Thursday, January 10, 2008

And Then There Were 8...

While I attempt to cool my blood down a little, I will take some time out to talk a little football. Eight teams are left in the NFL Playoffs, and four games will be played this weekend to determine who is going to play in the respective league championships. In the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys will take on the New York Giants for the third time this season, while the Green Bay Packers will welcome the Seattle Seahawks into the "frozen tundra"... The AFC offers us a rematch between Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers, while the Jacksonville Jaguars attempt to put an end to the New England Patriots dreams of a 19-0 season.

Saturday's games both have a good chance of being blowouts, while Sunday's games should be closer. Of course, after how badly I did this past weekend - one of four right on the pros, while I incorrectly predicted that Ohio State would beat up on LSU in the BCS championship, perhaps you should take my opinions with a grain of salt.

In the early game, the Packers square off against the Seahawks. Look for both teams to attempt to throw the ball a lot in the cold conditions. Presently, the forecast high is 32 degrees with a 20% chance of snow. Neither team has a very impressive running game to speak of, though we all know how good Shaun Alexander can be when he's healthy. The problem for the Seahawks is that it's been 2 seasons since he was healthy. After rushing for 1880 yards in 2005, he only totalled 1610 yards the past two years. Not to mention that in 2005 he gained 5.1 yards per rush, while in 2006-2007 he averaged only 3.5 yards/attempt. For the Packers, Ryan Grant did an admirable job, rushing for nearly 1000 yards with an impressive 5.1 yards per rush average.

I believe the key to winning this game will be not turning the ball over. This means that Matt Hasselbeck and Brett Favre must not try to make a play when there isn't one available. The Packers were 2nd in the NFL in passing offense, while the Seahawks were 8th. Once again though, we know the Seahawks played a VERY soft schedule this year, while the Packers played some pretty tough teams and still came out three games better off in the win column. Look for the Packers to take this one by at least two touchdowns.

In the later game, the Patriots will take on the Jaguars. Quietly, the Jaguars took six out of their final seven meaningful games - only a 28-25 loss to the Colts kept them from winning seven straight. Most of their regulars were rested in their final game of the year, a 42-28 loss against Houston. Last week, they got up 28-10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, only to see Ben Roethlisberger pull off another of his patented 4th quarter comebacks. Jaguar QB David Garrard saved the day though, gaining 32 yards on a 4th and two play to set up Josh Scobee's game winning 25 yard field goal for a 31-29 win. The Jaguars have a VERY balanced offense - not something that you would have guessed early in the season. Garrard tossed 18 TD's against only three interceptions during the regular season, while the duo of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew totalled nearly 2,000 yards on the ground, scoring 14 times.

The Patriots stormed out of the gate of course, running up the score on their first eight opponents, before the Colts finally gave them a scare in week 9 (a close 24-20 comeback win). From there, the Patriots looked quite beatable. In fact, four of their final six contests were decided by 10 points or less. The Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens both came close to beating them, as the Patriots struggled to three point wins. The Giants came close to ruining their perfect season in week 17, but they too came up three points short. Tom Brady tossed a record 50 TD passes, 23 to Randy Moss (for a record as well)... Even though the Patriots were number one in the league in passing, they were only 13th in rushing. If the Jaguars are going to pull the upset, they will need to force the Patriots to run the ball. Look for this to be a closer game than predicted, with the Patriots winning by about a touchdown.

Tomorrow, I'll look at the Sunday matchups.


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