Archive for the ‘2009 Wildcard Preview’ Category

2009 NFL Playoffs – Wild Card Round Saturday Games Preview by Lloyd Vance

NY Jets (9-7) AT Cincinnati Bengals (10-6), Saturday January 9th, 4:30 PM ET on NBC

Broadcast Team: Tom Hammond, Joe Gibbs, Joe Theismann, Tiki Barber (Field reporter)

Let’s Do It Again…but this time, the game will be in Cincy.  Last week, the NY Jets needed a win to get in the playoffs and they dominated the Bengals by a score of 37-0.  I don’t know if the Bengals are suffering from playing a long hard 2009 season, where they lost both WR Chris Henry and the wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, but they need to look more like the team that swept the AFC North (6-0) than the group that has gone 3-4 in their last 7 games.

The Bengals have been a great turnaround story this season – won AFC North for the second time under head coach Marvin Lewis after starring on HBO’s Hard Knocks – but they are playing a young and energetic NY Jets team led by brash rookie head coach Rex Ryan.  The veteran defensive minded coach is trying to become 10th rookie head coach since 1990 to win his playoff debut.  Much like his father, former Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan, the former Ravens defensive coordinator has brought a “swagger” and a defensive presence to New York.  The Jets won five of their last six games after losing six of their previous seven games to make the playoffs.  New York allowed 252.3 yards per game and 14.8 points per game, which were both NFL-lows.

However as good as the Jets has been on defense, other than their vaunted running game – led the NFL with 172.3 rushing yards per game – New York has struggled to move the football offensively.  Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Ryan have developed an offense that relies on RB’s Thomas Jones (1,402 yards and 14 TDs – both 3rd in the NFL) and rookie Shonn Greene plus Wildcat QB Brad Smith (92 yards rushing yards including a 32-yard TD run last week) in an attempt to hide rookie starting QB Mark Sanchez (196-364, 2444 yards, 12 TDs, 20 INTs, and a 63.0 QB rating).  The USC rookie played well through the Jets’ first few games, but lately he has been a turnover machine.  Even in last week’s blowout of the Bengals, Sanchez had mediocre numbers of 8 for 16 passing for 63 yards.  If the Jets are to win, Sanchez is going to need to provide more and may have to throw the ball more than 20 times, mostly likely to his favorite target Braylon Edwards (35 catches for 541 yards and 4 TDs with the Jets). Look for the Jets to run at the injury-depleted Bengals defense — 257 rushing yards in Week 17 — that earlier lost big D-linemen Pat Sims (forearm) and Domata Peko (season-ending knee surgery).  Conversely, the Bengals (301.4 yards allowed – 3rd in AFC) will be looking to pressure Sanchez in the hope of more picks to their talented cornerback duo of Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph (career-high 6 INTs).

Offensively, the Bengals have a Fantasy Football roster of weapons including former Pro Bowl players QB Carson Palmer (282-466, 3094 yards, 21 TDs, and 13 INTs), RB Cedric Benson (over 1,200 yards), RB Larry Johnson, and WR Chad Ochocinco.  But last week the Bengals were pathetic against the Jets’ defense and will need to do better –1 for 11 on third downs and finished with just 72 net yards on offense.  In front of their home crowd, the Bengals will need to establish Benson and Johnson against the Jets’ stout defense led by their LB’s Bart Scott, Danny Harris (ankle), and Calvin Pace.  If the Bengals running game can produce some yards, then Palmer can go play-action which should help his mediocre numbers from last week — career lows in completions (1), yards (0), and passer rating (1.7).  But the Bengals will need find a way to get their catalyst Ochocinco (72 catches for 1,047 yards and 9 TDs) going.  The talkative receiver last week after bragging and “Tweeting” that he would show NY Jets Pro Bowl corner Darrelle Revis (6 INTs), “How to play the game”, never showed up.  Ochocinco was held to no catches (first time since September 29, 2002, a span of 120 games) and to make matters worse he tweaked his knee in warm-ups after slipping on the cold Meadowlands turf.  All indications are that No. 85 will play in the game and the Bengals will need him.

