Jared & Kerry

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Wildcard Saturday
Jared & Kerry
Wildcard Weekend very easily could make a case for being the third best weekend in sports, trailing only divisional playoff weekend and the first weekend of March Madness. I can't decide if I like Wildcard Weekend or Conference Championship Weekend more. The former has more games, the latter higher stakes. Nonetheless, the playoffs are basically the NFL's present to me every year for my birthday, and I'm as excited about this year's as much as any other. Green Bay is in and looking extremely, extremely dangerous. They I will rant on tomorrow, however, For my 200th listed note on Facebook, we're previewing Wildcard Saturday!

New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals
The skeptics will call this game ugly football. I shun them as nonbelievers, the intricate art of defensive football lost on them in an era of 50 touchdown seasons and tight ends that are basically extra wide receivers. The final score of this game might be 13-10, and I'm completely content with that. Because both of these teams straight up know how to play defense.

Starting with the Jets, we can see how important a role defense plays in a team's becoming relevant, even today. Last year the Jets had the ageless arm of Brett Favre. That didn't work so well. Now with a foundation of running the ball and most importantly playing defense, the Jets are in the playoffs. The defense is anchored by Darrelle Revis, who has laid his claim over the course of the season to being one of the best cornerbacks in the league. Andre Johnson, Randy Moss, Steve Smith, Marques Colston, even the aging Terrell Owens, all of these receivers have lined up against Revis and been thoroughly taken out of the game. This poses huge problems for the Bengals, because they basically have one big play weapon in Chad Ochocinco. If Revis does his lock down routine on #85, the Bengals are going to have a very, very tough time putting points on the board. Their troubles will be compounded by the fact that the Jets are also the best rushing defense in the league, meaning Cincinnati cannot just mindlessly throw a gaggle of running backs at the Jets like they have other teams. Against weak rush defenses, the Bengals' lack of efficiency moving the ball through the air can be hidden by Benson, Johnson, and Scott collaborating for 200 yards rushing or some such ridiculous output. I don't see that happening against the Jets.

What poses to be the Jets undoing is their inability to capitalize on the opportunities their defense makes for them. Mark Sanchez is not Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco from last year. I thought he was a bit premature when he got drafted, and the season has shown that to be correct. Cincinnati cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall have six interceptions each on the season. Between the two of them, they might be able to pick off Sanchez six times in this game alone if the Jets get behind early and start throwing the football a lot. The Jets statistically have the best rushing offense in the league, but I would argue that their stats are somewhat padded by having such little confidence in their quarterback.

If this game is close in the fourth quarter, all of a sudden the Jets will seem very capable of winning. I like them to make the big defensive stop or get the long drive in the fourth quarter with their running game to put things away. But if the Jets can't stay close in the first two quarters, things could get ugly in a hurry. The entire gameplan has to be predicated on keeping Mark Sanchez out of situations where he has to make plays, and I just don't think that's a formula for success in the playoffs. I'll take the Bengals, with the presumption that the Jets will turn the ball over a couple times in their own territory but this is the game I am least confident in this weekend. It should be a great, defensive football game.

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
Arizona can say they were hamming the game after they found out the Vikings had won last week. The Bengals were hamming their game, having been locked into the #3 seed. The Eagles? No, sir. They were supposed to have been playing for something. Not even a home game at that. The Eagles were playing for a home game plus a week off. And they got completely pounded by the Cowboys, who've decided that D stands for defense as much as it does for Dallas. This fact on its own speask volumes to me.

Suspect defense. Excessive reliance on the big play. An inability to protect the quarterback. This all looks very familiar to me. It looks like the Green Bay Packers back in October. Just as Green Bay didn't win games consistently with that formula, neithe rwill the Eagles. I expect the Eagles to blitz more, which may help. But I doubt it. In truth, 24 points is not an insurmountable total for an offense to overcome, especially one that is supposedly as explosive as the Eagles. No, if the Eagles are going to win, it's going to have to score more points. And I just don't see it happening. They might not miss on all of their big plays like they did last week in scoring zero points against the same Dallas defense. But let's say they get two of them for 14 points. Is that enough? Doubtful. And can they move the ball methodically or consistently against Dallas in the second half? More doubtful.

This also gives me the opportunity to address this silly notion of one team being unable to beat another three times in one season. Can a team win the first two and lose the third? Certainly. The Vikings did it to Green Bay in '04. But the truth is that this has happened nineteen times before now. The team that won the first two meetings is 12-7 all time. I haven't looked up the context behind each of those, but with numbers like that, I'm guessing the third time jinx is mostly a hoax. The twelve times a team has beaten a single opponent three times in one year I would expect has been because of a team matching up well against another has continually exploited its matchups correctly. Dallas has played the Eagles twice, and I think the Cowboys matched up real well against them both times. Dallas won in Phillie earlier in the season despite many self-inflicted miscues, and they basically ran the Eagles off the field last Sunday. Phillie feasted on victories over teams like the Giants or Bears, team that cannot stretch the field as much as Dallas. But the Eagle safeties and linebackers cannot stay at home as comfortably against the Cowboys' more wide open offense. When you factor in that Dallas can torch the Eagles front seven with their trio of running backs should the Eagles start playing the pass too heartily, I'm sort of surprised the Cowboys only rung up 24 last week. They must've taken their foot off the gas towards the end. Dallas will hit its trouble when it comes up against a team that will be able to get lots of pressure on Tony Romo, not allowing the receivers to have time to run routes that spread the field out. The Eagles will blitz their pants off tomorrow night to try and accomplish this, but they just don't have the personell to get as aggressive as you need to with Dallas and still not get burned by the delayed draw to Felix Jones or the big run after catch by Miles Austin. Give me the Cowboys, and I don't even know if the score will be all that differen than last Sunday.

I'll be back after the games tomorrow night with similar material for the Sunday games. Enjoy Wildcard Saturday!


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