Wild Card Weekend!!!

Today marks the beginning of a weekend of Wild Card matchups.  At 4:30 pm ET, the New Orleans Saints visit the Seattle Seahawks.  Later, the New York Jets meet the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC Wild Card night game (8 pm ET).  Tomorrow, the Baltimore Ravens take on the Kansas City Chiefs at 1.  But in our opinion, the most exciting matchup of the weekend takes place tomorrow at 4:30 when the Green Bay Packers travel to Philly to face the Eagles.  We will look at Sunday’s matchups later, but for now here’s our take on today’s games. 

NFC Wild Card Game- Saints vs. Seahawks

The 5th seeded, 11-5 Saints enter the game as defending Super Bowl champions.  The Seahawks have a losing record (7-9), but having won the weak and pitiful NFC West, are the fourth seed and earned home field advantage.  It is the first time that an NFL team with a losing record enters the post-season. The two teams played each other in Week 11, with the Saints winning 34-19. 

Much attention has been focused on how the Saints’ two leading rushers will be missing due to injury. It will be up to Reggie Bush and Julius Jones to step up (literally) and get a running game established.  While the running game may be diminished, there are plenty of other offensive weapons for Drew Brees to work with.  This season, the Super Bowl MVP has thrown for even more yards than last year.  Although Brees has more than twice the interceptions he had a year ago, we think wide receiver Marques Colston will make some big plays and help the Saints earn a victory. 

The Saints have a 0-3 record in playoff games when the game is played on their opponent’s home field, while the Seahawks hold a 4-0 record in the post-season for games played at home.  While these are interesting facts, it is unlikely to impact the game.  The Saints should easily dominate this game.

AFC Wild Card Game – Jets vs. Colts

Last year the two teams played each other in the AFC Championship game, with the Colts winning 30-17.  Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan made it clear this week that today’s game against the Colts is personal, especially with Peyton Manning.  The outspoken coach seemed bothered that so much was written this week about how Manning has dominated him over the years.  Ryan said,

I’m not the only coordinator or person that Peyton has ever destroyed.  I think it’s written that I’m his punching bag. Mine at least has some arms on it. Some of these other guys he plays, don’t have any arms on them. I plan on swinging back. We’ll see how that works out this week.

Today’s meeting features two very different teams than last year’s AFC Championship game.  The Colts roster is missing some of its most talented names who were key to last year’s victory.  TE Dallas Clark and WR Miles Austin, two of Manning’s “go to” guys, are on injured reserve.   

Meanwhile, the Jets have added new players and appear to have more offensive talent than last year’s team. WR Santonio Holmes was not on the Jets last year and will be a critical factor in a Jets victory.   Holmes caught the game winning TD in Super Bowl XLIII and was named Super Bowl MVP.  Clearly, he is capable of making a clutch play when it is most needed.  If Mark Sanchez does not have any issues with his sore throwing shoulder, look for some big plays between the QB and Holmes.

The Jets defense appears to be less strong than last year’s team.  Jets starting safety Jim Leonhard is injured, leaving corner backs Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie to handle the Colts’ remaining receiving corps – Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon and Jacob Tamme.  Revis and Cromartie will pose a threat to Manning’s outside passing game, but throwing down the middle of the field could prove to be a real problem for the Jets defense with Leonhard missing.  Jacob Tamme may be Manning’s main target today and may be one of the keys to a Colts’ win.

The bad news this season has been the Colts weak run defense, ranked 25th in the NFL.  The last four weeks, however, the Colts have shown an ability to contain some big name running backs.  It will be interesting to see if they can continue that momentum.  Jets RB Shonn Greene will likely get most of the carries today.  As Greene pounds away for yardage, the Jets will be able to control the time of possession, thereby keeping Manning off the field. 

Controlling the clock may be the only true way to stop Manning.  This week, however, when asked how Manning can be stopped, Jets Coach Rex Ryan said, “Maybe hit him in the head real hard. That could be one way. We haven’t tried that yet.”  One thing is for certain – Rex Ryan sure likes to talk.  He has talked about winning the Super Bowl this year, long before the season even started.  This week, he talked at length about Manning and the Colts.  Today will determine if he and his Jets are able to back up their off the field “tough talk” with their on field play.

 With a multitude of Indy injuries in the receiving corps and a struggling running game, Manning undoubtedly has carried the fate of the Colts on his shoulders all season.  Today, he again holds the key to their destiny.  If Jets Coach Rex Ryan believes his brash personal comments targeting Manning will intimidate him, he is foolish. 

The Jets may actually have more talent than the Colts in this year’s contest.  But Peyton Manning is simply a master of the game.  Even with his depleted roster, Manning once again found a way to make it into the playoffs.  He passed for 4700 yards this season – a career high.  In the end, Manning’s unparalleled determination and ability to tear apart opposing defenses will prove to be too much for Ryan and the Jets, no matter how much tough talk they engage in.

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