The 2011 NFL Playoff picture is finally set! Wild card week is now here and we have some killer match-ups this weekend. In the AFC, Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts will host Mark Sanchez’s New York Jets on Saturday January 8th. Jets head coach Rex Ryan continues to stir the pot by stating that this weekend’s contest “Is Personal”. It should be, considering the fact that his defense has yet to figure out how to control a Manning-ran offense known for torching them in past games. Sunday’s AFC match-up has the 10-6 Kansas City Chiefs hosting Ray Lewis and the 12-4 Baltimore Ravens. Wow, 12-4 and the Ravens are visitors in a Wild Card game.
The NFC has some intriguing games as well. The second game on Saturday has the Super Bowl champs defending their crown on the road as they play the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks. That’s right 7-9! As the AFC East and AFC North fight for the right to be the best division in the AFC this season, there’s no question that the NFC West is clearly the weakest in NFC. It’s almost laughable to see a sub-500 team in the playoffs, let alone host a playoff game. But, division winners are division winners. Sunday’s game, has the high power Philadelphia Eagles with Michael Vick hosting Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. This one should be a great contest.
As the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears wait to see who their next opponents are, let’s break down the playoff teams shall we?
- New England Patriots- At 14-2 and winners of 8 straight, the Patriots have earned their spot as the top dog in the AFC, as well as the NFL. Tom Brady is looking like the Tom Brady of old. The running back combo of tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis and fullback Danny Woodhead has been a great boost for New England’s success this season. The key for the Pats is the offense, as they hope for the 25th ranked defense to hold its own. If the end results in a Super Bowl win, this would be Belichick and Brady’s best work considering the level of talent they have.
- Pittsburgh Steelers- The Steelers defense is ranked second in the league and is the focal point of the team. It has helped win championships recently. The problem is that the defense’s best player, safety Troy Polamalu, has been riddled with injuries all season. Now that he’s returned, his health along with solid play from quarterback and field general Ben Roethlisberger is vital to Pittsburgh’s success.
- Indianapolis Colts– Peyton Manning and his Colts have struggled the entire season and yet, they find themselves back in the playoffs. The reigning AFC champs’ road to the Super Bowl XLV will be difficult given its date with the New York Jets. Manning has played well against the Jets in the past but he’s had better weapons. The defense is a big question mark and will be exposed in the playoffs. I’m not counting out a team that has Peyton Manning on it, but I am counting on them not to represent the AFC in this year’s Super Bowl.
- Kansas City Chiefs– Kansas City has an excellent home record at 7-1. This home stance will be tested against a Baltimore Ravens team that won five games on the road this season. It’s going to be a tough task for the home team which only beat one playoff team. Guess who? THE 7-9 SEATTLE SEAHAWKS! Enough said!
- Baltimore Ravens- How does a 12 win team not host a Wild Card game? With wins against the Steelers and Jets on their resume, the Ravens will be a confident group come Sunday. How can you not like this squad? They have a running back in Ray Rice who rushed for 1220 yards. A quarterback in Joe Flacco who completes 63% of his passes. Flacco has two weapons in Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason who are sure fire at the receiver position. Add that with that defense and you have a winning combination.
- New York Jets- Gang Green has a good record on the road this season. You know about the great defense, which is ranked number three in the league. This was supposed to be a break out year for Mark “SANCHISE” Sanchez, but he put up pedestrian-like numbers and was mistake riddled. Sanchez must play a near flawless game in order to advance far into the playoffs. He has the weapons in wide outs Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes. The Jets need some good production from LaDainian Tomlinson as well.
- Atlanta Falcons- If you think the “Dirty Birds” are a fraud, you better ask somebody. Atlanta has quality wins against Baltimore, New Orleans and Green Bay. Teams will have to go to the ATL if they want to make it to the “Big Dance” in “Big D”. How ’bout them Falcons are 7-1 at the Georgia Dome! Teams in the NFC better come correct.
- Chicago Bears- Talk about frauds! Sorry Bears fans, but your team is not on the same level of the other playoff teams that have a bye. Yeah they beat the Eagles and the Jets, but they also have home loses against the Redskins and the Seahawks (There’s that team again). Jay Cutler has a rifle of an arm and completes over 60% of his passes but throws a lot of interceptions and has been sacked 52 times. The Bears will need to establish a run game to keep defenses honest.
- Philadelphia Eagles – I hope Eagles Nation gave DeSean Jackson and Giants punter Matt Dodge a Christmas gift! If it weren’t for Jackson’s 65 yard punt return for a game winning touchdown and Dodge’s 36 yard punt that made it all possible, Philly would be watching the playoffs instead of playing in it. With that said, the Eagles have an explosive offense with quarterback Michael Vick under center and DeSean Jackson’s lightning quickness. That combination alone is a head coach’s nightmare when it comes to preparation. Don’t be surprised to find this team, that almost didn’t make it to the playoffs, representing the NFC in Super Bowl XLV.
- Seattle Seahawks- Even Seahawks fans can’t be happy with this!
- New Orleans Saints- I usually don’t condone this, but Saints fans can start preparing for the Saints vs Falcons contest on January 15 2011 in Atlanta. As for the team, quarterback Drew Brees is having a stellar season and the defense is ranked fourth overall. The Saints has the tools to repeat but can they stay healthy? That will be key.
- Green Bay Packers– At times the Green Bay Packers looked unbeatable and other times the time seemed stagnant. What Aaron Rodgers will show up in the playoffs? Will it be the Aaron Rodgers that lit up the New York Giants with over 400 yards passing and four touchdowns? Or will it be the Aaron Rodgers that was held in check last week by a Chicago team that already locked up a two seed? Rodgers had mediocre numbers against the Eagles in their first meeting, passing for only 188 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Those stats were good enough to secure a win in week one but will only offer a long evening for the “Cheese Heads” come Sunday!
By Keith Madyun