Monday, January 07, 2008

Divisional Playoffs Weekend: Home-Field Sweep a Distinct Possibility

If kicker Shaun Suisham doesn’t miss that field goal in last weekend’s Redskins-Seahawks battle, Washington takes a 17-13 lead and has sufficient momentum to knock off Seattle. It didn’t happen. That left us 3-1 on the wild-card predictions. Our pride is a little wounded, but heck, we’ll take a .750 percentage anytime.

We’re looking for the home-field sweep in the divisionals. Too many good teams hosting games and way too much history backing up the value of being a rested, top-tier division winner.

NFC Matchups

Seattle (11-6) @ Green Bay (13-3)/Saturday, 4:30 p.m. EST, FOX-TV

Was that a surprise when the Seahawks dismantled the Redskins last week, or are they really pretty good? Not sure. The home crowd was so loud the Skins couldn’t hear their offensive signals, and were plenty thwarted. Even so, they mounted a comeback, took the lead fairly late, intercepted Matt Hasselbeck twice, and got a good break they should have exploited for a four-point lead with the momentum going their way. The Seahawks have some serious physical players on defense, and if they’ve got any energy left after laying on Todd Collins and Clinton Portis, they could be the key to upsetting the Packers. The voice in the back of my head keeps saying, “The Packers are still untested. Have they matured enough? Exactly how good is this team?” (Yes. I dunno. I dunno.) But they’ve looked very strong throughout the season. They’ve been consistent. Their defense allowed the second-fewest points in the NFC, and their offense scored more points in the conference than everybody but Dallas. There’s no 12th Man for the Seahawks here: Running back Ryan Grant and the Packers receivers will hear Bret Favre barking out the signals, and the Lambeau Field crowd will provide their own positive ambience to aid the Pack D. This could be a tussle, but Pack coach Mike McCarthy looks like a pretty tough guy, and with a 21-11 record in his young career, he’s a rising star. It would be a surprise if he doesn’t have his team ready.

Prediction: Packers 27, Seahawks 24

New York (11-6) @ Dallas (13-3)/Sunday, 4:30 p.m. EST, FOX-TV

The Giants are feeling pretty good about their wild-card victory over the Buccaneers. They get a real test here going into Dallas. The Cowboys didn’t look very good as their season wound down. They looked distracted and got careless. Here’s something else to chew on: Dallas coach Wade Phillips is 0-3 in his playoff career, while the Giants’ much-maligned Tom Coughlin is 5-6 and has taken two teams to the conference championship game. Obviously, if Cowboys QB Tony Romo plays badly, his team is in trouble. The Dallas running game has been MIA recently, and Terrell Owens is rebounding from an ankle injury (presumably better-rested by now). Meanwhile, the Giants‘ offense is probably capable of even better performances, especially if RB Brandon Jacobs has the monster game we think he’s capable of. But all those “ifs” are meaningless if the ’boys simply regroup and focus committedly on the task at hand. They’re the superior team on paper, and they’re at home. ‘Nuff said.

Prediction: Cowboys 23, Giants 17

AFC Matchups

Jacksonville (12-5) @ New England (16-0)/Saturday, 8 p.m. EST, CBS-TV

Every game with New England is fun because that perfect record is on the line. The Jags are a talented bunch for sure. Two ways to look at their slim victory over the Steelers last weekend: They almost blew it, or pulling it out is a harbinger of their destiny. Winning on the road is such a difficult thing, however, and yet another journey back home to the South and then back again up to the North, for a game against the Belichick Machine... well, it doesn’t look good. (For those curious about the weather factor, and if the Florida team will have to brave the winter, the temperatures in Boston Saturday should hover between 27-44 degrees Fahrenheit under partly cloudy skies.) If the Steelers could get 29 points vs. the Jags’ D, how many will Brady & Co. put up? On the other hand, the Jags’ D–when it’s hitting on all cylinders—is just the kind of aggressive squad that could disrupt the Pats’ offense. Just say, for instance, that the Jags’ defenders play the game of their lives, and Jax RB Maurice Jones-Drew gets loose in any number of his potential ways. The more I think about it, the... NAH!

Prediction: Patriots 20, Jaguars 17

San Diego (12-5) @ Indianapolis (13-3)/Sunday, 1 p.m. EST, CBS-TV

This is a good matchup—if the Chargers come to play. Not sure about them. They’ve got a lot of talent, but as the Titans have proved this year, their offense can be stopped. Peyton Manning will have to be on top of his game ’cause the Chargers’ front seven is very good. Very good. Colts RB Joseph Addai has to reassert his value here. Otherwise, the Colts very quietly finished up an impressive season, and I don’t see Norv Turner outcoaching Tony Dungy in Indianapolis. The Colts are a determined team, and they’ve had to overcome injuries to keep the boat afloat, which they’ve done impressively.

Prediction: Colts 24, Chargers 20

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