Big NFL wild-card weekend matchups
When you look at the games for wild-card weekend, you know there is going to be a ton of sizzle. I cannot wait.
Let’s have some fun with key matchups and comparisons that will decide the outcomes with a game of boom or bust.
1. Aaron Rodgers will outplay Michael Vick
This is an absolute boom.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy had a great quote on Rodgers when we talked Thursday on Sirius NFL Radio. He said, “Aaron has proven he can put up the numbers and win games. He is a proven 4,000-yard passer. Now it is about winning playoff games and winning championships."
I love it. And Rodgers is ready. He has passed every test and dealt with adversity, and he comes in with a ton of confidence. The offensive line is playing great, and the Packers should be able to neutralize Trent Cole and the Philadelphia pass rush. Rodgers is a true star and is ready to make his mark in the playoffs against a bit of a beleaguered Eagles defense.
I think the Packers, relying heavily and almost solely on the pass, will pour on 30 points in a huge road win. I think Rodgers had two statement victories to close the season and a big one against Brett Favre earlier in the campaign. But I think he needs — and he gets — a huge one in Philly on Sunday.
On the flip side, Packers cornerback Charles Woodson wasn’t buying the “rhetoric” on Vick not being 100 percent when we chatted Thursday. McCarthy echoed that the Packers most certainly are looking at Vick as the best player on the team and the weapon who dominated the opposition this season. And Vick received my vote for offensive player of the year.
But Philly's offensive line hasn’t been consistent this year and was flat-out awful over the final few regular-season games. B.J. Raji has been the most underrated player on the Packers this year (Woodson called him the best player on defense) and will blow up the offensive line. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers will bring a ton of heat, including Woodson and star linebacker Clay Matthews. Woodson and the underrated Tramon Williams matchup well with the Philadelphia playmakers.
2. The Chiefs' run game will be more efficient than the Ravens' run game
This is a bust. I can’t get enough of this matchup. Kansas City's Jamaal Charles has averaged more than 6 yards per carry this season. His 6.38 yards per carry puts him in Jim Brown company as the only players in NFL history to have at least 1,400 rushing yards and average more than 6.3 yards per carry in a season. That’s heady stuff.
Thomas Jones is the perfect complement back with his physical style. And, in theory, I do expect Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe to bounce back from their lackluster performance last week and make plays against the beatable Baltimore corners on Sunday, which should loosen things up for the run game.
But defensive lineman Haloti Ngata and the Ravens run defense represent a step up in class. And on the flip side, I think offensive coordinator Cam Cameron finally, after games in which the play selection and balance were totally out of whack, has the Ravens running the football first and foremost. Ray Rice is always at his best when he gets at least 25 carries; he averages 121 rushing yards in games in which he gets at least 25 touches on the ground.
And Rice was a prolific performer last year in the playoffs with 159 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Patriots in New England. I think he, not Charles, will be the most successful runner on Sunday.
3. The Jets will stop the run and run the ball successfully.
All the way around, this is a boom. If the Jets are going to pull the upset special on Saturday night as I predicted this week on Cosmic Schein, they have to make sure the Colts are truly one-dimensional. Quietly, the Colts have begun to run the ball. Donald Brown was spectacular against the Jags to save the season in Week 15. Dominic Rhodes was strong vs. Oakland in Week 16. And Joseph Addai finally was healthy enough to make an impact in Week 17 to get ready for the playoffs.
In fact, when Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was pressed Thursday on “Loud Mouths” on SNY on who was the second-most dangerous weapon for Indy after Peyton Manning, he said Addai, not receiver Reggie Wayne. And the Jets run defense was leaky down the stretch. They allowed Rashard Mendenhall to go for 99 yards, while Matt Forte carved them up. Pettine said they had to go back to the fundamentals and a training-camp approach. I think linebacker David Harris and the Jets will not allow the Colts run game to get going.
On the flip side, when we talked to Harris this week on SNY, he acknowledged that the Jets offense has to help out their efforts on Manning by running the ball successfully and keeping Manning off the field. And while the Colts run defense has been dreadful this season — the single worst among playoff teams — they have bottled up Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson over the past three weeks. This is a Shonn Greene game, one for a big, physical back. Look for him to carry the load, with LaDainian Tomlinson’s carries reduced, and look for Greene to dominate.