While this one looks like it should be an easy win for the Bears, that is what everyone said last week when the huge underdog Seahawks tackled the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints, winning by a 41-36 count.
Also, the Hawks defeated the Bears 23-20 back in October at Soldier Field. So anything is possible in this contest. Another advantage for Seattle is having a veteran quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck, who has also appeared in a Super Bowl. The Bears will have Jay Cutler behind center, who will be making his playoff debut. But the Bears have one of the best defences in football, while the Seahawks struggle against both the run and the pass, so this game could be a close win for the Bears or Seahawks, or a blowout for Chicago. Just don’t see a big Seattle win.
Seattle Seahawks (8-9) @ Chicago Bears (11-5)
The Atlanta Falcons edged the Green Bay Packers 20-17 at the Georgia Dome back in Week 12, but it was a game that the Packers gave notice they have a great chance of winning this game, even though they struggled with the running game on both sides of the ball. The Pack didn’t sustain much of a ground game back in this November game, while also struggling to contain the Falcons power running game, led by Michael Turner.
But the Packers are on a roll, led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is considered one of the best QBs in the game today. And Green Bay’s run defence has shown a marked improvement over the past few weeks and last week held the NFLs best run offence in check while gutting out a big win over the Philadelphia Eagles. But the Falcons also have a top, young QB in the tall, strong-armed Matt Ryan, and own the second best record in the NFL at 13-3, including 7-1 at home.
Green Bay Packers (11-6) @ Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
This game IS going to be close. They always are, and this season, the Ravens lost all four games by a combined 16 points. The Ravens and the Steelers are mirror images of one another: both have tall, strong armed quarterbacks (Steelers have Roethlisberger and the Ravens have Flacco); both have all-world defences led by all-pro safeties (Steelers with Troy Polamalu and the Ravens with Ed Reed), both have strong running games, but the ability to go vertical with the passing game if needed. It’s scary how close these two teams are.
So in the final analysis, turnovers and one or two big plays are all that separates each of these teams from going to the AFC Championship game.
Baltimore Ravens (13-4) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
Green Bay Packers @ Philadelphia Eagles NFC Wildcard Sunday: Make no doubt about it, this game boils down to one position: the quarterback. Both teams have high octane QBs, with the Packers led by big-armed Aaron Rodgers and the Eagles by the fleet-footed Michael Vick. Rodgers is as good as it gets at the pivot position, with only Peyton Manning and Tom Brady as his peers. However, Vick is such a wild card in this game, and is arguably the best athlete at the most important position in the game. He has rounded into a very accurate thrower and can take off and run for a first down in a blink of an eye, so the Packers top-ranked defense, led by Linebacker Clay Matthews, will not be able to just pin its ears back and attack.
On offence, the Packers have a throw-first mentality, and not many do it better than Rodgers, who tossed 28 touchdowns this year. In the only meeting between the two teams this year, the Pack won 27-20 in Philadelphia. However, Kevin Kolb started that game and struggled, as the Packers jumped out to a 20-3 lead. With Vick under the centre, the Eagles fought back and almost tied the game with the ball on the Green Bay half of the field in the final minute, but failed to convert on 4th and 1.
But ultimately, the whole game should boil down to Vick. If he is able to move around the pocket, buy some time, make a few first downs, and consistently hit his receivers down the field, it will make for a long day for the Green Bay defenders. This is something Vick has shown he can do. However, if Vick is static in the pocket, and is erratic with his throws, then the Pack will move on.
Baltimore Ravens @ Kansas City Chiefs AFC Wildcard Sunday: The Chiefs head into this game as home underdogs, having gone from a 4-win team to hosting a playoff game. They are solid on both sides of the ball, but great nowhere. Much of the credit has to go to Quarterback Matt Cassell, who threw for over 3,000 yards and 27 touchdowns, yet gave up only seven interceptions. The KC defence was good, but not great, finishing 14th overall. But they are facing a very good, playoff hardened Baltimore team.
The Ravens are led by all-world middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who continues to be one of the top defensive players in the NFL today. He will have to be on his game, as the Chiefs had the NFL’s number-1 ranked rushing attack, which will help keep the pass rush off of Cassel.
Baltimore is led by the two-pronged attack of running back Ray Rice and quarterback Joe Flacco. The Ravens should be able to have success running the ball, and that could open up some play action throws for Flacco down the field.
As long as the Chiefs stay away from turnovers, and can limit the amount of yards that Rice and the Ravens rushing attack gain on first down, this game should be very close and come down to who executes best in the fourth quarter.
New York Jets @ Indianapolis Colts NFL Wildcard Matchup: This game is a re-match of last year’s AFC Championship game, where the Colts edged the Jets to gain entrance to the Super Bowl. However, that is where similarities end. The Colts are entering this year’s game with a ton of question marks, having a dozen players out of the lineup with various injuries, including core players such as Dallas Clark, Austin Collie, Anthony Gonzalez and Bob Sanders. But they do have all-world quarterback Peyton Manning, and that along with home field advantage just might be enough to handle the visitors from New York.
The Jets are again led by a tough defence and a great running attack, and 2nd year QB Mark Sanchez, who has been given a greater role in the offence with an expanded playbook. However, the Jets have slumped down the stretch heading into the playoffs, while the Colts enter the post season having won four in a row, all with playoff-like implications. It’s close to a pick’em game, with the Colts slim 3-point favorites.
New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks Wildcard Weekend Game: The Seattle Seahawks play host to this weekend’s initial Wild Card Weekend NFL playoff game with the ugly tag of having the worst record ever, as it hosts the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints.
In most people’s eyes, this game should just be mailed in, and the bookmakers agree, making the Drew Brees-led Saints an 11-point road favorite, which is simply unheard of in the bookmaking realm. Why is this?
One of the biggest reasons is the Quarterback position, as no one seems to know which QB is going to start. Is it the incumbent started, Matt Hasselbeck, or is it going to be Charlie Whitehurst, who guided the Seahawks to last weekend’s big win over the visiting St. Louis Rams to capture the NFC West title. If Hasselbeck is healthy, it gives Seattle a big boost, but if the Hawks have to go with Whitehurst, the team’s prospects look bleak.
We are also talking about the defending Super Bowl champs, who have Drew Brees leading the way at QB. However, the Saints have lost two of its last three games. Also, the Seahawks were 5-3 at home this year, and Qwest Field remains one of the toughest places for a visiting team to play. Also, the Saints have never won a road playoff game. Is this the year it begins?