First, an update for anyone who was actually concerned about the friendly NCAA competition between me and Kevin. We both went 2-3 in last weekend's bowl games and thus were unable to break our virtual tie. As a result of Kevin being out of town all week and me being handcuffed to a cubicle for more hours than God (or Bog) ever intended, we've mutually decided to call it a tie for the NCAA season. Kevin ended up 41-32-2 and I ended up 40-31-4. So, without further ado, on to my favorite football weekend of the year - Wild Card Weekend. Home teams in CAPS.
New Orleans (-10) over SEATTLE
I cringe at the notion of laying this many points with the Saints going across two time zones to a loud Qwest Field in potentially adverse weather. However, what made me cringe even more was Pete Carroll and his smug postgame press conference (skip to the 4:00 mark) after the Seahawks beat the Rams to win the NFC West at 7-9. Pete, shut the hell up. Your team was one game better than the sad-sack Cowboys whose season ended on Oct. 25. Your team was 3 games worse than both the Giants and the Bucs, both of whom just so happened to plaster your team during the season. Your team does not deserve to be here, and if you had the chance you'd try to skip over to the Saints' sideline (just like you skipped out of USC) the second that Marques Colston or Robert Meachem catch their first 60-yard bomb of the day. I'm a bit concerned about the Saints' offense now that their two best power runners, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory, will miss the whole playoffs, but Reggie Bush and (can't believe I'm saying this) Julius Jones should be adequate for this week at least. A decent rule of thumb with playoff games is not to take the underdog if you don't think they have a chance to win outright. With that being said, give me the defending champs, 28-10.
INDIANAPOLIS (-2.5) over NY Jets
The rematch of last year's AFC Championship Game has a good chance to be the best game of the weekend. This would probably be a slam-dunk for Indy if their offense were fully equipped, but the absence of Dallas Clark and Austin Collie take away what would have been the bread-and-butter against the Jets defense, which is often overly aggressive in blitzing the passer but excels in covering the outer thirds of the field. The Jets should score 20-24 points here, and I have a gut feeling that Santonio Holmes will have about 125 yards and a touchdown or two, because once he's 20 yards downfield he shifts into a gear that few players have. I'm taking the Colts because of two men - one is obvious (Peyton Manning) and the other is almost obvious - Adam Vinatieri. In a game that figures to be close, give me the money kicker of the past decade over the human anxiety attack that wears #2 for the Jets. Nick Folk is at his worst when conditions are ideal - I can see him missing a field goal at some point in the dome in Indy and it having a huge impact on the late stages of the game. Colts, 27-21.
Baltimore (-3) over KANSAS CITY
It's been a great run for the Chiefs, but I think it ends here. The Ravens are too battle-tested not to win this game, and Kansas City's meal ticket of Cassel-to-Bowe doesn't look to operate quite as cleanly against the Baltimore secondary. Ed Reed, (WARNING: OBLIGATORY BALTIMORE/THE WIRE REFERENCE AHEAD) who for a while looked as gimpy as Omar Little toward the end of the show, has come back with 4 interceptions in the past two games and figures to wreak his havoc on this very young Chiefs offense. I know the Chiefs were great at home this year, but this Baltimore team is playing its 6th road playoff game in the past 24 months (versus zero home games) and should show everyone why they were 12-4. Ravens, 23-14.
Green Bay (+3) over PHILADELPHIA
The featured game on Sunday can be dubbed the We Don't Run the Ball Bowl in light of the play-selecting tendencies of these teams. We all know about Michael Vick's health status and the fact that of the past 180 minutes of football the Eagles have played, 8 were legendary and 172 were, well, not legendary. The Packers' ability to rush Vick is obviously a key factor, but equally as important will be how Charles Woodson fares with DeSean Jackson. If you take the big play away from the Eagles, the Delaware Valley ends up seeing a lot more of Sav Rocca on the field than they'd like to. On the other side of the ball, Greg Jennings presents huge matchup problems once he can get the ball in his hands, because we all know Asanté Samuel isn't tackling him in the open field. And if the Eagles roll a safety over to Jennings' side as much as they may need to, well, Donald Driver and James Jones aren't exactly slouches either. Packers, 31-24.
Last Week: 2-3-0
Regular Season: 42-41-2 (sigh of relief)