2011 NFL Wildcard Predictions

Seattle Seahawks’ linebacker Will Herring (54) celebrates after intercepting a St. Louis Rams pass in the fourth quarter of the NFL’s Western Division Championship game on Sunday January 2, 2011 at Qwest Field in Seattle. The Seahawks beat the Rams 16-6. (UPI /Jim Bryant)

Here’s some fade material for your NFL weekend…

Saints @ Seahawks, 4:30PM ET, Saturday
I don’t have the stones to predict an outright win for the Seahawks and even if I did, I wouldn’t want to be accused of going against the grain just for the sake of going against the grain. Plus, I don’t think Seattle has enough weapons to slow down Sean Payton’s offense for four quarters. That said, I love the 10.5 points here. When I first saw the spread for this matchup, I racked my brain trying to figure out if I had ever seen a road team lay that many points in a playoff game before. I couldn’t think of one because there hasn’t been. The Seahawks are the biggest home underdog in NFL playoff history. Look, this isn’t college football. It’s hard enough for a home team to cover as a double-digit favorite in the NFL, let alone a road team to cover such a large spread. And considering the Saints won’t be able to run the ball, the Seahawks should be able to keep this game somewhat close. Seattle is still one of the toughest environments to play in – I don’t care how poorly the Seahawks are performing. This one will be much, much closer than most people think.

Jets @ Colts, 8:00PM ET, Saturday
By now, everyone is aware of the hold Peyton Manning has on Rex Ryan. He’s 5-1 against Ryan-led defenses and has thrown for 1,513 yards and 12 touchdown passes to only two interceptions. That said, I think the Jets will control the tempo of this game from the start and leave Manning on the sidelines. The best way to beat Peyton is to limit his opportunities to beat you. You’re never going to be able to completely shut him down (even in his four-interception game against the Chargers he still tossed two touchdown passes), but allowing him to speed up the tempo of the game is forbidden. He wants to have the ball in his hands so that he can attack your defense. Therefore, the Jets have to run the ball with success and grind the tempo of this game to a screeching halt. I expect this game to be boring and if it is, the Jets win outright.

Ravens @ Chiefs, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
I’ve done a complete 180 on this game in the past couple of hours. At first, I was sold on the Ravens walking into Arrowhead and running all over a Kansas City team that looked so hapless against the Raiders last Sunday. But I think what happened last week is that the Chiefs got caught looking ahead. Even though the No. 3 seed was still on the line, they had nothing else to play for at that point and the Raiders took it too them. I expect Matt Cassel to play much better this Sunday and assuming he’s recovered from whatever illness he had earlier in the week, Dwayne Bowe should play better as well. Here’s the deal though: I only like the Chiefs if the line rises from 3 to 3.5 or greater. I think this is a three-point game either way and with the way the public is hammering the Ravens right now (the line opened at 2.5 and now it’s up to 3), I think by kickoff on Sunday the line could be as high as 3.5 or even 4. If that’s the case, given me the home dog.

Packers @ Eagles, 4:30PM ET, Sunday
Call me Joe Public on this one. The Eagles are favored but they’re not getting a lot of public backing because of their two-game losing streak. The Packers, on the other hand, have won two in a row and have already beaten the Eagles in Philadelphia earlier once this year (27-20 in Week 1). I don’t think Michael Vick is 100% healthy like he says he is and I’ve been waiting all season for “MV7” to have one of those games like he used to in Atlanta where the wheels come off. The Monte Kiffin-led Bucs used to shut him down every year by spying him and disguising where their blitzes were coming from. Dom Campers is a smart coordinator and if Philadelphia’s O-line doesn’t figure out how to block Clay Matthews, then Vick is in for a long afternoon. One last thing to chew on: Vick generally struggles in cold-weather games. He struggled against Minnesota and Chicago this year and while he did produce that thrilling comeback at the new Meadowlands in Week 15, the Giants had completely shut him down until the final seven minutes of the game. If you think back to early in his career, he beat the Packers in the playoffs at Lambeau Field in 2002 but then threw two costly interceptions the following week to lose to the Eagles in the Divisional Round. In 2004, he lost again to Philadelphia in the Divisional Round and in 2005, he lost to the Bears on a frigid Sunday night in Chicago in Week 15. (I should know how cold it was because I was there that night.) Those were all cold-weather games and outside of the miracle at Lambeau, they were all Vick-led defeats.

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