LV’s Pick: Last week you saw that the Jets are surging while the Bengals have not been able to sustain their early season success. But to me this game boils down to “physicality”.  The Jets can run the ball, control the clock, and produce turnovers.  The Bengals despite some good running backs are a passing team that is missing that does not have a deep threat any longer.  Unless Sanchez has an interception party, expect the Jets to win an ugly defensive game in the cold of Cincinnati – Jets win 17-13.

Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) at Dallas Cowboys (11-5), Saturday January 9th, 8:00 PM ET on NBC

Broadcast Team: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Andrea Kremer (Field reporter).

If you thought the stakes were high in Week 17’s NFC East title showdown, then buckle-up because this is the playoffs and Jerry Jones’ billion-dollar playpen will be rocking.  The Eagles and Cowboys will play for the 3rd time this season after Dallas swept the other two games for the first time since 2005.  Not to bring up some awful info for Eagles fans, last week in one of the league’s most anticipated Week 17 games, the Cowboys won in dominant fashion by a score of 24-0 to claim the NFC East crown – first since 2005.  So with the thought that just 6 days earlier they dominated the Birds, the Cowboys are hoping to duplicate the efforts of the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers.  Last year’s Super Bowl champs beat the Baltimore Ravens three times, including in the AFC Championship game, on their way to the title.  Since 1970, 19 teams have gone 2-0 against an opponent in the regular season and then faced that club in the playoffs.  Surprisingly, the sweeping team has won the postseason meeting 12 times (63.2 percent).  On the other side of the rubber match, the Eagles will be trying to follow in the footsteps of the 2007 New York Giants who defeated the Cowboys in the Divisional round after Dallas had defeated them twice in the regular season.

The history between these two teams is lengthy (played 98 times with the Cowboys holding an edger of 55-43), but you know the recent Dallas’ star spitting incident involving Eagles web guy Dave Spadaro will make fans from both sides even more heated.  This will be the 4th time these two teams have met in the playoffs, but Saturday’s meeting will be the first time since 1995 when the Cowboys thumped the Eagles 30-11 – the Cowboys have won 2 of previous 3 playoff meetings.  The key player of the game will be much-maligned Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, who broke three team single-season passing records this season — completions, pass attempts and yards – but as everyone knows he is 0-2 in two playoff starts.  Romo will be trying to put away his bobbled snap on a potential game-winning field from the Cowboys loss to the Seahawks in 2006 and his Cobo trip during the team’s bye week before their loss to the Giants.

But Romo and the Cowboys definitely have a new swagger about themselves after winning the NFC East for the first time since 2007 and putting up a respectable 3-2 record in December and January this season. Included in that end of season success were a huge win over the formerly undefeated New Orleans Saints and posting back-to-back shutouts in Weeks 16 and 17 over the Redskins and Eagles.  Make no bones about it, the Cowboys are a hot team right now, they won their regular-season finale for the first time since 1999, have won 3 straight games and swept the Eagles for the first time since 2005.  The Cowboys in their Week 17 win over the Eagles established the run early with power running Marion Barber and speedy Felix Jones (ran for 179 yards on just 19 rushes).  Then Romo hit some big throws to WR Miles Austin and TE Jason Witten as he was only sacked once by Philadelphia.  To show the Cowboys dominance in Week 17, Dallas had 21 first downs to Philadelphia’s 10 and doubled them in time of possession.  Look for the Cowboys to go right back to that same plan unless Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott can dial-up “pressure” that his mentor the late Jim Johnson was so great at doing against Romo and the Cowboys.  The key players for the Eagles defense will be Pro Bowl players CB Asante Samuel (9 INTs) and DE Trent Cole (11.5 sacks), but others, namely the Birds underachieving linebackers, will need to step-up.

When the Eagles have the ball offensive, they will need to get more out of their running game (only 37 rushing yards last week) and establish veteran running back Brian Westbrook and rookie LeSean McCoy on screens.  The Eagles lack of a running game or balance, allowed the Cowboys to harass Eagles QB Donovan McNabb all-day with 4 sacks to show for their efforts.  The Birds were never able to find explosive Pro Bowl WR DeSean Jackson (An NFL record 8 TDs of 50 yards +) or rookie Jeremy Maclin.  The Eagles failed to score and had their 6-game winning streak snapped – in 21 possessions against the Cowboys this season, Philly has produced 7 points.  With Dallas Cowboys head coach and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips running the show, the Cowboys defense has been awesome — allowed 37 points in their last four games and became the first defense to post back-to-back shutouts since 2000.  The Cowboys 2nd ranked NFL Defense will count on pass rushers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer plus Pro Bowl NT Jay Ratliff.  If the Eagles are to have any success against Ware and his mates, McNabb will need to make plays in and out of the pocket plus spread the ball around to everyone and not just emerging TE Brent Celek.

