THE COUNTDOWN TO the Super Bowl begins in earnest with the first round of the NFL playoffs but, for a number of reasons, we’re in for a Wild Card Weekend unlike any we’ve experienced before.
As regular readers will know, this column has the misfortune of being an Oakland Raiders fan. One of the most famous NFL playoff games took place between the Raiders and the New England Patriots in 2002.
That game broke this column’s heart for a number of reasons, including one of the most horrendous officiating decisions you’ll ever see (and yes, some of that link may not be actual game footage).
However, what really hurt was, despite dominating the game, the Raiders crashed out of the playoffs because they lost the coin toss to get the ball in overtime before the Patriots kicked a long-range field goal to end the game.
That won’t happen this year. The new rules, bizarrely introduced only for the playoffs, mean that if a team kicks a field goal in overtime, the opposition will get one more possession and a chance to score. Essentially, the new rule means the first team to score a touchdown wins.
What’s also different about this Wild Card Weekend is that there’s only one game where the winner is obvious.
AFC Wild Card games:
A rematch of last season’s AFC Championship game, neither team comes in to the playoffs with much hope of representing their conference in the Super Bowl.
The Colts are slight favourites thanks to home-field advantage and Peyton Manning. While the QB hasn’t had the greatest 2010, he’s still capable of putting in a performance when the pressure is on.
The Jets, meanwhile, will take heart from the fact they’ve won three of their last four meetings with the Colts and that QB Mark Sanchez looks to have made a full recovery from his shoulder injury.
Result: The Colts won four on the spin to qualify for the playoffs while the Jets have stuttered to three losses in five. Expect the Colts to win by six-10 points.
Depending on which pundit you listen to, the Ravens are the most under/overrated team in the NFL. This column comes from the latter school of thought.
As good as the Ravens defence is; Joe Flacco is not a great QB. Indeed, in five playoff games, Flacco has thrown just one touchdown pass in 120 attempts.
Luckily for the Ravens, the Chiefs go into the playoffs with a QB who has never thrown a pass in the postseason before. Matt Cassel does, however, have Dwayne Bowe – who led the league in receiving touchdowns with 15 – to aim at and that might make the difference.
Result: This could go either way and will probably be the lowest scoring game of the weekend. Only because I have to pick a winner, I’m going for the Ravens by three-six points.
NFC Wild Card games:
What is almost certain to be the most exciting game of the weekend is definitely the most intriguing.
Over the last few weekends of the season it appeared as if defences had worked out how to beat the Eagles; blitz, blitz, blitz. If the Packers, especially Charles Woodson, can get to Vick, they will win this game.
However, knowing that you have to get to Vick and actually getting to him are very different things. Vick and the Eagles’ Offensive Line know the Packers will probably blitz 33% of the time so must capitalise on the other 66% of plays.
Result: This game probably comes a year too early for the ever-improving Packers. The Eagles could go all the way this season so will win this match-up by more than a touchdown.
Result: There’s no need to preview this one. If the Saints don’t win comfortably I’ll buy, season and then eat my hat come Monday morning.
Steven O’Rourke is the offensive coordinator of Tullamore Phoenix American Football Club. When not obsessing with football he can be found at 4fortyfour.