After a wild finish to this season, the NFL playoff matches are finally all set, and they consist of three rematches from the end of the season. There were a lot of controversies toward the end of the season pertaining to resting players. Some teams, like the Colts, Saints, Vikings, Chargers, and the Bengals, had their spots already picked out by week 17, if not earlier. So resting players was an option the coaches had, which was met by a lot of scrutiny from media fans as well as other players. Some teams that needed wins by the teams that had rested their players were angry that they couldn't have a shot at the playoffs due to them holding back players. My response to them is: if you had taken care of business when it mattered, then you wouldn't have up yourself in a situation where you had to rely on another team to help you get in. Such was the case for the Texans and Steelers for the most part. The AFC race was by far the most competitive, with seven teams having a viable shot to get into the playoffs, but the outcome was exactly what most of us expected. Here are the match-ups for the first week of the playoffs and how I see it playing out.
Jets vs. Bengals
This is one of the three rematches from week 17, and if it plays out in any way like it did yesterday, the Bengals are doomed to have another first round exit to a rather surprising season. Towards the end of the game, the Bengals had pulled most of their starters, so there is almost no chance that it would have remained a shut out, but with injuries to key players like Chad Ochocinco, Rey Maualuga, and Tom Nelson, the game with the Jets may turn out the same way. But I believe that the Bengals played it smart, in that they knew the Jets were going to come with everything they had, because it was a win-win situation for them. So the Bengals took as many notes as they could and didn't show the Jets anything they weren't expecting to see; in that way come playoff time when it really counts, the Bengals would have the upper hand. Even if that were true, they will need Chad Ochocinco in the game, and they will need the rest of the receiving group to play a lot better then they did this game, maybe catch a ball or two in order to move the chains. That might help just a little. The Jets have one of the best corners in the league, so they will have to move their receivers around a little to get the right matchups. On the other hand, the Jets need to find a way to get star WR Edwards more involved in the passing game, because if the run game doesn't work next week, they will need him in key situations to move the chains.
Bengals 24, Jets 20
Patriots vs. Ravens
This game is between two teams that have had inconsistent play from the side of the ball which they rely on most. The Ravens have had a little trouble on defense this season, not being about to shut down offense like they had in past seasons. Often times they had to rely on their offense to carry them, which was a big change and worked out in their favor. The Patriots on the other hand have had consistent play from their offense. The running game is there in some games and nonexistent otherwise. Also, they just lost their Mr. Reliable in Wes Welker, who was lost for the season on the very last game of the season, a game that really didn't mean much to the Patriots except a three seed. He was the definition of reliable, catching 123 balls this season for 1348 yards and 4 touchdowns, just twenty receptions shy of breaking Marvin Harrison's single season record for most receptions in a season.
Another thing the Patriots could ill afford was injury to Tom Brady, who has been one of the greatest players this decade has to offer. He has a broken rib and a fractured pinkie on his throwing hand. And for anyone who has played the QB position, you'll know the pinkie is a pivotal part of the throwing motion. We'll see how this affects him come game time.
With that being said, I think Baltimore's run game has completely dominated opposing defenses as of late. With two phenomenal running backs in Ray Rice and Willis McGahee and a dominant offensive line, the Ravens will handle the ageing Patriot linebackers and D ends, open big running lanes.
Ravens 38, Patriots 30
Packers vs. Cardinals
The end to this game was much like the Cardinals game. Really had nothing to play for except and the Packers really took it to them. Most of the Cardinal starts were rested for next week, where they will be facing the Packers again. But in next week's game, they will bring their A game, and the matchup will be much more competitive. The Cardinals, like last season, are coming into the playoffs with a bit off an underdog tone. They haven't played their best football and aren't really scaring anyone. But last season they blew out of the starting gates with stellar play from the QB position and the wide receivers, especially the likes of Larry Fitzgerald.
The Packers on the other had have come into the playoffs scene guns blazing. With a new 3-4 defense in place, Charles Woodson has again shown that he's one of the league's best and is one of the front runners for defensive player of the year. But the offense isn't a pushover either; they have a QB in Aaron Rogers who had really played well the last two season and is a bit under the radar with the likes of Bret Favre, Tony Romo, and Drew Brees stealing the show in that conference. This will be a much more competitive matchup than it was in week 17, but I don't think the Cardinals will be able to get their focus back after the beating they took. Even with a new game plan and all their starts, I think the Packers will still be the better team.
Packers 27, Cardinals 13
Cowboys vs. Eagles
This will be one of the most interesting games of the wild card round. These are two division rivals that have gone up against each other twice a year for the last 50 plus years, and they know each other to a tee. The Cowboys have gotten the best of the Eagles in this season, beating them in a close matchup first and then blowing them out 24 (should have been 27, but another missed field goal by a Cowboys kicker) to 0 in week 17, when the division title was on the line. But don't expect this game to turn out the same next week. The Eagles have more weapons than they know what to do with. The only problem is that McNabb hasn't had his best games against the Cowboys and has missed a lot of opportunities for big plays due to over-/under-throwing receivers. The Cowboys on the other hand have been playing stellar on both sides of the ball; even in their two losses in December against the Giants and the Chargers, the Cowboys played well. They really stepped it up against the previously undefeated Saints and haven't looked back since shutting out their two remaining opponents. I don't even want to guess what this game will turn out like, because in division rivals, anything is possible. Throw out the records, throw out the seeds, throw out the previous games. It's do or die time for these two bitter rivals, and the team that wants it the most will be the one that wins.
Cowboys 134, Eagles 0