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Wildcard Weekend

Wildcard Weekend
Saturday Sunday
WAS at TB - 4:30 PM EST - CB CAR at NYG - 1:00 PM EST - CB
JAX at NE - 8:00 PM EST - AD PIT at CIN - 4:30 PM EST - AD

Washington at Tampa Bay (-2.5)
Well it is playoff time and we have a good defensive matchup on this wildcard weekend. Let’s break down the numbers. Washington is 9th in the league in total defense however they are about middle of the pack in takeaways. But if you look deeper you see a team that is average against the run at 105.4 yards per rush and in the top half of the league in passing defense at 192.6. I think this goes to show that numbers can be deceiving. Just because a team is Top10 in yards allowed does not mean they are a great defense. With only 35 sacks the Packers apply more pressure on the QB than the Skins.

Their offense was much more potent in the first few weeks and has tailed off recently. I like the way they made plays when they had to against the Eagles to get into the playoffs I just don’t trust this offense on the road. They are at the bottom of the league in pass offense but they rely on Portis to get the offense rolling as they are much better rushing the ball at 136.4 yards per game. However as you will read on this will be a problem.

This group is legit, as the numbers again will show what a real defensive stat line should look like. They are #1 in total at 277.8 yards total defense. They rank #6 overall against the pass and rush. They have forced 30 takeaways and are about middle of the pack in sacks. They will be playing at home and their strength is the Skins strength. I believe they will shut down the run and force the Skins to beat them with the pass. That is not what the Skins will want to do and will be their demise.

On offense the Bucs are pretty vanilla. They are middle of the pack in rushing yards and down near the bottom with the pass. It all comes down to controlling the clock on offense with how can run the ball better. Will it be the Cadillac or the Clinton? I think at home and with a coach that will have his team ready to play and exploit an average Skins team I think the Bucs will live to fight another day. Look for Galloway to have a big time game in this one.

Final Score: Bucs 24, Skins 17

Jacksonville (+8) at New England
Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio, a brilliant leader that has taken his team to new heights since assuming the position in 2003, has made many solid decisions in the past three years. The Jags record has climbed from 5-11 in ‘03 to 9-7 in ‘04, and now to 12-4. But the 20-year NFL veteran (11 playing, 9 coaching) will be under extreme scrutiny for his decision to start Byron Leftwich this week in New England. While Del Rio insists he won’t have any second thoughts about returning Leftwich to the lineup Saturday night against the two-time defending Super Bowl champions, many football pundits have questioned the move. The truth is, the Patriots defense could be shredded by either QB, and they’ll need to force turnovers to win this battle.

Since Leftwich broke his left ankle Nov. 27 at Arizona, David Garrard has proven to be a capable backup. But which QB is more adept at protecting the ball? In his last four games leading up to the injury, Leftwich compiled a 102.3 QB rating, was 59-for-95 (a 62% completion percentage), threw for 705 yards and five TDs with 0 INTs. On the year, he’s thrown three TDs for each INT (15 TDs & 5 INTs). The Jag went 5-1 with Garrard, who has completed 58 % of his passes for 1,117 yards, with four touchdowns and one interception. He also has 31 carries for 172 yards and three scores, making him more of a threat to run but probably more of a threat to fumble, as well. Leftwich said this week he was still dealing with some pain -- most of it from a high ankle sprain that accompanied the break. But the Patriots aren’t convinced they’ll face either man exclusively, and they are preparing for both Leftwich and the more neophytic, albeit still talented, Garrard. The Patriots ranked last in the AFC and 31st in the league in pass defense, part of the reason Del Rio may be going with Leftwich.

New England head coach Bill Belichick is playing it a little more close to the vest, spouting typical football-speak about playing collectively for 60 minutes, but the man is a genius in preparation, going for an unprecedented four Super Bowl championships in five years.

In previous years, however, the Pats turned to great defensive performances from Rodney Harrison and Ty Law to get them to the promised land. Well, the Law is long gone, having moved on to the land of the lowly Jets, and Harrison’s season ended after tearing three ligaments in his left knee in Week 3, a 23-20 win at Pittsburgh. The loss of Law and Harrison contributed to the Pats’ 4-4 start, and the team used six other starters in Harrison’s place. New England found their best replacement with Artrell Hawkins starting four of the last five games at strong safety, and if he and the corners can shut down Jimmy Smith, Ernest Wilford, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones, they should be able to pull out a win.

The difference could also be in the backfields, both of which have multiple threats — the Jags with Fred Taylor, Greg Jones, and LaBrandon Toefield, and the Pats with Corey Dillon, Patrick Pass, Heath Evans and Kevin Faulk. Garrad’s fleet feet could also play a role, as could Flutie’s drop-kicking feet. These teams, in all honesty, have a lot in common, but the playoff experience goes to the Patriots, who should see big games from Brady, Branch and Dillon en route to a 7-point victory.

