Who'll make it to the next round?
The wild card round is here and the hometown Washington Redskins are finally back into the playoffs. With intriguing matchups including former Super Bowl champions and rabid fans, Silver Chips Online and their crack team of football experts breaks it all down...
The Word: The Redskins come into the game riding a red-hot five game winning streak and looking for revenge against a Tampa Bay team that beat them on a controversial two-point conversion in Week 10.
Offense: All season long, the Redskins have relied on veteran QB Mark Brunell, RB Clinton Portis, WR Santana Moss and H-back Chris Cooley for all of their offensive production. The Buccaneers have relied on a similar contribution from OB Chris Simms, RB Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and WR Joey Galloway. Both teams will try and establish the run early on to set up the play-action pass and to slow down the aggressive defenses of both teams. Unfortunately for the Bucs, the Redskins are simply more dominant on the line of scrimmage, which should give them the advantage in the running game. Also, Brunell is a veteran with eight playoff starts, whereas Simms is making his playoff debut. Brunell's experience should prove to be a huge advantage today.
Defense: Both defenses are great, but frankly, the Redskins are playing shorthanded with their best corner Shawn Springs out for the game. Tampa Bay, while not playing up to their Super Bowl winning 2000 defense, is still number one in the NFL. With a great defensive line and a secondary that can shut down almost any passing attack, the Buccaneers have an advantage here.
Player to Watch: Clinton Portis, RB Washington Coach Janky Spanky has been tearing up defenses during the five game winning streak, averaging over 100 yards and enabling the Redskins to control the flow of the game. If the Tampa Bay defense caves in and allows anything near the 144 yards they allowed in Week 10, you can almost guarantee a 'Skins victory. On the other hand, if they manage to stop him and put the onus on Mark Brunell and the passing attack, it could be one and done for Washington.
Bottom Line: The Redskins are simply not going to let this one slip away. The whole team realizes that they probably should have won the game against Tampa back in the regular season. With their unstoppable running attack and opportunistic defense, the Redskins should be able to pull out a win.
Prediction: Redskins 27, Buccaneers 10
Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots
Saturday, January 7, 2006 - 8:00 p.m. on ABC
The Word: Last year's Super Bowl champions take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in Foxboro.
Offense: For New England, the one constant has been Tom Brady. Even with a slew of injuries to his offensive line, mediocre production from his running game and no "stars" at wide receiver, Brady has kept the offensive production in high gear. The Jaguars, after losing Byron Leftwich late in the regular season, turned to backup David Gerrard to steer them into the playoffs. Leftwich will be back for today's game and he will be throwing to talented wide receiver Jimmy Smith, who can still create separation at the age of 36, and electrifying rookie Matt Jones who has been a great deep threat for the Jaguars all year long.
Defense: Both defenses are uniquely talented: aggressive, fast and hard-hitting squads that dictate what the offense will do. The Jaguars haven't suffered many injuries throughout the year, whereas the Patriots have been a couple of injuries in the secondary away from entering the Guinness Book of World Records as the first team to have a fan plucked from the stadium play in the game. It's been ridiculous how many players have been on the injured list for the Patriot's defense this year. Unfortunately for the Jaguars though, they all seem to have gotten healthy just in time for the playoffs. Besides, Bill Belichick is a defensive mastermind.
Player to Watch: Fred Taylor, RB Jacksonville If Taylor can get going and give the Jaguars a consistent running game, it will open things up for Byron Leftwich and make Belichick hesitant to blitz the flat-footed quarterback.
Bottom Line: The Patriots are simply too good and too well coached to lose this game. Besides, Tom Brady is 9-0 in the playoffs. How can you bet against him? Expect an Adam Vinatieri field goal to be the difference here.
Prediction: Patriots 24, Jaguars 21.
Carolina Panthers at New York Giants
Sunday, January 8, 2006 - 1:00 p.m. on FOX
The Word: The Panthers needed a win on the last day of the season to make it here, but they pose a legitimate threat to the Giants.
Offense: Led by the three-headed monster of Eli Manning, Plaxico Burress and the new-and-improved Tiki Barber, the Giants offense has been cruising as of late. Barber, who closed the season with three straight 200-yard games, was the catalyst of the offense towards the end of the year; setting up the pass and keeping defenses honest on the ground. On the other side, the Panthers have some firepower too. In his first year back after breaking his leg in the opening game last year, Smith was arguably the league's best wideout. He led the NFL in receiving yards, catching 103 passes for 1,563 yards and 22 touchdowns on the year. His speed and quickness has torched defenses all year.
