Must get these up before the games go live!
On today's slate we have Washington at Seattle, followed by Jacksonville at Pittsburg. Then, tomorrow, in an oddly themed day of mammoth nicknames against warm weather teams we have the Giants at Tampa and the Titans at San Diego. New England, Indie, Dallas, and Green Bay, getting nice and healthy, all wait int the wings for this weekend's winners.
- SEATTLE over Washington
I'm going with Seattle because, although I don't think they're primed for a long post season run, they've quietly put together a decent season. By NFC standards, anyway. And they've got an outside chance - as usual - if the dominoes fall right. One that's overshadowed by the Green Bay and Dallas bubble but that could pan out. Meanwhile, Washington's been on a tear but it's one that's been fueled by emotion and soft opponents. But what really settles it for me is the quarterback matchup. Hassleback is solid, if unspectacular, especially at home. And as much as I'd like to back the Michigan Man and say Todd Collins can pull it off on the road, I'll believe it when I see it.
- Jacksonville over PITTSBURG
It seems like everyone and their distant cousin from Jersey is in the Jaguars' corner. That should set the alarm bells ringing. And the field is supposed to be a muddy mess and the line is less than a field goal. The Jags spanked, absolutely spanked the Steelers the last time they met, setting up sweet revenge in the rubber match. All the warning signs for avoiding a band wagon pick are there. But, the Steelers are hurting. Lots of injuries. Polamalu is supposed to play but I don't think he's 100%. And the Steelers just aren't the same without him. While the Jaguars are just the sort of team to take advantage of a muddy, wet afternoon. They're a power running team seemingly built to head up north and play smashmouth. I know I shouldn't, I know I'm probably assuring a Steelers win, but looking at everything I can't pick against the Jaguars. Not this week.
- Giants over TAMPA BAY
This is another game where I'm going with my instincts instead of what cold, hard logic says. The frustratingly inconsistent Giants are quarterbacked by Eli Manning who looked like a deer caught in the headlights late in that season ending New England game. A game the Giants put their all into, got banged up during, and still couldn't manage to end the Patriot's winnign streak. The Bucs, on the other hand, have been taking it easy, resting up once they had their playoff spot, and preparing for their likely match-up with the Giants. They're healthy, they're eager, they're well-preped. But it's that New England game that swings me. I think it's a motivating force, an energizing force, that moment that's brought the Giant team together and convinced them that, yeah, they can play elite level football. And, in the final analysis, I'd rather go with the team that played their games and closed out the season strong rather than the team that decided to mail it in.
- SAN DIEGO over Tennessee
I go with the Chargers here because of the simple fact that they have to win. That might actually work against them but after being broomed out of the playoffs early last year, they fired their coach and brought in a new staff. And they didn't do it for a mediocre regular season, they did it for post-season success. Unfortunately, they'll run head on into the twin dynasties atop the AFC before too long so it's not going to matter but they absolutely have to get past the first round or it's a huge disappointment. The pressure is on San Diego, completely, but I don't think the Titans are good enough to capitalize. They backed into the playoffs, meaningless win against the Colts notwithstanding. And this one has all the markings of a blowout.
I'm not so bold as to chart out the entire playoffs. Not on the record, anyway, although I think it's fair to say that, until they prove me wrong, my money's on the Patriots and I'm figuring on a Pats/Packers Super Bowl.
However, looking down the road, I will say that I think the Patriots are perfectly set-up for the greatest postseason flameout in history. Just as I've been predicting, privately, for a while now. I expected them to close out the regular season undefeated but every game in the playoffs gets exponentially harder. If they make it to the Super Bowl, I think there's no way they can lose. But the road to get there is fraught with danger.