Saturday, January 06, 2007

Wild-card weekend

The NFL play-offs begin this weekend.

Two games Saturday.

Game 1: Kansas City At Indianapolis

I will make this prediction, with great confidence. If the Colts go up by 14 points at any point in this game, they win. Indianapolis can come back from a two-touchdown deficit, but if the Chiefs get down that far, they'll lose.

Everyone knows the storylines here. Peyton Manning in the play-offs. Herm Edwards vs. Tony Dungy. Larry Johnson vs. the Colts run defense. It is certainly possible to envision a scenario in which KC runs the ball, Indy's defense doesn't get off the field, Manning only gets 6-7 drives and the Chiefs grind out a 21-17, 17-14 type win.

But I don't expect that. I think that the Colts win. Probably by double-digits. 27-17, 24-14. Something like that.

Prediction: Indianapolis 27, Kansas City 14

Game 2: Dallas At Seattle

All else being equal, I'd be rooting for Seattle here. I used to be a Seahawk fan, back in the days of Jim Zorn and Steve Largent. And I've always disliked the Cowboys, sometimes more than others, ever since I first heard the phrase "America's Team." They weren't ever mine.

But the Patriots have Seattle's first-round draft pick. It's four picks higher in April if the Cowboys win today than if Seattle does. So I'll probably, out of Patriots fan self-interest, be rooting for Dallas today.

That said, can the Cowboys play defense at all? Can Tony Romo throw more balls to his teammates than the Seakhawks defensive backfield? I'm thinking "yes, sort of" and "maybe." I don't have any confidence in either of these teams playing well, so the question is, who plays less badly? I think Seattle probably plays marginally less badly, but I wouldn't bet a single penny on it.

Prediction: Seattle 17, Dallas 13

Two games Sunday.

Game 3: NY Jets At New England

The Jets came into Foxboro in November and beat the Patriots 17-14. There are a lot of people out there who think that Eric Mangini's "in Bill Belichick's head." And that that game in November is indicative of what's going to happen on Sunday.

I'm not buying it.

The Patriots, come off a Monday night loss to Indianapolis, played poorly in November. They played without standout defensive lineman Ty Warren. They played with standout defensive lineman Richard Seymour, playing essentially one-armed, on the wrong side of the line because of Warren's absence. They played on a field the was 3 inches of mud, which is an advantage to the worse team.

None of those things will be true on Sunday.

I don't think that the Jets can stop the Patriots running game. I don't think that the Jets can stop the Patriots passing game. I don't think that the Jets can run effectively against the Patriots. I don't think that the Jets can go downfield effectively with Chad Pennington at quarterback.

In order to win, I believe that the Jets need the following things to happen:

- 2 or more Patriot turnovers
- 1 kick return for a touchdown OR 2 kick returns into Patriots' territory
- a 6+ minute time-of-possession advantage, which means 70+% completion of 5-10 yard passes

I don't expect that. It is not impossible that the Jets win that game, but I do think it unlikely. Extremely unlikely.

Prediction: New England 27, NY Jets 16

Game 4: NY Giants At Philadelphia

Has there ever been more noise about an 8-8 team than the 2006 NY Giants? The Giants act as if they deserve to be treated as a great team, despite the fact that they've been aggressively mediocre. The Eagles, on the other hand, are a team that finally has a quarterback.

There's some question of whether the Giants need to win this game to save Tom Coughlin's job. There's further question, not about whether that's a dis-incentive to them, but whether it's a large enough dis-incentive to have them actually lay down. Fortunately for the players that want Coughlin gone, it doesn't matter whether they lay down or not. They've got Eli Manning at QB, who has little in common with his brother other than his name.

Someday, people will look back at the draft-day trade that brought Manning to NY as one of the worst draft-day trades in football history. Ernie Accorsi and his flacks in the press have tried very hard to prevent that view from taking hold, but in a couple more years, it'll be unavoidable.

Prediction: Philadelphia 23, NY Giants 13

NFL, WildCard, Play-offs, Patriots, Jets, Giants, Eagles, Chiefs, Colts, Seahawks, Cowboys



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