Silver Chips Online

NFL Wild Card predictions

A wild, wild weekend in the land of football

By Abe Schwadron, Online Managing Editor, Phillip Allen, Online Managing Sports Editor and Pia Nargundkar, Online Editor-in-Chief
January 6, 2007
Wild-card weekend is in full effect, and although the Redskins couldn't make it this year, there are still four intriguing matchups to look forward to. Oh, and in case you were wondering, Pia held on to take the top spot in this year's NFL picks.

Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts
Saturday, January 6, 2007 4:30 p.m. on NBC

The Word: The Chiefs, after sneaking into the postseason as the 6th seed, head to the RCA dome where the Colts had their first perfect season at home in 48 years.

Offense: The opposing squads' attacking philosophies couldn't be more different. The Colts set the tempo with a mid-range passing game led by Peyton Manning that looks to go over top first but settles for mediocre gains. This opens up the lanes in the defense for running backs Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes who split carries. Their best chance against the chiefs will be with the play action fake opening the gap between the safeties. The Chiefs on the other hand pound the ball down their opponents' throats with star back Larry Johnson, a fact attested to by the NFL record 416 carries he has racked up this season. When effective, this system forces 9 defenders into the box leaving corners and safeties one on one with TE Tony Gonzalez and WR Eddie Kennison.

Advantage: Even

Defense: The Chiefs' defense hasn't been very good all year, giving up only 3 less touchdowns than their offense scored. While they have given up 4.2 yards a carry and had trouble stopping the short passes, their troubles pale in comparison to the Colts D. Indy has given up over 2000 yards rushing this season with more than 170 per game in the last five games and an average of 5.3 yard per carry. Facing the best back in the league, other than of course the MVP, this could be painful.

Advantage: Chiefs

Player to Watch: Cato June, LB, Colts Larry Johnson will get his carries and almost assuredly go over 100 yards for a few scores. With that out of the way one thing that could make or break the Colts chances is how well linebacker Cato June fills the gaps and prevents LJ from getting to the next level. His performance may decide the game.

Bottom Line: It will turn out to be a great game with both teams scoring upwards of 20 points. The pounding of Johnson and the Chiefs O-line will wear down the small frontline of the Colts, eventually taking control of the games time of possession. By keeping the ball out of Manning's hands the Chiefs will be victorious.

Prediction: Chiefs 37, Colts 24


Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks
Saturday, January 6, 2007 - 8:00 p.m. on NBC

The Word: Both these teams slid rather disappointingly into the playoffs as Seattle struggled with key injuries and Dallas fell apart after an unexpected midseason surge.

Offense: When it comes to running, neither team should do it. The Cowboys' Julius Jones averaged 67.8 yards per game this season with a total of four touchdowns. Backup Marion Barber III can get touchdowns he's had 14 this season but can only help when Dallas is in the red zone. So, what do they do to get there? Pass, pass, pass. When you have a coach like Bill Parcels, who has brought three separate teams to the playoffs, he manages to make something work. In week eight, he replaced starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe with the then-obscure backup, Tony Romo. Romo led the Cowboys to a 4-1 record in his first five stats with 1,000-plus passing yards and ten touchdowns. It looked like Parcels had worked his magic again, until the Cowboys fell apart in the next five. While Dallas turned to their backup by choice, last year's NFC Champion Seahawks were left flailing as both their starting quarterback and MVP running back were out with injuries. Now that he's back though, Alexander isn't helping much. With an average of just 3.6 yards per carry, seven touchdowns and three fumbles, he has made a quick fall from grace. Despite being out for four games, Seattle QB Matt Hasselback still managed to amass 2,442 passing yards and 18 touchdowns. However his unpredictability (ex. a career high 15 touchdowns this season) can pose a problem for Seattle's hopes.

Advantage: Dallas

Defense: Neither team is spectacular on defense, but it's quite evident that Dallas's D has been struggling lately. In the last four games of the season, the Cowboys defense gave up 132 points, equal to the amount of the previous eight games. Losing LB Greg Ellis was a major blow to the Cowboy's pass rush and was only compounded by mediocre performances from the cornerbacks. The Seahawks secondary haven't been all that successful either, and have been a little out of sync all season. Still, the Seahawks look like they have more of a chance of pulling their D together than the Cowboys, who after all, let the Detroit Lions score 39 points last week.

Advantage: Seattle

Player to Watch: Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys It's all on Tony Romo for the Cowboys. T.O, schme-o, he can't catch balls if Romo doesn't throw them. And with all the talk about Jessica Simpson this and Carrie Underwood that, Romo better hope he puts his "overconfidence" and relationships aside, and play some good football if he wants to take the Cowboys far.

Bottom Line: It'll be a close one, but Dallas will ultimately come away with the win and a trip to the divisional playoff round. The Seahawks are too inconsistent, injured or incompatible to work together for a win.

Prediction: Cowboys 24, Seahawks 16


New York Jets at New England Patriots
Sunday, January 7, 2007 1 p.m. on CBS

The Word: The playoff-savvy Patriots won six of their last seven games heading into the playoffs, while the Jets and comeback player of the year Chad Pennington flew under the radar all year to win 10 games.

