January 02, 2013
Getting On The Road With Wild Cards
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
Six seeds have been doing well in Super Bowls lately. This will bring about lots of smiles in Minneapolis and Cincinnati.
Too bad the Vikings and Bengals are a combined 0-6 in Super Bowls. But given how things have gone lately with road teams in the playoffs, fans of both these teams cannot just pack it in and expect their teams to do poorly this coming weekend when the Wild Card games take place. Teams like the Patriots love their bye weeks, but in 1985 the Patriots won three road games to make it to the Super Bowl.
With that as a backdrop, Wild Card Weekend 2012 looks to be a terrific road show. Given how poorly most of the three and four seeds are playing right now, it will make for some interesting Divisional round matchups in two weeks. As always, it's about how you finish, not how you start, and that maxim should hold true this weekend.
Every AFC fan is predicting a Brady-Manning duel in three weeks, but all prognosticators need to hold their tongues and let the preliminary games play out. Las Vegas has one of the four road teams as the favorite, but bettors would be well advised to think road teams when placing their bets this weekend.
Minnesota at Green Bay
This is the one game which will go in favor of the home team. It's an occasional scheduling quirk when two teams will play each other in consecutive weeks. This Sunday past, the Packers went up to the Metrodome and played the Vikings tough, but wound up losing on a walkoff field goal, 37-34. The Packers needed to win to secure a first round bye, while the Vikings needed to win to at least get in to the playoffs. The more desperate team won, not necessarily the better team.
These two teams will turn around and play at Lambeau this Saturday night. The Packers can take solace in that it is the Vikings and not the Giants coming to town. Neither team will suffer from a lack of familiarity. It will come down to game execution, plain and simple. The Packers will be at home, Aaron Rodgers has a Super Bowl ring whereas Christian Ponder does not, and the home crowd will uplift the Packers to victory.
In 1997, the Patriots played Week 17 at Miami, won to capture the AFC East title, then beat them the following week at Foxborough to go 3-0 for the season against their Fish friends. The Vikings can look to that as inspiration towards beating a team on consecutive weekends. But in this case the Packers are going to be too good at home and they are not downtrending like some of the other home teams are.
Seattle at Washington
This is the one game where the road team really is the favorite, as Las Vegas has the Seahawks by a field goal over the Redskins. Robert Griffin III is a favorite to win Rookie of the Year, and the Redskins will enjoy their first home playoff game since 1999. The District is jazzed over their Redskins for the first time in quite some time; while it's not exactly the halcyon days of Joe Gibbs and the Hogs, it is something to be happy over.
But Seattle presents lots of problems for Washington. If Griffin does not win Rookie of the Year, it's because Russell Wilson did. Wilson and Marshawn Lynch lead a dynamite offensive attack in Seattle which scored 150 points on three consecutive weeks in December. They clobbered the division champion 49ers at home two weeks ago, 42-13 one week after the 49ers went up to Foxborough and basically stuck it to the Patriots. The Seahawks are one of those "teams nobody wants to play", and the Redskin defense will have major problems keeping the Seahawks out of the end zone.
Griffin is another story. Talented as he is, he is also susceptible to major injury. He hurt his knee late in a home victory over Baltimore, and has been hit hard several times this year on keepers and scrambles. For all the points they score, the hallmark of a Pete Carroll team is its defense. Carroll is one of the most respected defensive minds in the NFL, and should devise a game plan which should shut down Griffin. One of these days, Griffin and his Redskins will win games like this, but Seattle will win and advance to the Divisional round.
Cincinnati at Houston
Houston's fall from grace is meandering into epic proportions. If Houston loses this home game to Cincinnati, it should qualify as one of the biggest folds in NFL history. All they had to do was win one of their last two games and the one seed was theirs. But instead they are the three seed because they lost a tiebreaker with the Patriots. So they have to play this weekend. They get a Bengals team which is riding high thanks to their defense and a quarterback who has turned out to be everything they thought Carson Palmer would be.
On paper, Houston blows Cincinnati away. This column has extolled the praise of J.J. Watt, and Arian Foster and Andre Johnson are two of the best in the league at their respective positions. The Texans have plus talent on both sides of the ball. But since their blowout at the hands of the Patriots a month ago, the Texans have been shaky and lacking in confidence.
Cincinnati has a great chance to win this game and advance to Denver the following week. They actually have no business winning, but they could very well complete Houston's flushing the season down the toilet. They have a running back that never fumbles (well, at least BenJarvus Green-Ellis never did when he was a Patriot) and Andy Dalton, who appears poised to take the next step as a clutch NFL quarterback. Look for the Bengals to win a close one because it is in Houston and the Texans won't completely wimp out.
Indianapolis at Baltimore
The Colts should still win, but it won't be easy and they could come up short.
First of all, Ray Lewis announced his retirement on Wednesday. Even if he doesn't play, that right there will fire up the defense and make things rough on rookie Andrew Luck. Lewis has been the heart and soul of one of the best NFL defenses of the last decade, and the players will want to win for him.
Then you have the Colts coming home to a fan base that still smarts from its 1984 departure. The Colts called Baltimore home from 1946 to 1983. Things are such that on the M&T Bank Stadium scoreboard, the Colts are referred to as "Indy" and not "Colts", the only NFL visiting team that is not called by their team nickname. Time heals all wounds, but some of these wounds have not healed. This will be an especially cranky home crowd that the Colts will have to play in front of, a crowd that used to love them passionately. The Ravens Band used to be the Colt Band, that's how deep feelings still run.
But in the end, Joe Flacco will probably find a way to either lose the game or not win it. Lewis and Ed Reed need to dig deep and find a way to be their old selves, but the Colts can likely overcome this obstacle. Then there's Chuck Pagano, the Colt head coach battling leukemia. That right there might negate the Lewis Factor or the Coming Back Home factor.
If all these games play out in this manner, you will have Indianapolis at New England, Cincinnati at Denver, Green Bay at San Francisco and Seattle at Atlanta the following weekend. That would provide for some nice drama and story sidebars all around. But let's let the Wild Card games play out first before we get that far.
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