Gregor’s Packer Analysis
Wild Card Weekend Preview
In this edition:
View from the recliner
The playoffs are like the lottery, you have to be in it to win it. Some teams odds are about as good as winning the lottery. Like the Broncos, Bengals, Lions or Falcons. Yes, they have a shot but will probably need a ticket to go to the Super Bowl. As the Packers showed last year and the Giants in 2007, the top seed doesn’t always make it.
In the NFC, of the top three seeds that have won their division, any of them could move on and win the Super Bowl. The Packers and Saints need good weather or a dome to overcome their defensive shortcomings. Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees can put 30 plus points up on anyone, if the conditions cooperate. In contrast, the 49ers like a defensive, low scoring game where moving the ball on the ground with Frank Gore is probably better for them than Alex Smith trying to throw for big yardage. They aren’t winning a shootout, but if it’s a swamp, a blizzard, or temperatures comparable to the north pole that keeps scoring down, they can move on. The Giants will have one home game and then probably have to win on the road.
The Wild Cards are Atlanta and Detroit. Both have the offense to stay in high scoring games. Detroit doesn’t have a running game, and the linebackers are suspect. Nice season, but hard to see them moving on with games on the road against good teams. Atlanta is tough to beat at home, but unlikely that a Wild Card team will have a home game in the playoffs (only possible in the NFC Championship game if the 5th seed hosts the 6th seed).
The Patriots are the AFC version of the Packers and Saints—big time offense, and the NFL’s worst defense in several categories. The Patriots also need a nice day in Boston, or play in domes to be successful. The Ravens are the AFC version of San Francisco—a great defense, but they aren’t going to win a shootout. They also need bad conditions to move on. The Texans had been incredible—Matt Schaub and now TJ Yates to Andre Johnson through the air, and Arian Foster on the ground to go with what had been the number 1 defense in the NFL. But after injuries to Schaub and backup Matt Lineart, and Johnson missing the last few weeks, the Texans are no longer able to win a shootout.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are the chameleons of the AFC—if Ben Roethlesberger is healthy. They can play defense and find a way to win low scoring games, or they can air it out and put points on the board. They are the team best equipped to play either style in either conference. But they aren’t the best in either style. What that means is they need to play the Pats in poor conditions where defense and a running game will win the game. And they need to play Baltimore in good conditions and win a shootout. So far they are 0-2 against the Ravens in good conditions and Roethlesberger is still gimpy. But Baltimore hasn’t been dominant, especially on the road. Pittsburgh is the Wild Card and will have to win on the road. Cincinnati will be the other Wild Card. But with a rookie quarterback and some struggles against elite teams, don’t expect the Bengals to go far.
Wild Card Games:
The Houston Texans host the Cincinnati Bengals in the Texans first playoff game in franchise history. Missing key players like Matt Schaub and Mario Williams, the Texans still managed to win the AFC South. Rookie QBs start for both teams, and while Andy Dalton was expected to play for the Bengals when Carson Palmer wouldn’t come back to Cincinnati, TJ Yates is starting because Schaub and Matt Leinert are both out for the season. Yates injured his non-throwing shoulder last week but is expected to play. A good running game, a great defense, and Andre Johnson playing again (he played last week) all point to the Texans. Wade Phillips hasn’t had a stellar career as a head coach, but he’s a very good defensive coordinator. That should be enough to move the Texans to the Divisional Round. Houston by 6
The Denver Broncos host the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Broncos backed in to the playoffs by losing, but winning the division when the Raiders also lost. They have struggled in recent games against the Patriots, Bills and KC. The Steelers have been winning, but Ben Roethlesberger has a high ankle sprain and couldn’t move against the 49ers and did just enough to help the Steelers beat the Browns in a low scoring game. This week, it’s hard to see the Broncos moving the ball on Pittsburgh’s defense. But the Steelers are without safety Ryan Clark (blood disorder) and running back Rashard Mendenhall who is out for the rest of the year. Looks like a low scoring game, at least for the Broncos. Pittsburgh by 10.
The Lions go to New Orleans to play the Saints. Detroit can score, but they can’t stop a good offense, and nobody slows down New Orleans in the Mercedes Benz Superdome. There is some talk that Detroit can keep it close, and while that is possible, it’s unlikely. The most likely case is New Orleans by 14 or more. So that’s the pick.
Finally, the Atlanta Falcons go to New Jersey to play the Giants. Warm weather dome teams typically don’t show up in cold weather. It won’t be too bad, but probably enough to throw off the Falcons offense. And their defense isn’t all that good on the road. The Giants have holes so they are clearly beatable, but Eli has shown he can play in big games. Giants by 3.