Offense: The Jets' attack is a balanced one, utilizing the abilities of every player to their full potential. Rookie running back Leon Washington (650 rushing yards, 4 TDs in the regular season) is a burner with the ball in his hands, and can be deadly on screen passes. Pennington has had more trouble than ever taking care of the ball this year, tossing only 17 TDs and 16 interceptions. But Pennington has a knack for putting his receivers in position to make plays, and with Laveranues Coles on one side and the emergence of Jerricho Cotchery on the other, the Jets have down-field threats.

When Deion Branch held out at the beginning of the year and ended up being dealt to the Seahawks, critics said Tom Brady had no quality receivers to throw to and therefore the Pats' O would suffer. Instead, Brady got creative, throwing touchdown passes to eleven different receivers in the regular season, his favorite targets being veterans Reche Caldwell (61 receptions, 760 yards and 4 TDs) and Troy Brown (43 receptions, 384 yards and 4 TDs), who also played nickel cornerback for the Pats, as well as young stud TE Benjamin Watson (49 receptions, 643 yards and 3 TDs). But the Pats' real success has come on the ground, with the two-headed monster attack of running backs Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney. The pair combined for 1,557 yards and 19 touchdowns in the regular season.

Advantage: New England

Defense: New York's defense gives up more than 130 rush yards per game and more than 330 total, which ranks in the bottom third of NFL teams, but the Jets give up just 18.4 points per game, good for sixth in the league. The catalyst on defense for the Jets is middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who led the team with 115 tackles in the regular season. But the Jets' defensive line has lacked push this year in the absence of departed defensive end John Abraham.

New England, on the other hand, has the NFL's sixth-ranked defense and is giving up just 14.8 points per game to their opponents', second in the NFL. The Pats have held opponents to under 100 yards rushing per game, and their secondary has held up despite thin depth; corner Assante Samuel has intercepted 10 passes this year. New England's defense is often overlooked because of their glorious offense, but the Pats D has been stingy all year and kept the team in close ballgames. The only concern for New England heading into their wild-card matchup is the presumed absence of safety Rodney Harrison.

Advantage: New England

Player to Watch: Laurence Maroney, RB, Patriots Whether he's returning kicks, taking handoffs or catching passes in the flats, Maroney has the ability to score at any time from anywhere on the field. His shifty running style is a contrast to Dillon's downhill running, and the Pats will be sure to work him into their gameplan.

Bottom Line: The Jets have had a fantastic season, but the Patriots become a whole different team in the postseason, when coach Bill Belichick and golden boy Tom Brady become an unstoppable combo, especially at home against a team they've played twice already.

Prediction: Patriots 21, Jets 10


New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
Sunday, January 7, 2007 4:30 p.m. on FOX

The Word: Jeff Garcia leads the Eagles, the NFL's hottest team, into the playoffs to face Tiki Barber and the Giants in what could be Barber's final game.

Offense: Philadelphia comes into this game firing on all cylinders, having won their last five games. Jeff Garcia has revitalized his career this season, following Donovan McNabb's regrettable knee injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Garcia has done more than an adequate job, orchestrating drives, getting the ball to his playmakers, and being a team leader. Brian Westbrook looks to build off of his best season in the NFL which saw him rush for 1,217 yards and receive for 699 yards. As the NFL's premier combo back (excluding perhaps that LT guy), Westbrook could cause some major problems for the Giants.

On the other sideline, the Giants offense comes in looking a little vulnerable. Eli Manning has had a horrific second half of the season, causing some whispers that he may be a draft bust already. He'll need Tiki Barber to have one of his better games for the offense to really click and give Manning some time. He killed the Redskins in the last regular season game, clearly proving that he's prepared to postpone his career as a newcaster if it means the Giants win in the playoffs. The Giants need him to step up and help them control the clock. New York may look for the big play early, and that means that Plaxico Burress may get called on. He needs to be ready to contribute whenever his number is called.

Advantage: Eagles

Defense: Even without Jevon Kearse, the Eagles have been playing stout defense as of late. During their five game winning streak, they have not given up more than 24 points in a single game, even holding a potent Dallas offense to a measly seven points. They play the run extremely well, and defensive coordinator Jim Johnson loves to pressure the quarterback. With big games from Brian Dawkins and Jeremiah Trotter, the Eagles can surely frustrate an easily flappable Eli Manning.

The Giants defense is injury plagued, and very banged up. Michael Strahan is out with a frustrating foot injury, and Osi Umenyiora has not been the same player since he returned in week 14 from his hip injury. The Giants will count on a standout performance from middle linebacker Antonio Pierce if they want to have any chance in shutting down Brian Westbrook.

Advantage: Eagles

Player to Watch: Brian Dawkins, FS, Eagles The catalyst of one of the hottest defenses in the league, Dawkins has a knack for playing well in big games. He'll look to pressure Eli Manning , and make it harder to complete his passes in the secondary.

Bottom Line: The Eagles are playing too well right now. This is a case of two teams going in different directions. The Giants have been falling since the middle of the season, and the Eagles have been getting better every week. Jeff Garcia seems like he can lead scoring drives at any time, and I don't think the Giants can keep pace with the Eagles.

Prediction: Eagles 27, Giants 17

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