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Wildcard Weekend

Wildcard Weekend
Saturday Sunday
STL at SEA - 4:30 PM EST - AD DEN at IND - 1:00 PM EST - AD
NYJ at SD - 8:00 PM EST - CB MIN at GB - 4:30 PM EST - GB

Last Week's Projections
(10-6) Straight Up - 62.5%
(8-8) Against The Spread - 50.0%

For The Season
(163-93) Straight Up - 63.6%
(145-106-5) Against The Spread - 57.7%

St. Louis (+4) at Seattle, 4:30 p.m
There’s an NFL saying that you can’t beat the same team three times in one year. Even if you don’t believe in the adage, you should at least engender some support for the popular proverb that says “Mike Martz’s convoluted approach will once again be the demise of the Rams.” I’ve watched the Rams play a lot this year, and I guess that comes hand in hand with having Marc Bulger as my QB and a brother-in-law with Direct TV.

I watched the end of the Oct. 10 overtime game in Seattle when the Seahawks defense folded (as I so famously predicted in my game preview) folded under some fast-paced pressure from the Rams offense (where just about everyone was healthy). Bulger’s performance, which included a key TD run during regulation and a TD pass in OT, actually solidified a win for me that day. Despite a lack-luster year, Bulger did that twice for me, wins that seem like the only ones I garnered this season.

In their next matchup, the Seahawks were even less impressive. I know the Rams seem to have their number, but something’s different about this Seattle team, and I think it’s the attitude of the secondary.

Interceptionist extraordinaire Ken Lucas is hyped going into this game, and since the Rams receivers have been banged up a bit this season, they might be a little more hesitant coming across the middle with hard-hitting safety Ken Hamlin bearing down on them. Say what you want about the potency of the St. Louis offense, the playoffs have been — and always will be — about turnovers and momentum.

And as much as these — and many other offensively capable teams — are vaunted for their talented QBs and receivers, their success depends on the establishment of a solid running game. The importance of effective passing comes into play largely in the red zone and at opportune times during the last two quarters. The Rams always win when they rush the ball at least 30 times, although I doubt that can be achieved against the Seahawks, who plan to control the ball with frequent doses of Shaun Alexander. While Alexander’s bitching about falling one yard short of the rushing title has been a minor distraction, it shouldn’t diminish his abilities Saturday.

Injuries might also play a factor in this game. The Rams will most likely be without left guard Tom Nutten and may also miss defensive end Leonard Little, who is their X-factor on that side of the ball. Future Canton cornerback Aeneas Williams was lost mid-season and starters Isaac Bruce and DE Bryce Fisher are both probable. The Seahawks are missing DT Marcus Tubbs, have Grant Wistrom on the injury report as doubtful with a knee, and continue to find continuity with their front seven, where fill-in MLB Niko Koutouvides is questionable. TE Itula Mili and CB Bobby Taylor are also 50-50 to play, while WR Darrell Jackson is probable.

In any event, I think the smartest fantasy plays — if you’re in any playoff leagues — will be Alexander, Jackson and Rice for the Seahawks, with Hamlin and Lucas emerging on IDP, and Bulger, Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt for the Rams, with Adam Archuleta as their best IDP option. Don’t play either team’s defense, although the Seahawks should get a few turnovers going their way.

Final Score: Seahawks 30, Rams 24

N.Y. Jets at San Diego (-6.5)
"Marty Ball" cruised into the postseason with their first division title since 1994. The Jets reached the playoffs for the third time in four seasons, however they will be looked at as though they backed in with their season ending loss to St. Louis.

Schottenheimer entered the season in a world of trouble after going 12-20 in his first two seasons with San Diego, including a 4-12 stinker last year. However, the old man got the Chargers to a 12-4 record and reached the playoffs for the first time since 1995. But if you remember Marty has had a disappointing career postseason record of 5-11 and it is littered with countless disappointing defeats including one that pretty much made Ray Finkel out of Lin Elliott. How many missed field goals were in that one?? Were the laces in on all those field goal tries? Schottenheimer has never been to the big game. He was burned by John Elway and the Denver Broncos in two AFC championship games with Cleveland during the 1980s and that was as close as he got. He needs to go deep to dispel the notion that he can't win the big one.