LV’s Pick: Last week the Cowboys dominated by a score of 24-0 and everyone is now picking them to finally end their playoff futility by beating Philly – Dallas has not won a playoff game since 1996.  However when I look at this match-up I have to point to the quarterbacks and head coaches.  Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid has never lost in an opening playoff game (7-0) while Phillips has zero playoff wins under his belt going back to his days in Denver.  McNabb is 9-6 playoff games and Romo has well documented playoff struggles.  With all of the pressure on the Cowboys, expect a looser Eagles teams to be more prepared.  The Eagles win a hard fought game on a David Akers field goal.  — Eagles win 23-20


2009 NFL Playoffs – Wild Card Round Preview by Lloyd Vance

The 2009 NFL Playoffs – Wild Card Round is here and it is time for teams and players (Arizona Cardinals’ WR Steve Breaston pictured) to make their mark or go home

At times the 2009 NFL Season seemed to have already written its playoff script with the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints, both undefeated for the majority of the season, headed for a collision course at Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida.  But as fate usually does in the National Football League, the Colts and Saints plus other early season favorite, the Minnesota Vikings, have shown towards the end of the regular season that nothing is pre-determined in the world’s best sports league.

I am not saying that none of the top four seeds (Colts, Saints, Vikings, and San Diego Chargers) may not go full throttle through the playoffs and win it all, but I am expecting that this year’s playoffs will be another wide-open affair.  As Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said, “It’s an exciting time right now, it’s the NFL playoffs!”  There are now 12 teams scratching to survive on the long road to the Super Bowl and there are obstacles everywhere in the toughest single-elimination tournament around. 

“We’re all 0-0 now”, said Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.  It doesn’t matter how any of the teams got into the playoffs, all that matters is that the remaining teams are in the mix for the biggest prize in pro football.  It has been one wacky NFL season with many exciting storylines and I am sure the excitement will continue in the 2009 “Own the Moment” NFL post-season. 

 Every team has a chance as ten of the twelve teams in the postseason have double-digit wins and for the 14th consecutive season, five or more teams qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year — six new playoff teams are the Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, and Cincinnati Bengals.  Anything is possible and hope rightfully abounds in all twelve playoff cities. If the 2009 NFL Regular Season has taught us anything, it showed that “On Any Given Sunday” any team can step-up their level of play to beat any other team in the parity-filled NFL (Remember the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers knocking off the playoff bound Green Bay Packers way back in Week 9). Besides attaining the No. 1 seed in your conference is no guarantee of Super Bowl entry as surprisingly it has been fifteen seasons since the last time two No. 1 seeds faced each other in Super Bowl (1993 season, Buffalo vs. Dallas in Super Bowl XXVIII).

The theme of the 2009 NFL Wild Card Playoff round should be the same as one of my favorite ’70s films, “Let’s Do It Again”.  The film starred African American film icons Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitiere making a killing by prearranging boxing matches with all the marbles riding on a big payday rematch.  The word “rematch” fits perfectly when talking about this year’s Wild Card round as all four games will be rematches with 3 out of 4 being immediate rematches from the regular season’s Week 17.  Since 1990, when the current playoff format was adopted, there have been nine instances when two teams have played in the final week of the regular season and again the next week to start the postseason. The losing team in Week 17 has won five of the nine playoff games. 

Of course having played and beaten a team in the regular season may cause some “familiarity” and a psychological edge in game planning along with dissecting tendencies. But playoff tenants of Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense, a Balanced Offensive Attack based first in the Run, Sound Special Teams Play, Limiting Penalties/Turnovers, and just plain “Want-to” will be the key factors as to which teams move on to the Divisional round on long treacherous road to the Super Bowl.

