Jared & Kerry

Sampling the Box of Chocolates

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Wildcard Sunday
Jared & Kerry
Halfway through, Wildcard Weekend has to be considered a bit underwhelming so far. The Jets got a nice win, but I really expected more from the Eagles. Even though I knew they would be outmatched in the end, they just didn't look like they even belonged in the playoffs. But I might recap those games later. I'm here now to jot down some stuff for Ravens/Patriots and Packers/Cardinals.

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots
Can the Patriots win without Wes Welker? That's the question that's been asked all week. The Patriots did already beat the Ravens once this year, and in that game Welker had a pretty pedestrian five catches. It was his first game back after his injury early in the season, and he didn't factor into the Patriots' offense too terribly much. Julian Edelman has over 200 yards receiving in his limited time replacing Welker in the offense, and there's plenty to indicate that Welker's current renown might be in large part a product of New England's offensive system. That is enough evidence for me to think that the Patriots, for this week at least, can survive without Brady's favorite security blanket.

More important for New England is who they will have on the field. Their run defense is getting healthy towards the end of the season, starting with nose tackle Vince Wilfork's full participation in practice this week. Keeping Ray Rice in check is basically the formula for New England's success in this game, along with not allowing their secondary to be too badly exposed. The lack of quality at the receiver position for the Ravens makes the second task more manageable, so it seems logical to conclude that limiting Rice's effectiveness both as a tailback and catching passes out of the backfield will go a long way to a New England win.

Unless they're playing the Ravens or Colts, I don't care a ton for New England's chances in the playoffs this year. But Baltimore doesn't have the receivers to really attack New England's secondary properly, and New England seems to be getting healthy at the right time in some of the right spots, Welker's knee injury not withstanding. Their run defense and run offense both look better in recent weeks, and the former should really be helped out by the return of Wilfork and others. Ed Reid is the only player in the Baltimore secondary that can rattle Tom Brady from a scheming standpoint, and the Ravens do not emphasize rushing the quarterback as much as they used to. It's mostly predicated on the matchups rather than really liking what New England is doing as a team, but I'll take the Patriots at home, where they play far better.

Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals
I'm starting to not like the look of this game. Not because I see a hole that will be Green Bay's undoing. Rather, it's that I don't see one. Everything almost seems to be falling too well for Green Bay. Arizona's hurt. The Packers have won seven of eight. Woodson's shoulder is fine. Bolden's ankle is not. There's already talk on the internet about Packers/Saints matchups or if Green Bay would rather play Dallas or Minnesota in the NFC Championship game.

And Green Bay's a young team, meaning the chances of it all going to their head are greater. But those are intangibles, hunches, and I'm hoping very much that they are wrong. By every quantifiable measure, Green Bay is a better team than Arizona. They run the ball better, have an overall better group of receivers, have (in my opinion at least) the better quarterback and (I don't think I'll get much argumetn here) have the better defense. They cause all sorts of matchup nightmares for the Arizona secondary even when it's healthy, but with Rahl and Rogers-Cromarty nursing injuries, Jennings and Driver and Finley and everyone in a green jersey should be able to stretch the field at will. Even if Kurt Warner plays well, as he is apt to do in the postseason, can he put up 31, 34, 38 points on the Green Bay defense? Because I think the Packers can score that many on Arizona without too much fuss.

Green Bay seems to be putting all the little pieces of a good team together as the regular season has wound down. For example, Brandon Jackson has emerged as an excellent third down back, excelling in pass protection, pass catching, and the occasional sweep around the end for seven yards on third and five. This has helped Ryan Grant too, as his legs are fresher. The linebacking corps is playing incredibly, and the defensive player of the year lurking in the secondary behind them makes it possible for the front seven to play aggressive, swarming defense.

There just isn't much more spin I can put on it. The NFL is the Any Given Sunday league, tripply so once the new year's calendar goes up. That of course introduces the very real possibility of an upset. But even being at home, even being the higher seed, if Arizona won tomorrow I could only call it that--an upset. And not a trivial one at that.

Two down, two to go. Enjoy!

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Too bad. I have to admit I barely follow pro football these days.

In fact I'm not on LJ much (& considered deleting, with my other writing) but thought I'd drop by to say hi. Doing yearly cleaning and all that.

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