Carolina at N.Y. Giants
I like Carolina to go in to New York and give the G-men a real run for their money in what should be a higher scoring game than most would expect.
Panthers HC Fox used to be the Giants defensive coordinator, so I would expect that he knows what the Giants defensive personnel and schemes can and cannot do..advantage Carolina offense. N.Y. has five linebackers on their injury report and two defensive linemen. As of Thursday night, the Giants starting linebackers look to be Alonzo Jackson, Kevin Lewis and Nick Greisen, and if you have no idea who these players are, you’re in good company because many New York season ticket holders couldn’t pick them out of a line-up. While New York’s defensive ends rush the passer as well as any two ends in the league, the weakness in the middle of the line should permit the Panthers to move the ball on the ground, which is something CAR has struggled to do all season. If New York brings up a safety to put eight in the box that will put rookie CB Corey Webster against the Panthers outstanding WR Steve Smith and that should be a bad thing for the G-Men. Look for Carolina to run the ball at the center of the Giants line and then look to over the top of the Giants safeties when the come up. Smith should have over 100 yards receiving and one or more touchdowns.
New York should also score some points, especially with Shockey likely to play, but starting a rookie QB (Manning) in the playoffs is a liability. No matter how far he’s come and how good his pedigree or how many weapons he has to work with, Manning is still starting his first playoff game of his career. If he’s not nervous already, I think he’s going to discover that defenses find a whole different gear when you get to the playoffs. It’s going to take Manning some time to get comfortable and adjust to the speed on the field.
The Giants have had a few wobbles late in the season but they’ve been very good at home. New York is the more talented team with a decided edge in Giants Stadium. That home record is probably enough to keep me off this game but I wouldn’t be surprised if Carolina got a rare road playoff win.
Washington at Tampa Bay
These teams played in the middle of November with Tampa Bay winning a wild game 36-35. Both teams have had a chance to look at the game films and you would expect the NFL’s number one defense ( Tampa) and number nine defense ( Washington) will make some adjustments.
That earlier game was really uncharacteristic for both teams. Both teams have been conservative on offense and Tampa Bay has injuries at the WR position while Redskins QB Mark Brunell has thrown exactly eight completions in the last two weeks.
Tampa Bay will be starting two youngsters in the backfield. QB Simms may as well be a rookie as he will be starting his first playoff game and RB Williams is a true rookie playing in his first NFL postseason game. Look for the Buc’s to compensate for that inexperience by playing conservatively on offense and relying on their defense to keep the game close and generate some turnovers. Washington has a solid running game and with Brunell being rusty, I wouldn’t expect them to throw the ball all over the field either.
Once again I’ll look to fade the rookies. This should be a tight, low-scoring game that will likely come down to a field goal attempt. Give me the Redskins to get the road win in my best game of the week.
Jacksonville at New England
I’m going to go against the grain here and take the Patriots to win a low-scoring game where the difference between the teams is less than the lines-maker is expecting.
Is there a more overlooked team than the Jaguars and a more public team than the Patriots? The world is jumping back on the New England bandwagon after they’ve won five straight games. In October, the Patriots were washed up, a few weeks later they are everyone’s playoff dark horse, go figure. But Jacksonville was two games better in the standings, has the better defense, and the Patriots’ recent run has come against the Dolphins, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, and the Jets twice. The Patriots are a one-dimensional team that can’t run the football and that makes them easier to defend. New England will not be able to rush the ball against the Jaguars very physical defensive tackles and will have to throw to move the football.
The Jags will get QB Leftwich back, but he should be rusty. I can’t see the Jaguars asking him to put the team on his back and win a road playoff game. That limits Jacksonville to running the football and playing defense. Cold weather should also affect the Jaguars while the Patriots players should be used to the frigid weather.
I can’t see either offense dominating the opposing defense. First team to 20 points wins this game.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
Everyone has an opinion on this game, and my opinion is that this is a game I want no part of right now.
Home dogs in the playoffs have been 9-1 over the last 10 meetings and that puts a lot of the sharps on the Bengals. Cincinnati has the better record and home field advantage and so you would expect the Bengals to get some respect from the public. Nope. The line opened up with CIN as a slight favorite, but I’ll forgive you if you blinked and missed it because all the action came in on the Steelers driving them up to field goal favorites in a heart-beat. That means that if you like PIT you believe the sports gods got the line wrong from the get go and if you’re a wise guy, you’re thinking the guys on the Blvd. are leading the public to the slaughter.
I can understand where the public is coming from. The Bengals have had two pseudo home playoff games this season, one against the Steelers and one against the Colts, and they’ve lost them both by margin. The current version of the Bengals is new to the playoffs while the Steelers have tons of postseason experience. Pittsburgh has also been outstanding on the road this season winning a string of low-scoring games. PIT also wins every game in which the run for over 100 yards, including the last game in Cincinnati. There’s a lot to like if you’re on Pittsburgh.
This game will take more public action than all the other games combined. If the public continues to pile on the Steelers and the weather looks good, I may join those fading the line move at kickoff.