Saturday, January 07, 2006


NFL Predictions

I know, I know.....NL Central and West off-season transaction reviews are coming. But the playoffs are here in the NFL and I just felt I HAD to do a little preview. Since getting involved in a couple of pick 'em pools over the past couple of years (and doing better than CNN-SI's Peter King), I have really started to closely follow the NFL and this year's playoffs are very intriguing. So let's look at the games of wild-card weekend:

Washington at Tampa Bay: The game widely considered to be, potentially, the best of the weekend is first up (4:30 today). Last time these two teams met, Chris Simms announced his presence to the NFL world by leading the Bucs on a last-minute TD drive to stun the Redskins 36-35. This week's game will not be like that. First, I think Jon Gruden will try to keep Simms from going to the air too much to keep his playoff jitters from being a factor. That means lots of Rookie of the Year Cadillac Williams and his running mates Mike Pittman and Mike Alstott. That equals long drives that eat clock. Washington will also be forced to try long, slow drives too, but for a different reason. Clinton Portis looked pretty worn out at the end of last week's must-win against Philly. If he's worn down, Joe Gibbs will need to limit his carries. If so, that means more Ledell Betts and, maybe, the return of Rock Cartwright. Mark Brunell's knee is still iffy, so he'll have to limit his time in the pocket against the ferocious Tampa rush, meaning short passess and a lot of underneath routes. Hello, Chris Cooley, get ready for the game of your life. Both teams' defenses will likely put 7 or 8 defenders in the box to plug up the run and dare the other team to win through the air. I see a low scoring game, a couple of key mistakes by rookies Simms and Williams and a heroic effort from vet Clinton Portis. 17-14 Washington.

Jacksonville at New England: Man, could Jacksonville have gotten a worse draw? The two-time defending champs (on a major roll), at New England, AT NIGHT. It's going to be freakin' freezing out there, probably snowy too. Anybody who thinks the warm-weather Jags have a chance in this, raise your hand...


Thought so. New England wins going away. New England 24-10.

Carolina at N.Y. Giants: Here's the interesting game of the week. By all rights, Carolina should have won the NFC South this year and be the prohibitive favourite to represent the NFC at the Super Bowl. A vicious, swarming defense and a good passing offense bolstered by a great running game should have been enough. Instead, the Panthers will have to be the first team ever to win three road games in the playoffs to achieve their pre-season destiny. That actually my be good, since the last two home games the Panthers had were both losses. Losses that put them on the road as an 11-5 wild card rather than at home as 13-3 division champs. The Panthers will throw absolutely everything at Tiki Barber this weekend and make the Giants win through the air, where Eli Manning has been wildly inconsistent. Add to that the fact that one of Manning's favorite targets, tight end Jeremy Shockey, is hurting, and it's a long road for the home team. Carolina 20-14

Pittsburgh at Cinicinnati: At 4:30 Sunday afternoon, this game kicks off. Everyone else loves Washington - T-Bay, this is my pick for game of the week. Pittsburgh won the first meeting in Week 7, 27-13, while the Bengals won the Week 13 rematch, 38-31. The question here is which set of skill players (Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, Jerome Bettis, Willie Parker and Hines Ward or Cinicinnati's Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Rudi Johnson) will be able to execute their game plan better? Pittsburgh's defense took some sort of a holiday through the middle part of the season, before returning for weeks 14-16, allowing a total of 12 points to the Bears, Browns and Vikings. However, giving up 21 to the weak Lions last week should give pause. Pittsburgh's secondary can be had, as Palmer proved in Week 13. The atmosphere In Cincy this weekend should be bordering on riotous, and I think the kids are going to use a fast-attack game to keep the Steelers on their heels and force them to play catch-up. The Steelers need to be able to execute their run-oriented, ball-control offense that eats up the clock. If the Bengal defense can hold the runners and the offense ring up early points, Big Ben will have to step up and the Steelers almost never win shootouts. Says here they won't this weekend, either. Bengals 31-27

Back next week with the Conference Semi-Finals.