His chances lie in Drew Brees (3,159 passing yards and 27 passing TDs) who put together an MVP-type season, running back LaDainian Tomlinson (1,335 rushing yards and 17 rushing TDs) and a stingy defense. They have made all of the critics eat their words as they have continued to win all year. It has been an incredible run.

The Jets on the other hand opened the season 5-0 for the first time in franchise history, but went 5-6 thereafter and dropped three of their final four to grab the fifth seed in the AFC. They tanked a 32-29 overtime loss in St. Louis last Sunday and that left New York needing help just to reach the postseason. Pittsburgh handled the Bills and that left an opening for the Jets so winning was not as important at that point. Coach Edwards, who only sports a 0-2 record in playoff games with the Jets, is hoping his team bounces back from the way they limped into the playoffs. They simply need better play from Pennington (2,673 passing yards and 16 passing TDs) to make some noise in the playoffs. He needs to play better and heal from the shoulder injury that seems to still be bothering him. He has to find a groove and get back to form for them to have a chance.

Curtis Martin on the other hand had a terrific season (1,697 rushing yards and 12 rushing TDs) and is the team's bread and butter. He is the NFL's rushing champion and ran for 153 yards in St. Louis, he will need to run well to open up things for Pennington.

The Jets did beat the Chargers 34-28 in San Diego in Week Two, but one team has been on the rise since and the other on the fall. The Chargers allowed their largest point totals of the season in that game with 34. That contest will really have no bearing on this contest. The Chargers clearly have the edge coming into this one.

Final Score: Chargers 30, Jets 21

Denver (+10) at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Didn’t these teams just play last week? Yeah, they did, although the Colts were a tapered two-o’clock shadow of their usual selves without Manning — and the Broncos were unimpeded by that pesky Peyton-led offense.

If anything, the entire football game was played like some strange bizarro decoy. But the weirdest thing I’ve read this week is that the Broncos are counting on Tatum Bell to take them past Indianapolis. Sure, the Colts last two losses — before last week’s masquerade — were to the Chiefs and Jaguars, who both ran well. Jacksonville played okay throughout the game against Indy and won on a late field goal in a close 27-24 finish. The Chiefs exposed the Colts run defense and gathered up 203 yards and three scores on the ground like Easter eggs on the White House lawn en route to a 45-35 win. While it is imperative for the Broncos to build a solid ground game, it’s peculiar that the Broncos — or even their beat writers, if that’s where the story started and ended — would blatantly put the onus on a rookie running back with little game experience instead of talking up their veterans.

The Colts rolled through the first two weeks of last year’s playoffs, defeating the Broncos 41-10 in the wild card game. They have also rolled over many opponents this year, but Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said this week the Jacksonville win over Indy exemplified the type of patience his team needs. Sure, they have to be patient, but they shouldn’t forget to score some points by attacking the very assailable Indianapolis secondary while they’re holding that Heinz bottle upside down for four quarters. You’ve got to tap that 57 a few times and get the blood moving. In a way, I understand Shanahan’s apprehension in declaring Jake Plummer the pivotal catalyst in extracting a win in Indianapolis — I wouldn’t want to even admit that Plummer was my starting quarterback heading into a crucial playoff game — but the Broncos have made their bed with Plummer as the comforter. The Colts defense seems to be the real issue at hand, and while Dwight Freeney’s emergence as nothing short of an awesome pass rusher is encouraging, the secondary has been battling injuries all year long and heads into the second season with CB Jason David questionable, CB Nick Harper dinged up — albeit probable — with a back injury, and free safety Idrees Bashir fighting a nagging hamstring injury. Also questionable for the Colts are TE Marcus Pollard, guard Rick DeMulling and 4th WR Troy Walters — who is not much of a factor. They have a few injuries to probable starters as well, including TE Dallas Clark (injured in a head-to-head collision with Broncos safety John Lynch just last week), DE Robert Mathis (groin), MLB Rob Morris (Head) and breakout WR Brandon Stokely, who is nursing a foot injury.