Other storylines for Wildcard Weekend include: 

  • Third Times a Charm?? – The Dallas Cowboys will host the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday night after sweeping them in the regular season.  Since 1970, 19 teams have gone 2-0 against an opponent in the regular season and then faced that club in the playoffs.  The sweeping team has won the postseason meeting 12 times (63.2 percent).  Most recently, Pittsburgh beat Baltimore for a third time in last year’s AFC Championship Game.  The last time a team swept an opponent and then lost to them in the playoffs was 2007, when the New York Giants defeated the Cowboys in the Divisional round after Dallas had defeated them twice in the regular season.
  • Future Hall of Famer is back in the playoffs –New England quarterback Tom Brady will line up under center for the 18th time in the playoffs when the Patriots face the Ravens on Sunday.  With 46 passing yards, Brady will reach 4,000 in the postseason, a feat accomplished by only five quarterbacks in history.   Brady also led to the Patriots to a perfect 8-0 record in Foxborough this season and has never lost a home playoff game (8-0).  With a win against the Ravens, Brady can become the first quarterback to win his first nine postseason home games in the Super Bowl era.  The Patriots have won 11 consecutive postseason games since 1997.
  • Rex Ryan’s J-E-T-S are tough on both sides of the ball —  The New York Jets led the NFL with 172.3 rushing yards per game on offense and allowed an NFL-low 252.3 yards per game on defense.  The Jets became the eighth team since 1970 to lead the NFL in both rushing offense and total defense.  Ryan is trying to become 10th rookie head coach since 1990 to win his playoff debut.
  • The Cardinals are back — Last season, the Arizona Cardinals advanced to their first Super Bowl in franchise history.  The Cardinals, who have won back-to-back division titles for the first time since 1974-75, are just the 10th Super Bowl runner-up since 1990 to qualify for the playoffs the following year.
  • Undefeated at Home – The New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings both finished the 2009 regular season undefeated at home.  Since 2000, only 15 teams have posted a perfect regular-season record at home.  Of the previous 13 teams, five have gone to the Super Bowl (38.5 percent).
  • Belichick trying to climb the postseason wins board — New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has compiled a 15-4 (.789) record in his postseason career.  Belichick ranks fifth all-time with 15 playoff victories, trailing only Pro Football Hall of Famers Tom Landry, Don Shula, Joe Gibbs, and Chuck Noll.

My advice to everyone watching this weekend’s wildcard action is to pay very close attention to the winners as teams advancing from the Wild Card round have won the Super Bowl 6 times including three of the last four.  A prime example of going from the Wild Card to great heights were the 2007 New York Giants, who went from the NFC’s fifth seed to winning the Super Bowl.  The G-Men won three road games and then triumphed in Arizona over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.  Three years ago, the AFC third-seeded Indianapolis accomplished the feat.  And four years ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers became the first sixth seed to win a Super Bowl.

I usually like to look at the hottest teams going into playoff games as favorites and no team is hotter than the San Diego Chargers.  The Chargers enter the postseason with 11 consecutive victories, the NFL’s longest current win streak.  San Diego has clinched the No. 2 seed in the AFC and is tied for the fifth-longest win streak to enter the playoffs since 1970.  Other teams entering the 2009 NFL playoffs on a roll are the Dallas Cowboys (3), NY Jets (2), Green Bay Packers (1), Baltimore Ravens (1),and Minnesota Vikings (1).  Conversely six teams enter the postseason carrying a losing streak led by the suddenly reeling New Orleans Saints (3) – other losing streak teams are the Indianapolis Colts (2), Arizona Cardinals (1), Philadelphia Eagles (1), New England Patriots (1), and Cincinnati Bengals (1).


Saturday, January 9 

AFC:    4:30 PM  New York Jets (9-7) at Cincinnati (10-6) (NBC)
NFC:    8:00 PM  Philadelphia (11-5) at Dallas (11-5) (NBC)


Sunday, January 10

AFC:    1:00 PM Baltimore (9-7) at New England (10-6) (CBS)
NFC:    4:40 PM Green Bay (11-5) at Arizona (10-6) (FOX)


Wild Card Game Previews and Picks to follow


Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)