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NFL Wild card weekend: Three road teams move on

The Ravens dominate, while the Seahawks, Jets and Packers win thrillers; Vick regresses; injuries do in Indy and hot player of the week.

By Jim Buzinski
Outsports.com

How I saw wild card weekend:

Three of the four games this weekend were terrific but the divisional round looks much less appealing to me. In the AFC, we have two division matchups, meaning we are seeing these teams play for the third time, which is not very interesting. In the NFC, Seahawks-Bears looks like a snooze-a-rama while Packers-Falcons is the one game that has me excited.

johncarlson
Hot player of the week: John Carlson

Picks for this week. I went 2-2 in the wild card round but save for the Seahawks-Saints game, my analysis was solid. I had the Ravens winning big, the Packers winning a close one and said Colts-Jets would go down to the wire; it did, but I had Indy winning.

AFC
Ravens (13-4) at Steelers (12-4), Saturday, 4:30 p.m. EST

Their last four meetings, and five of the last seven, have been decided by a field goal and this one looks no different. There is not much separating these teams on either side of the ball, and home field could mean a lot.

Normally, I would take the Steelers but I think the Ravens are a better team. Joe Flacco is maturing as a playoff quarterback and having Ed Reed back solidifies the defense. Ravens on a last-second field goal, 16-13.

Jets (12-5) at Patriots (14-2), Sunday, 4:30 p.m. EST

The Pats won their last meeting, 45-3, but this one will be closer. Mark Sanchez was dreadful against the Colts and was bailed out by his running game and the Colts’ lousy kickoff coverage. On three occasions, he had receivers wide open for touchdowns and failed to connect. This against an Indy team where four of their five top defensive backs were on injured reserve. He needs to play way better or this will be another blowout.

On defense, the Jets got little pressure on Peyton Manning and were helped by the Colts missing three key receivers. The Patriots, though, are healthy and are operating flawlessly on offense. The only way to beat Tom Brady is with a lot of pressure, but the Jets are weak at safety, which will leave huge holes for Wes Welker and the tight ends. It will be a long day for the Jets. Patriots 34, Jets 10.

NFC
Packers (11-6) at Falcons (13-3), Saturday, 8 p.m. EST


The Falcons won at the gun, 20-17, when these teams met in late November. The key play was an Aaron Rodgers fumble at the goal line. This time around, Green Bay is running the ball better. The Falcons are a solid, if anonymous team, that thrived on winning close games this year (seven of their wins were by seven or fewer points). I like the Packers slightly here, thinking they are playing better football now that then when first met. Another close one. Packers 21-Falcons 17.

Seahawks (8-9) at Bears (11-5), Sunday, 1 p.m.

Hard to believe that the Seahawks won at Chicago in Week 6, 23-20, but this is a better Bears team now. The Seahawks were amazing in putting up 41 on the Saints this week, but I see that as a once-a-century win. This one will be ugly and the Cinderella story ends. Bears 34, Seahawks 13.

Predictable: The least surprising result was the Ravens smashing the Chiefs. K.C. benefitted from a weak schedule and the Chargers losing to the Bengals, Seahawks and Rams; a win in any of those games and San Diego is division champs and the Chiefs are out.

Matt Cassell was abysmal Sunday – 9 for 18 for 70 yards and three interceptions. And the defense was atrocious, as the Ravens controlled the ball for 41:44 minutes to 18:46.

Unpredictable: Obviously, Seattle’s 41-36 win over the Saints stunned everyone, even Seahawk fans. It was no lie to call Seattle the worst playoff team in history – their 7-9 record was the worst ever for a division winner; their minus-97 point differential was also the worst and they were the biggest underdog (10 points) ever for a home playoff team.

So how to explain 41 points, 415 total yards and four TD passes by Matt Hasselbeck? Beats me. All those yards and points were legit and came against a Saints defense that had been solid most of the season. Seattle had a great game plan and were constantly on the attack. Saints safety Roman Harper was ghastly, giving up three touchdowns by himself and constantly being out of position.

The 67-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch in the fourth quarter is the greatest I have ever seen in the playoffs. He broke eight tackles, knocked corner Tracy Porter to the ground and danced and weaved into the end zone; it was awesome.

Undermanned: Being a huge Colts fan, I was not shocked by their 17-16 loss to the Jets. The Colts had 18 players on injured reserve and used 70 players on their roster this season. They were down at the end of the Jets game to their sixth safety of the year, a guy added to the roster Dec. 22. They simply were missing too many key players and those players’ backups on both sides of the ball.

The result was a too-cautious offensive game plan in the first half that included four failures on third and 1. Peyton Manning played very well, with no interceptions and a 110 rating, but at the end had to rely on a receiver, Blair White, who was on the practice squad until Week 3. The result was White mis-running a route that could have allowed Indy to make a key first down, burn more clock and set up a last-second field goal to win instead of a last-minute one.

In the end, though, the Colts were doomed by an old bugaboo – the inability to properly cover kickoffs. They kicked off to Antonio Cromartie with 53 seconds left, having just taken a 16-14 lead. And he promptly ran it back to the 47, totally changing the way the Jets could play the final 50 seconds. Had the Colts tackled Cromartie at the 25, no way would Sanchez have been able to march the Jets 50 yards for a field goal try, since running would have not been an option and Indy could just play the pass.

The Colts fell just short, which was the story of their season. In 2009, they were 7-0 in games decided by four or less points. In 2010, they were 3-5. The difference this year was all the key injuries. But the usual suspects will somehow blame Manning, since it’s obvious he does a lousy job stopping the run, playing special teams and being a medical trainer.

Regressing: In the end, it was the same old Michael Vick as the Eagles lost, 21-16, to the Packers. He was brilliant early in the season but really stalled at the end, mustering four total touchdowns in his last two starts. If it was not for the Giants’ epic collapse in the final eight minutes of Week 15, the Eagles would have missed the playoffs.

Defenses basically figured out how to contain Vick and he made some really poor passing decisions. Typical was was his first-down interception deep in Packers territory in the final minute. There was still enough time to not have to try an end zone shot when the intended receiver was well covered. Game and season over.

Vick will be 31 at the start of next season and his freewheeling running style is getting him hammered each game. I am not sure I would make him my QB of the future if I were the Eagles. The Vick we saw in his final three games was more indicative than the guy who at one point looked like the league MVP.

Symmetry: This year was the first since 2000 that both Super Bowl teams from the prior year made the playoffs. It’s also the first time since 2000 that both Super Bowl teams from the prior year lost their opening playoff game.

Hot player of the week: Hard to find anyone better looking than Seahawks tight end John Carlson. He was a total stud against the Saints with two touchdowns.