Saturday, January 5, 2013

What I'm Watching on Wildcard Weekend

I'm back from a much longer hiatus than I intended, and I'm proud to say that I have made my long awaited return as a graduate of UCSB. I got too bogged down by schoolwork (and the holidays), but there's no way I'm complaining about the school that gave me the greatest 3+ years of my life. Perhaps now you'll even notice the improved writing of a UCSB graduate as I go over some quick thoughts about this weekend's slate of playoff games.

Just kidding; I've always been this good.

HOUSTON over Cincinnati
What I'm watching: How the Texans' secondary assign their coverage. It's well noted how much of an A.J. Green fan I am, so it's no surprise that I believe he could win this game by himself against the likes of Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson. They tend to each stick to their side of the field, so expect a safety to give help to whichever side Green lines up on a play to play basis. Joseph was a shutdown corner in his first year in Houston, but injuries have slowed him down this season. Jackson has been merely solid as a former first round pick out of Alabama while Brandon Harris, a 2011 second round pick, might be over matched in the slot against the slippery Andrew Hawkins. Thus, the soon-to-be Defensive Player of the Year, J.J. Watt, will have to consistently generate pressure in order to help his team win this key matchup.

Prediction: Texans 24, Bengals 20
Houston's secondary will need help from Watt like last year's playoff game.
GREEN BAY over Minnesota
These two have become quite the dynamic duo.
What I'm watching: How the Packers utilize all of their receivers. For the first time since Week 1, Aaron Rodgers finally has all of his receivers available, if not completely healthy. Dynamic slot receiver/return man Randall Cobb emerged a year sooner than I expected thanks to the absence of free agent-to-be Greg Jennings, and both of them should dominate their matchup in the slot with Antoine Winfield playing with a broken hand. The inconsistent James Jones broke out as a touchdown machine a year after Jordy Nelson did the same, and their physical presence on the outside will keep constant pressure on the defense. Tight end Jermichael Finley is still just a glorified big receiver himself, who still deals with the dropsies, but Rodgers has shown time and again that he will throw to whoever is open with no favoritism. As long as his shaky offensive line keeps him upright, last year's MVP will finally be able to utilize all of his weapons to put this game out of reach of this year's MVP, Adrian Peterson. (And no, I was not convinced at all by Christian Ponder's performance last week. At home in a dome is a huge difference from the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.)

Prediction: Packers 31, Vikings 20

BALTIMORE over Indianapolis
What I'm watching: How Andrew Luck performs on the road in his first career playoff game. It's a tight race, with different stats pointing different directions, but I believe that Luck deserves to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year because not only has he improved his team from 2-14 to an unbelievable 11-5, but he has done it with a much worse defense, running game, and offensive line than Robert Griffin III or Russell Wilson, whose teams have improved from 5-11 and 7-9 to 10-6 and 11-5, respectively. However, I will say that Luck was less consistent on the road, where he had an 11-13 TD-Int ratio as the Colts went just 4-4. Conversely, the Ravens were 6-2 at home, and Joe Flacco is considerably better at home, exemplified by a 97.6 quarterback rating compared to just 69.8 on the road. #ChuckStrong was a great run, but this game is in Baltimore, and the Ravens will have a little more giddy up in their step with the return of Ray Lewis after he announced he is retiring after the playoffs.

Prediction: Ravens 34, Colts 27
Could this be Ray Lewis' last game?
Seattle over WASHINGTON
Maybe he'll learn some tips.
What I'm watching: How much worse DeAngelo Hall looks in coverage compared to Richard Sherman on the other side. This should be a fun game with the way both of these teams use their mobile rookie quarterbacks in their dominant running games, but the difference in cornerback play could be the difference in the game. Hall is one of the most overrated players in the game with his gambles in coverage while Sherman is arguably the best corner right now thanks to his sheer size and physicality at the line of scrimmage. The Redskins are likely to leave Hall on an island against Sidney Rice as they send constant blitzes at Russell Wilson, who didn't beat blitzes with regularity during the season, and although Rice doesn't consistently get the most out of his talent either, he should burn Hall. On the other side, Pierre Garcon was crucial to Washington's success this season, as they went 9-1 in games that he played, so Seattle will have a great shot to win on the road if Sherman can take him out of the equation. The Redskins' offensive schemes are great at getting Garcon isolated, especially off of play action, but Sherman's physical edge should keep him up to the task. Washington finally gets the Seahawks at home after losing in Seattle in the 2005 and 2007 playoffs, but I think the results are going to be more of the same.

Prediction: Seahawks 24, Redskins 14

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