Final Score: Pats 24, Jags 17

Carolina (+2.5) at N.Y. Giants
The Panthers have lost two of their last four, and are having serious problems establishing a decent ground game this season. While Stephen Davis was okay for fantasy owners early on in the year because of his nose for the end zone, he averaged only 3.1 yards per carry on the year and the Panthers finished 19th in league with just 104 rushing yards per game against generally pitiful opponents.

One of the lone bright spots in the running game was witnessed last week, when the talented but inconsistent DeShaun Foster ran for 165 yards to lead the Panthers to a 44-11 victory against Atlanta. The victory came on the heels of a team-record 229 yards and locked up the NFC wild-card appearance. Foster has described the team’s running game as “peaking at the right time,” but I see it in a different way. To beat the Giants, you must establish a running game to open up the big play, and Atlanta isn’t nearly as tough against the run as the Giants have proved they can be. Panthers coach John Fox will run Foster at least 20 times, and if DeShaun doesn’t get to the century mark, Carolina will lose. I know, I know, the Panthers defense is one of the best in the league, but they faced a slew of bad offensive teams to make that happen, including the Saints, the Dolphins (pre-resurgence), the Packers, the Lions, the Vikings (pre-Brad Johnson), the Jets, the Bears, the Bills, and the Saints (again).

The Giants are going to key on WR Steve Smith and pressure Jake Delhomme more than enough to force a few turnovers, they only need to take advantage of the opportunities and hit the Panthers hard with Barber and Burress. They also have more weapons, something the Panthers do not, and it seems to me that the team with more weapons (see the Patriots of the past several seasons, but not the Colts) wins in the playoffs.

The Giants defense has been awesome at several different times this season. They even endured one stretch of nearly 16 quarters without allowing a touchdown, but there have been other times, and I’m sure all you Giants fans out there know what I’m talking about, when they have been horrible. Last Saturday, the defense surrendered 21 catches, three touchdowns and 292 yards to three Oakland receivers — Randy Moss, Doug Gabriel and Jerry Porter. The Giants defense has its share of stoppers — including a defensive line anchored by Pro Bowl bookends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, who have combined for 26 sacks in 2005. An ankle injury to LB Antonio Pierce means the steady veteran will probably be out for the entire playoffs, although head coach Tom Coughlin hopes he can return if the Giants get past the Panthers. Pierce has been replaced at middle linebacker by Kevin Lewis, who was cut in September then re-signed last month, and Nick Greisen and Alonzo Jackson round out the linebacker corps.

The secondary, the defense's weakest link, features Gibril Wilson and Brent Alexander at the safety positions and Will Allen and Curtis DeLoatch at the corners. The squad has allowed more passing yards than all but five NFL teams, a statistic that can be misleading, considering the three top teams in fewest passing yards allowed -- the Packers, Jets and Saints, were a combined 11-37 this season. Opponents simply didn’t need to throw the ball against them to win. I think the Giants defense will hold, for the most part, and Eli Manning will earn his first playoff victory a lot sooner in his career than his older brother did.

Final Score: Giants 27, Panthers 23

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati (+3)
Oh yes a replay for the third time of this AFC rivalry. Well, one that has become a rivalry since the Bengals have now become respectable. Seems very strange to say that. But have no fear, as the Bengals are legit ladies and gents. They really weren’t into the last few games but will be plenty motivated to take on their division rivals in a game to reach the next round. At home, playing with one of the most prolific offenses this year I see a shootout in our future. The Bengals defense is a soft one and has been known to give up a ton of yardage particularly on the ground. But the old gut is telling me they are ready for the Men of Steel and will hold them down to a respectable total. They won’t shut them down which leads me to the offense.

You got a bunch of Pro Bowl players and a QB that is growing up in a hurry. The last time these two met? Yes, it was Palmer throwing 227 yards and 3 TDS at the house of Steel People built. Rudi Johnson was running at a 5.0 per carry clip. TJ was finding it comfortable in the end zone. They left the field that day with confidence and I think it will shoe in this one.

The Men of Steel must be commended. They have some of the most loyal fans in the business and seem to be in it every year. However age and skill position defections (i.e. Burress) have hurt this team and I think it will show on Sunday. This could be the Bus’s last school ride so be sure to watch of the classiest folks in the game. I think they will give him a chance to go out in style, which is a mistake in my book. Parker is the future and he runs a legit 4.4. This guy gets 20 carries and will be rush for 150 yards on this D. However Cowher seems to be unwilling to give him that opportunity. He is a home run hitter. Give him the damn ball!!!

I think Big Ben struggles, as by the way I am not sold on his ability to win the big one. It seems everyone has forgotten his struggles in the playoffs last year against NE. I think we will see more of the same. He will look rattled at times but he is a gamer. Just not great. The only way the Steelers pull this one off is if they control the clock and keep the Bengals offense of the field. I just don’t see it happening and I see a great leader play his last game. Honk…Honk!!

Final Score: Bengals 30, Steelers 21