It was only two season ago when the Arizona Cardinals claimed NFC West royalty with a 9-7 mark and a fourth seed in the NFC.  Going into the 2008-09 postseason, the team ate its share of criticism. Such shots as, “The snuck in the back door” and “They’ll be done at the end of wildcard weekend” were just a few of many given by the skeptics. It was this same “backdoor creeping”, “good for only one round” group that ran roughshod through the Falcons, Panthers and Eagles on its journey to Super Bowl 43.  Did I mention they came close to keeping Pittsburgh ring collection at five?

Fast forward to today’s tournament! There is a fourth seed out of the NFC that most followers of the game feel is undeserving of a playoff berth. The Seattle Seahawks won the west at 7-9. Such a record does lessen Seattle’s value, in a sense, because it is one game below the even mark of .500. Think about it, there is a 10-6 NFC team in Tampa Bay watching the postseason instead of participating in it. When looking at these two teams, the bigger picture should be taken into consideration. Is it really their faults that the rest of the NFC West could not saddle up and compete with 9-7 and 7-9 marks? Were they wrong for taking a division that was given to them?

What Arizona showed me two seasons ago is regular season results are not indicative of a team’s post-season. With Seattle dethroning the defending champion New Orleans Saints, could they follow suit of their division foe and go on a lengthy playoff run?

Here’s my take on how the Seahawks, and the rest of the remaining contenders will fare in this week’s divisional round:

Ravens over Steelers- Beating Pittsburgh in Heinz Field during the postseason is a tough, but not impossible. Baltimore pulled it off back in week four. Pittsburgh’s pass defense can be picked at. Can Joe Flacco seize whatever opportunities are given to him in that area?

Packers over Falcons- Yes Atlanta owns the best win-loss record in the NFC, but it’s no representation of what a team does in the playoffs. Green Bay, to me is the most battle-tested team in the bracket. They suffered key injuries, including Aaron Rodgers, worked with multiple subs in the process and was never able to establish a formidable running game. Yet, in the midst of all the uncertainties, the “Pack” has top five spots in scoring defense and pass offense. Not to mention, Rodgers would be in serious consideration for MVP if not for his few games missed. With that said, I’ll take the “Cheeseheads” to advance to the NFC title game.

Seahawks over Bears- If I’m going to be risky, this is the game for me to do it.  Why? Well figuring out which Jay Cutler will show up is just as risky. Pete Carroll has the Seahawks on a high that carries them for another week. Sobriety will not be a factor!

Patriots over Jets- Speaking of belief systems, I guess I’m on the fence when it comes to Rex Ryan.  As mentioned a season ago, Ryan is the reason Gang Green is glowing with an aura of confidence that can be likened to the days of Broadway Joe. I can’t help but to like that aspect of his approach. On the flip side, his mouth tends to write checks where you wonder if he and his team can cash them. This game is bigger than you and Belichick…bigger than you and Brady. This is why the Patriots will allow their on-field product to do the talking and advance to yet another AFC Championship game.

I broke even on Wildcard Weekend at 2-2. Who will move a game closer to the biggest stage in professional sports? Buckle up, tune in and find out.

By Antoine Hoffman

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