- Atlanta @ Arizona: Kurt Warner has had an impressive reboot this year, and Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are the most dangerous receiving pair in the league. Too bad they have neither a running game nor a defense to work with. Their December disappearing act highlights the fact that the Cards are merely the best team in the worst division -- maybe not even that, had the 49ers not waited till Thanksgiving to get it together.
The Falcons, on the other hand, have had a turnaround on a par with that of Miami, perhaps even more so, considering that no one knew who the hell Tom Dimitroff was when he inherited a horrifically dysfunctional organization, Matt Ryan seemed a stretch at #3, and Mike Smith was plucked out of Jacksonville's staff to fill Bobby Petrino's hastily departed seat. Smith has the team peaking and playing hard in all phases, Michael Turner is the best free-agency acquisition of the season, and Kurt Warner will get to know John Abraham today.
Falcons 38, Cardinals 20.
- Indianapolis @ San Diego: I've said it before, and I'll say it yet again -- the Chargers are easily the most overrated team in the league. The defense has played about as well as can be expected without the disruptive Shawne Merriman plaguing opposing quarterbacks. The offense has overachieved down the homestretch, setting the stage for LT's annual playoff fade. Much has been made of San Diego winning out after a 4-8 start, but none of their last four victories (Oakland; Kansas City; Tampa Bay; Denver) came against a playoff team, or even a good team.
The Colts certainly have their holes, but Manning has earned his MVP award, carrying a team with no running game and a suspect defense to nine straight victories after a bad start. Indy rested most of their starters in last week's 23-0 sleeper over #1 seed Tennessee, and Manning surely used all that extra time to figure out ways to get a fast start and use San Diego's lack of line pressure against them. San Diego most likely shot their wad against Denver last week. Norv Turner is about to get pwn3d. Again.
Colts 34, Chargers 17.
- Baltimore @ Miami: Two solid teams, each with a compelling comeback story. The Fins have turned around last year's 1-15 disaster with a combination of Chad Pennington's leadership, Tony Sparano's willingness to innovate with the now-popular "wildcat" offense, and Bill Parcells' uncanny management acumen. The defense has quietly improved as well, turning chronic loudmouth Joey Porter into a bona-fide sack machine.
While it pales compared to Atlanta and Miami, the Ravens' own turnaround, with a rookie head coach and rookie QB, is still noteworthy. As it is, Joe Flacco has made the job his with impressive decision-making and very few turnovers. The defense is as nasty as ever, and will probably be the difference in the final outcome.
Ravens 17, Dolphins 13.
- Philadelphia @ Minnesota: Two chronically underachieving squads vie for the privilege to be playoff fodder for either the Giants (if the Eagles win) or the Panthers (if the Vikings win). Still, both teams have played hard down the stretch, though Adrian Peterson has suddenly gotten a case of the drops. Philly's D seems geared toward making Tarvaris Jackson's day about as long as they made Tony Romo's last week, while the Vikes' defensive line should shut down the Eagles' already inconsistent commitment to an actual run game. Can't they both lose?
Eagles 20, Vikings 14.
Saturday, January 03, 2009
Wild Card Weekend
Here's your one-stop guide to baseless NFL playoff predictions. As always, wager safely.