburgh for the AFC championship and St. Louis vs. Minnesota in the battle of the 8th graders for the NFC championship. I don't even know who'd have home field advantage in that one. I didn't realize I'd picked both 8-8 teams to upset this weekend until I just re-read it, but I suppose we'll have to see what happens. That said, I'll make an early prediction for the Patriots and Rams heading to Jacksonville to replay the 2001 Super Bowl. Now that is coming full-circle.
See you back here a week from now to check up on where we're at and what the outlook is like if things are different from my predicted outcomes. In the meantime, though, enjoy the coming weekend. Only three more weekends of football after that (yeah, the Pro Bowl doesn't really count, but eh, whatever).