NFL playoff predictions, round two: Home favorites sweep

Kevin Wandra's picture

The divisional round of the playoffs will be played this weekend, and eight teams are vying to inch closer to the Super Bowl. I had an OK week with my first-round picks, going .500. As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, .500 won’t cut it this week, especially since die-hard NFL fans throughout the country are impatiently waiting to read my wisdom (just kidding). Here are my predictions:

Seattle Seahawks (11-6) at Green Bay Packers (13-3)

The Packers, one of the NFL’s most storied franchises, are led by 38-year-old quarterback Brett Favre, who has proven this season that age hasn’t slowed him down. He enters the playoffs having thrown for 4,155 yards and 28 touchdowns, with a completion percentage of 66.5. Making Favre even more dangerous is the fact that he is complemented by a solid running game that features running back Ryan Grant, who turned in five 100-yard performances over the last 10 games of the regular season.

Favre, though, will be facing a Seattle defense that has been one of the best in the league at getting to the passer; Seattle was fourth in the NFL with 45 sacks, and defensive end Patrick Kerney had much to do with that, leading the team with 14.5, second-best in the league. And the Seahawks possess one of the league’s most opportunistic cornerbacks in Marcus Trufant, who has seven interceptions and returned one for a touchdown in Seattle’s win over Washington last week. Seattle’s defense could pose problems for Favre, who has thrown a whopping 14 interceptions in his last five playoffs games.

The deciding factor could be Seattle’s offense, particularly quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, Favre’s backup in Green Bay before being traded to the Seahawks. Seattle’s running game has been a disappointment; running back Shaun Alexander has had a down year, and the Seahawks have not had a runner hit the 100-yard mark since the third week of the season. Don’t expect Seattle’s running game to come alive in Green Bay; the Packers have not allowed a running back to rush for 100 yards at Lambeau Field all season. If Hasselbeck doesn’t carry Seattle’s offense, the Seahawks’ season will come to an end.

Another deciding factor is Green Bay’s home-field advantage. The Packers are 7-1 at Lambeau Field this season.

Winner: Packers

Jacksonville Jaguars (12-5) at New England Patriots (16-0)

Jacksonville-New England might be the most highly anticipated game of the playoffs thus far. The Jaguars play an old-school brand of football — power running game, tough, physical defense — but they are banged up on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Mike Peterson, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcus Stroud and safety Gerald Sensabaugh are out, and two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle John Henderson (hamstring) and rookie safety Reggie Nelson (thigh) are limping. Having that many key players out doesn’t bode well for Jacksonville’s defense against Tom Brady, Randy Moss and the rest of New England’s high-scoring offense.

Teams have been able to run on New England’s aging defense, and, fortunately for Jacksonville, its strength is its running game. Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew are a potent running back tandem who could bludgeon New England.

If New England stacks the line to stop Jacksonville’s rushing attack, first-year starting quarterback David Garrard will be forced to win the game for the Jaguars. Jacksonville is devoid of an elite receiver, so if Taylor and Jones-Drew don’t find running room, New England could easily turn the game into a blowout.

Jacksonville is a formidable opponent, but the Patriots are determined to advance another round and solidify their status as the greatest team in NFL history.

Winner: Patriots

San Diego Chargers (12-5) at Indianapolis Colts (13-3)

One of Indianapolis’ three losses this season came against — you guessed it — the Chargers. Granted, the Colts were dealing with numerous injuries at the time, but San Diego has enough talent on both sides of the ball to upset the Colts.

San Diego has some of the league’s best players on each level of its defense — defensive tackle Jamal Williams, linebackers Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips and cornerback Antonio Cromartie — to combat the Colts’ talent-laden offense. Earlier this season, in a 23-21 victory over the Colts, San Diego’s defense picked off Peyton Manning six times in one of the worst games of his career. Manning has probably studied film of that game for countless hours, so don’t look for him to make the same mistakes against San Diego’s defense.

One of the best match-ups will be Cromartie against Manning’s go-to receiver, Reggie Wayne, who is having the best season of his career. Wayne and running back Joseph Addai give Manning two of the best offensive weapons in the league.

Speaking of offensive weapons, Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson had a league-high 1,474 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns to go along with 60 receptions and 475 yards receiving in the regular season. San Diego will likely struggle unless Tomlinson has a big game. If the Colts bottle up Tomlinson, the pressure will be on quarterback Philip Rivers to lead San Diego’s offense against a Colts defense featuring recently named NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders, arguably the the league’s best safety. Rivers’ favorite target, tight end Antonio Gates, is battling a toe injury he suffered last week that might force him out of this week’s game. San Diego’s offense would be hindered significantly without Gates.

Winner: Colts

New York Giants (11-6) at Dallas Cowboys (13-3)

The team that has the best chance of pulling off an upset this weekend is the Giants. New York is 7-1 on the road, and it has won eight consecutive road games. And the Cowboys have a couple of issues: star wide receiver Terrell Owens is hobbling around on a sprained ankle and quarterback Tony Romo is dealing with accusations that he’s more focused on his new Barbie Doll girlfriend, Hollywood hottie Jessica Simpson, than football.

The Giants led the league in sacks. If their quarterback-hungry defensive line, led by defensive end tandem Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, can get to Romo, who has an injured thumb on his throwing hand, it could be the second straight year that the Cowboys go one-and-done in the playoffs.

Keep an eye on Cowboys hard-charging running back Marion Barber. He could be the difference-maker in what figures to be a close game between NFC East rivals.

The game, though, could come down one player: Giants quarterback Eli Manning. When Manning is on, the Giants can beat just about anyone. When the erratic Manning is having an off night, the Giants suffer tremendously. The Giants’ emerging running game has helped Manning, but the G-Men face a Cowboys defense that finished eighth in the league in rushing yards allowed per game.

An upset wouldn’t be surprising, but my gut tells me to go with Dallas.

Winner: Cowboys

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Submitted by McDonoughDawg on Fri, 01/11/2008 - 4:33pm.

Since they went to the current format, that's the number. It's a little higher in the Nfc and a little lower in the Afc. Now if I just could pick the one out of 4 this weekend... Smiling

I think the Chargers have the best chance of winning of the 4. Then Ny, then Seattle, and lastly Jax.

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