This group of wild-card teams is the best I have seen. Ever. They are really quality teams. Now, it was a surprise to see the Saints lose, but I think two outstanding wild-card teams did advance, Green Bay and Baltimore. I think both of those teams have an excellent chance of winning on the road next weekend.
It is so difficult for that wild-card team to win the next week, because the team it is playing has had a week of rest, has watched the wild card play, is healthier and has had extra time to prepare. So, the wild-card teams are at a severe disadvantage. But they should be, because the other teams earned the right to have that bye — they had the better record and won their divisions. But I do believe both Green Bay and Baltimore have the talent and ability to win again on the road.
Baltimore has beaten Pittsburgh before this season in Pittsburgh. Green Bay had a close loss in Atlanta on Thanksgiving weekend, losing on a field goal with nine seconds left. The Packers have enough offense — Aaron Rodgers passed for 344 yards in that game — and they are good enough on defense to beat anybody. That was impressive today how they beat Michael Vick and the Eagles. The other thing: Weather won’t be a problem for their receivers. They will be on a fast track.
I think if there’s an advantage at all on two teams knowing each other like the Ravens and Steelers do, it tends to help the visiting team. The reason it helps the visitors, which the Ravens will be next weekend, is that nothing about going to Pittsburgh will be unfamiliar to them. They know what it’s like; they know what to expect. They are used to that crowd.
The Bears lucked out in getting Seattle. The Seahawks had their day in the sun, although it’s not that sunny in Seattle. They should enjoy their great win over the Saints. It was a great little run, and they went further than anybody thought they would.
Matt Hasselbeck played better in the first three quarters against the Saints than I have seen him play in years. I thought the Seahawks had a great game plan. They were very aggressive. Their next opponent, the Bears, will be better prepared for that. They won’t be looking past the Seahawks one bit.
I also think the Jets have a chance to go into New England and beat the Patriots on Sunday. The Jets have beaten them before this season, and I really believe it will be a much closer game than that 45-3 game on Monday night in Week 13. The Patriots just ran away with that game.
If you really studied it, that game featured some poor decisions by the Jets early on that got them out of kilter. And once it starts snowballing on a team, it takes away the effort and the enthusiasm of the downtrodden, and it just goes from bad to worse.
I don’t believe the Jets will use the same game plan that worked so well for them against the Colts in the wild-card round. Against New England and Tom Brady, the Jets have to take away those underneath passing routes. And they have to pressure Brady. I believe they will do a lot more blitzing of Brady than they did against Peyton Manning the other night.
I think the Patriots, as well as they closed out the regular season, can be beaten. Now, it would be a shock. They have played so well down the stretch, and most of their wins have been blowouts. But if they get into a tight ballgame, you can never tell what may happen. Some doubt could enter into the minds of some of their younger players who really haven’t been there before. There’s a totally different kind of pressure in the playoffs.
Of all the wild cards, I really like the Packers. I like their defense, which finished second in the league in scoring, allowing only 15 points a game. They are hard to get big plays on. They blitz very well. Offenses have to go the long, hard way to score points against them. And teams are not going to do that very often in a game, because the Packers have too many playmakers on defense.
The Packers have guys like Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews who can take over a game. Those types of players can make the big play to win a game.
And then Rodgers with those receivers, they are going to put points on the board. They found a little running game with rookie James Starks against the Eagles in the wild-card game. That could help them in Atlanta. Plus, the Packers protect the ball. They are great on turnover ratio. They haven’t been beating themselves.