Defense: With an up-and-coming defensive end in Osi Umenyiora opposite Michael Strahan, the Giants have one of the best defensive lines in all of football. Umenyiora was second in the NFL in sacks with 14.5 on the year, and could cause trouble for Jake Delhomme and the Panthers' offensive line. Antonio Pierce leads the linebacking corps, and if he's healthy he will be a force. The Carolina Panthers also have a formidable defensive front, led by possibly the most athletic defensive end in the league, Julius Peppers. He finished the season with 10.5 sacks, which isn't bad for someone who was facing double-teams every play all year. In the secondary, Chris Gamble, the second year cornerback out of Ohio State leads the team with seven interceptions, including one for a touchdown.
Player to Watch: DeShaun Foster, RB Carolina If Foster gets going, and can run the ball well for the Panthers, they have a shot at knocking of the NFC east champs. If he doesn't, the Panthers will have to use their Steve Smith offense the whole game.
Bottom Line: The Giants offense is too balanced, the Panthers will have a hard time stopping Burress and Barber.
Prediction: Giants 30, Panthers 17
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, January 8, 2006 - 4:30 p.m. on CBS
The Word: Two AFC conference rivals face off in their third meeting this year after splitting the first two games. The two teams have distinct philosophies on offense: the Bengals are designed to overwhelm teams with a quick scoring offense and the Steelers try to play smashmouth old school football.
Offense: Carson Palmer has really emerged this year as a top shelf quarterback, throwing a team record 32 touchdowns, with the help of a patient Marvin Lewis at head coach and two amazing wide out targets. Though they aren't quite the Colts offensively, their passing game comes in a close second. Chad Johnson is the explosive number one receiver every champion needs to have, who can not only beat defense on the field but also add insult to injury with the finest touchdown celebrations the NFL has to offer. Setting up alongside him is underrated possession receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh who won't be burning defense like Johnson but will never drop the first down pass. These two combined for over 2300 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns with third receiver, Chris Henry adding six more scores. This airborne offense is balanced with running back Rudi Johnson whose tough inside running still yielded 1458 rushing yards and 4.3 yards per carry average. The Steelers offense relies much more on their bruising running game. When Jerome "The Bus" Bettis isn't carrying the rock, the Steelers rely on the running of Willie Parker who, while obtaining over 1200 yards this season, has only four touchdowns. Second year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger leads the Steelers passing attack. When the running game keeps the pressure off of him, he is one of the best field generals in the league, but under pressure, he is forced into costly mistakes. For a rookie starter who hadn't lost a regular season game till his sophomore year, it is surprising to find that in games he has thrown over 15 passes he is only 2-5. If the game comes down to Big Ben, Cincinnati should have the advantage on offense.
Defense: The defensive side of the ball is a completely different story. When Carson Palmer and the offense are watching from the sideline it is indeed a painful sight for Bengals fans. After losing both safeties early in the season they have not been able to prevent big plays because of missed tackles, blown assignments and poor pursuit angles allowing teams to score 39 touchdowns and amassing 348 points giving them a 28th ranked defense, worst of any playoff team, although they have produced over 50 turnovers to lead the league in turnover ratio. This combination of giving up tons of points but getting the ball back has worked so far, but is a far cry from the capabilities of a defense like the Steelers. The Steelers are marked by hard-nosed, stingy defense that draws images of opposition quarterbacks being pounded into the frozen earth. At Paul Brown stadium, the frozen tundra will be a perfect stage for this single minded defense to get to work. With a fourth ranked defense that only allowed two hundred yard rushers and an average of 198 passing yards, it will be an interesting match up with an offense that averages both over 100 yards on the ground and 240 in the air.
Players to Watch: Chad and Rudi Johnson, WR/RB Cincinnati The Johnson's make or break the Bengals offense. If they come out sharp, the ball will move fluidly through the air and on the ground, but if Chad starts dropping passes like on Christmas eve versus the Bills and Rudi starts to cough up the ball, this will quickly become a disappointing game for the Bengals.
Deltha O'Neal, CB Cincinnati On defense, the team leader in interceptions Deltha O'Neal will be looking to get the ball back to his offense and if any jump balls come his way he will be coming down with it.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB Pittsburgh / Joey Porter, LB Pittsburgh On the Steelers side the real keys are quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the teams biggest defensive presence linebacker Joey Porter.
Bottom Line: Bengals defense miraculously holds, under the genius game plan of defensive guru Marvin Lewis, forcing Pittsburgh to start airing the ball out. With Cincinnati's defense forcing turnovers, Palmer and the Johnson's put this one away by scoring early and often to overwhelm the Steelers.
Prediction: Cincinnati 31, Pittsburgh 24
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