The Broncos aren’t 100 percent healthy, with guard Dan Neil out, Lynch and Trevor Pryce probable, but they’re closer to fine than the Colts. Still, I don’t see injuries becoming a factor unless the Colts really struggle to score in the first half.

From a fantasy perspective, not much has changed since the regular season, although RB Reuben Droughns is no longer the go-to-guy in the Denver backfield. Stick with the Colts top guys on offense and stay away from anything blue and orange, unless you’re willing to take a shot with WRs Rod Smith and Ashley Lelie, two guys that could get away from the Colts defensive backs a few times on Sunday. As for defense, Colts IDP standouts will include Freeney, LB Cato June, DB Mike Doss and LB David Thornton, while the Broncos will look to LB Al Wilson and DB Champ Bailey to rack up most of the tackles.

Final Score: Colts 37, Broncos 20

Minnesota (8-8) at Green Bay (10-6) (-6)
This is usually a great game during the season. It is super to see these two teams go at it in the postseason. The Packers are coming in the NFC North champion however believe it or not these two teams have never met in the playoffs. Weird considering the success of both teams over the years.

Green Bay handed the Vikings losses both times that met this year with identical 34-31 scores -- both times on a late field goal. The man you don't want to see with a ball in his hand with time left Brett Favre (4,088 passing yards and 30 passing TDs) brought the team down on a 76-yard drive to set up Ryan Longwell's 29-yard field goal as time expired in the Packers' win in Minnesota on Dec. 24, clinching the division title.

All time Green Bay holds a 44-42-1 advantage in the all-time series. I hear that the governors of both states have a bet on this one. I haven't heard what it is but is easy to see that this game has created plenty of interest in the land of the lakes. Favre and the Pack finished the season by winning nine of its last 11 games and have won three straight division titles. They beat the crap out of the Bears 31-14 at Chicago to tune up for the playoffs and go in on a high note. The three time MVP Favre owns an ok 11-8 record in the postseason. However he threw for 601 yards and 7 TDS in his two meetings with the Vikings. Although he has not owed the Vikings as evidence of his average 13-12 record against them.

The Packers are and incredible 14-1 at home all-time in the playoffs, including a 12-1 mark in Green Bay. The only defeat was a 27-7 setback to Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons in the 2003 postseason. But Green Bay was an average team at home this season, splitting its eight games. All four of the losses came to non-playoff teams -- the Bears, New York Giants, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Minnesota limped into the playoffs for the first time in four years despite losing four of its final five games. The Vikings lost at Washington last week, but backed into the playoffs when New Orleans beat Carolina. The Vikings' troubles and frustrations were realized when Randy Moss (13 receiving TDs) left the field with two seconds left in the 21-18 loss. The Vikings were attempting to recover an onside kick but honestly they had no freaking chance to recover a kick in 2 seconds and run another play. However Moss has got be a better teammate and realize that is going to catch everyone's attention. Coach Mike Tice apparently had a meeting with Moss to air out the dirty laundry.

Minnesota's defense is absolutely horrible and I don't see how they can slow down Green Bay. The Vikings secondary has had trouble against Favre, who threw touchdowns to four different receivers the first time they met.

Despite a ridiculous season from quarterback Daunte Culpepper (4,717 passing yards and 39 passing TDs), the Vikings have had trouble getting the offense rolling lately because they have given up on the run too early. They have to establish a running game to open up some lanes for the receivers and Culpepper. They running game will be key in this game.

This will be the Vikings' first playoff appearance since a 41-0 ass beating from the Giants in the 2000 NFC title game. Minnesota has lost eight of its last nine road playoff games.

Final Score: Packers 32, Vikings 24