NFL Playoffs Week 1 Predictions

And a hearty welcome to 2010 for everyone here — postings have been few and far between since the New Year rang in, but that will hopefully change in the upcoming week or so.  I have thoughts on the Baseball Hall of Fame balloting to share, just for starters — but everything will have to wait, as the NFL begins its postseason play this weekend.

We're ALL excited about the start of the playoffs

It’s an unusual week as three of the four match-ups in the 1st round are rematches of slaughters games we watched last weekend.  How much should we take those beatdowns into account?  Let’s find out together, shall we?

N.Y. Jets (+2.5) over Cincinnati

You’re going to hear all about how last week’s game for the Bengals didn’t mean anything to them, and that it meant everything to the Jets.  Fine.  But what needs to be remembered is that the Bengals had Carson Palmer and most of the starters in the game into the 2nd half, and frankly, the game resembled a mugging in Central Park more than a competitive football contest.

And frankly, the Bengals have looked like a paper tiger for most of the year anyway, haven’t they?  After their November 15 victory against the Steelers that put them in command of their division at 7-2, Cincinnati went 3-4 the rest of the way, including a narrow victories against Cleveland and Kansas City at home, an unimpressive victory against a 2-win Lions squad, the crushing road loss to the Raiders, and an absolute beating handed them by the Vikings (in addition to a closer-than-expected loss to the Chargers).

Don’t confuse the Jets with serious playoff contenders, but their defense is outstanding and they can run the ball, which they did to great effect against the Bengals last Sunday night.  If Mark Sanchez can avoid making mistakes (granted, that’s a big if), the Jets will keep the game close and cause headaches for the opposing team every time.  The Bengals offense is just not very good; Carson Palmer isn’t who he used to be, and I’m a believer that Cedric Benson is still hurt worse than he or the organization has let on.

It won’t be 37-0, but the Jets will win this game and possibly set themselves up for an intriguing rematch against the Colts next week.

Philadelphia  (+4) over Dallas

The toughest of the four match-ups this week to call.  Andy Reid, Donovan McNabb, and the Eagles should patent the “Look fantastic one week, look like the Rams the next” approach, while the Cowboys are still not a team I trust at this time of the year.

However, Dallas deserves credit for turning their season around in the season’s final few weeks, convincingly beating the Saints in New Orleans and the Eagles at home to clinch the NFC East.  Philadelphia, on the other hand, deserves to be questioned for playing so poorly last weekend in a game that meant to much (a 1st round bye waiting for the taking) to their team’s playoff chances.  How can you take a team seriously as a threat to win it all if they can’t come up any bigger than the Eagles did last week?

Answer: you can’t.  But that doesn’t mean that the Eagles aren’t a threat to at least win this week.  While Dallas has seemingly had their number this year, and while Tony Romo has been playing like a completely different quarterback than the one we’ve seem stumble and fumble his way through Decembers past, I’m not convinced that every rematch this week is going to follow Week 17’s script — and this is the one I think has the best chance to deviate, if for no other reason than the inconsistency both Philly and Dallas is more than capable of showing.  One thing’s for certain, with Wade Phillips and Andy Reid on the sidelines, the potential exists to have a boneheaded coaching move be the difference in what should be a closer game than last week’s blowout.

Dallas is still a threat to go all the way, but this week will be scary for them.  Philly covers, even if they don’t win.

New England (-3) over Baltimore

Did this injury doom the Patriots chances of making a run?

Another tough match-up to call, as the Patriots enter the playoffs reeling from the devastating injury to receiver Wes Welker.  Before that happened, I thought New England was starting to finally round itself into playoff form and loomed as a dangerous X-factor on the AFC side of the playoff brackets (of course, that line of thinking would have required believing that the Pats would somehow remember how to actually win a game on the road.  Now, with Welker out, they’re finished, right?

Maybe, maybe not.  Julian Edelman is now the man in the spotlight for New England and in the impossible position of replacing one of the NFL’s best possession receivers; at least for Week 17, he didn’t look too bad in the role, but New England still takes a huge hit here.  However, Brady and Moss are still as dangerous as ever, the running game has been resurgent, and the defense has played better of late.  And this week’s game is, at least, at home.

And I haven’t been a fan of the Ravens all season.  Baltimore shoots itself in the foot far too often to be taken as a serious playoff contender, whether it’s committing penalties (and complaining so loudly about them, which isn’t doing anything but adding to the likelihood ticky-tack infractions will be called — while that’s not fair, that’s still the way it is) or John Harbaugh’s somewhat befuddling play-calling at times (a guarantee here that, at some crucial point in the game, the Ravens best weapon, the multi-talented Ray Rice, will be standing on the sidelines with his helmet off — and not because of any injury).

Baltimore is one of those tantalizing teams — they should be better than they are, with their 9-7 record — but they’re just not.  And I don’t think they will be on Sunday either.  The Pats advance.

Green Bay (pick ’em) over Arizona

I’ve already expressed my disdain for the Cardinals efforts earlier this season, and last Sunday’s effort at home against the Packers only confirmed my belief that this postseason will not be a repeat of the team’s magical run last year.  Again, you can forget about the whole “game didn’t mean anything” explanations — the Cardinals have had a nasty habit over the last two years of simply not showing up to play in plenty of games, including ones that do mean something.  The Arizona starters didn’t play for very long last week, but even when they were on the field, the Pack was whipping up on them like the bully that took you lunch money back in grade school.

It doesn’t help matter for the Cardinals that they suffered two crucial injuries in the “meaningless” game against Green Bay — Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (who will reportedly be fine for Sunday’s tilt) and Anquan Boldin (who may not be on the field due to his ankle injury).  In yet another boneheaded coaching move (alongside Jim Caldwell’s decision to play his starters in the first half of the game against Buffalo), Arizona all but waved the white flag before the game’s opening kickoff, yet kept certain starters in well into the game.  While oft-injured quarterback Kurt Warner sat, Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald were still unbelievably on the field, even as the game was turning into a joke — and Boldin (who’s battled his own injury problems in 2009) was hurt as a result.   Either treat the game as a joke exhibition and keep your key players on the sidelines the whole way, or play the game normally and try to win — don’t attempt to do both.  Staying in the middle of the road usually leads to exactly what happened with Boldin, and it’s inexcusable idiocy from the Cardinals coaching staff.

Even if Boldin were at 100%, though, I’d still like the Pack here.  Warner hasn’t look right all season, Arizona still has trouble running the ball at times, and Green Bay is simply rolling into the playoffs.  The Packers offense is starting to hit on all cylinders (largely due to a healthier offensive line, a resurgent Greg Jennings, and ridiculous production out of quarterback Aaron Rodgers), and their defense has the playmakers to keep the team in games.  This postseason may well be the coming-out party for Rodgers; while his fantasy football owners knew how good he was already last season, a lengthy playoff run for the Pack may let the rest of the nation in on the secret.

Green Bay wins this one, and I don’t think it’s even going to be all that close.

Enjoy the playoff action this weekend, and we’ll be back here on Monday for the Le Boo Playoff Coaching Move for Wild Card Weekend.

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