Sunday's playoff games offer some pretty interesting contests. Baltimore and Kansas City compare pretty evenly, and for my money Green Bay and Philadelphia look like the two most evenly matched teams in the post-season. Intense, physical football is the order of the day.
AFC Wildcard- Baltimore Ravens(5) Vs. Kansas City Chiefs(4) Noon CST: Matt Cassel and the Chiefs surprised a lot of people by ousting the perennially division leading San Diego Chargers from first place in the West this year. A solid running game and Dwayne Bowe's breakout receiving year, have put the Chiefs in the playoffs for the first time since 2006. They look like a team that's going to get better in the coming seasons, which is good because I think their 2010 season ends this weekend.
The Baltimore Ravens have the kind of defense that any Black & Blue Division historian can appreciate. In fact, the AFC North with Baltimore and the Pittsburgh Steelers could be considered it's modern day equivalent. Even the teams colors resemble bruised flesh. Ray Lewis is a force of nature, and his influence on this Ravens defense can't be overstated.
On offense, Joe Flacco has Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin, and all their combined playoff experience should be enough to run over a K.C. team that has to be a little awestruck to have made the post-season at all. This weekend at least, Baltimore will be the angriest, hungriest team in the NFL.
NFC Wildcard-Green Bay Packers(6) Vs. Philadelphia Eagles(3) 3:30 CST: As previously stated, these two teams look awfully similar in several ways. They both feature offenses that can score a lot of points, and make you pay if they catch you on your heels. Their defenses both feature secondaries that punish receivers for going up for the football. And of course, both teams have been racked with injuries all season.
These two teams met in Week 1 of the regular season, and the Packers won by a touchdown, 27-20. The more important outcome of that game was that Green Bay knocked out then starting quarterback Kevin Kolb. Michael Vick came into that game and threw for 170 yards, ran for 103, and very nearly stole the game late. It was the Pack's man-handling of Kolb that brought Vick's career into it's present resurgence.
The Green Bay Packers were a lot of the "experts"' preseason pick for Super Bowl champion this year. As a further testament to their inability to recalibrate their conclusions based on empirical evidence, they are once again holding up the Pack as the 'most dangerous team' in the NFC playoffs.
This is, of course, nonsense.
The Green Bay Packers are a very good football team, but that's all they are. They are a 3-5 road team, that would play on the road, for as long as they could remain in the tournament. But I don't think they'll get past Andy Reid's Eagles this weekend.
Although it seems like nobody wants to say it, because it veers from the accepted script, let me assure you; Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are in the playoffs because the Chicago Bears let them in.
Yes, Lovie Smith and the Bears said all the right things going into week 17, they were playing to win, they didn't want such a dangerous team in the playoffs, etc. And make no mistake, the Bears defense played it like a playoff game, allowing only 10 points.
But take a look at the offense; 18 rushing plays to 39 pass plays. That's right, Matt Forte only ran the ball 15 times, even though he was averaging 6.1 yards a run. Yes, Jay Cutler stayed in the whole game, and yes indeed the plays they ran were unsuccessful, but it looks to me like Mike Martz and the Bears offense were basically tinkering with the offense.
It's almost funny, but it's getting a little boring, that most of the media (particularly the local dailies) keep missing the forest for the trees. But since the Bears came back from their bye week, they've been among the most balanced offensive team in the league. The run/pass ratio has been very near 50%, and going into the Packers game, they had only lost to the Patriots since the bye week.
Don't you suppose they got the message?
If last Sunday's game was truly that important to the Bears, they would have game-planned an offense similar to the one that led them into the playoffs as the number two seed. Instead Lovie Smith let his coordinators prepare their units to play a meaningless game, as they saw fit. Rod Marinelli played his defense all out, and they held the high-powered Green Bay offense (that had it's post-season aspirations on the line, by the way) to one touchdown.
Mike Martz chose to use this time before the bye week to try out some ideas, that might only have made sense to Mike Martz. That's how it looked to me, anyhow.
You have your choice, as far as what you'd like to believe. Did Lovie Smith desperately want to win this game, but then choose to stray from the formula that helped the Bears to their previous seven victories? Or did the Bears decide to use a game that had no meaning to them, as a tune-up before getting a week off before the playoffs?