The 2014 NFL Playoff Picture-Wild Card Round

NFC 

Game 1: San Francisco at Green Bay

On paper, this screams for an blowout, and Colin Kaepernick has had his way with the Packers defense the last 2 times these teams have met. The Packers have a weak run defense and just barely scraped by into the playoffs at 8-7-1. They needed late magic on 4th and 8 with 38 seconds remaining before Aaron Rodgers found a wide open Randall Cobb to win the NFC North and send the Pack to the playoffs with home field advantage. Still, nothing is impossible with Aaron Rodgers under center, as good a quarterback as you’ll find in NFL history. Unlike the past two meetings between these teams, this game will be played at Lambeau, with an expected high of 19 degrees, instead of sunny SF in september. While the Packers limped into the playoff picture, San Francisco cruised into January, winners of six straight. Despite the presence of Rodgers, I predict Frank Gore and the 49ers run game will gash the Packers on the ground to the tune of 160+ yards on at least 30 carries combined. Rodgers will throw for over 300 yards and 2 touchdowns, but the 49ers defense will force 2 turnovers minimum and win the game by 2 scores.

Game 2: New Orleans at Philedalphia

The New Orleans Saints own a spotless 8-0 home record, but are a below average 3-5 on the road. They are on the road here, and out of their cozy Louisana Superdome and into frigid Philedalphia. The Saint haven’t been unlucky on the road-they have been blown out. The Saints defense is suspect on the road, which doesn’t bode well when facing Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy. The Eagles outlasted a gutsy effort by Kyle Orton and the Cowboys in Week 17 to sew up a playoff spot. Many Eagles players are in unfamiliar territory, and nerves might play a factor in the beginning of the game, whereas this is business as usual for Drew Brees and the Saints. I predict that McCoy has 3 scores, 2 rushing and 1 receiving, and Nick Foles survives a shootout with Brees to win the game 30-27.

AFC

Game 1: San Diego Chargers at Cinncinati Bengals:

San Diego snuck into the playoffs due to a missed field goal that should have been re-kicked, but that’s all a moot point if they can beat the Bengals. Phillp Rivers is playing some of the best football of his career, and Ryan Matthews has shown that when he’s healthy, he is a dynamic running back. Keenan Allen is making a strong case for the rookie of the year, and Antonio Gates is still productive. For the Bengals, their chances for a deep playoff run revolve around Andy Dalton. Cinncinati is loaded with offensive weapons including AJ Green, GIovani Bernard, and Mohammed Sanu. Dalton needs to get the ball to his playmakers quickly and effectively. Dalton has not played well in his first two playoff appearences, sending the Bengals home empty handed after first round losses in each of his first two seasons. A good day from Dalton wins this game for the Bengals, but considering the growth of this Chargers team and the performances that they can put on when clicking, this one is far from a sure thing. It’s unwise to trust Dalton in the playoffs. 24-14 Chargers.

Game 2: Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts.

These 2 teams met at Kansas City in Week 16, and it wasn’t pretty. Indy ran all over the once-dominant Chiefs defense, and the KC offense stalled once they got away from the run game. After starting 9-0, the Chiefs stumbled to a 2-5 finish. This is a big game for Kansas City in terms of defining their year. Were they the team that rode a dominant defense and a star running back deep into the playoffs? Or were they a team who got lucky with an easy strenghth of schedule and folded in games against tough opponents? On the road, with a sputtering offense and a defense that looks out of sync, the Chiefs are not the imposing threat they once were. On the other side of the field are the Colts, a well coached team with a rising star in quarterback Andrew Luck. The Colts also have a defensive monster in Robert Mathis, who led the league in sacks. Luck and the Colts take this game, 21-16, but it’s a tough road ahead for Indy without Reggie Wayne.

Colin Kaepernick had a career day against the Packers last time these two teams met in the playoffs. Credit for the image goes to: http://host.madison.com/sports/football/professional/packers-can-t-stop-colin-kaepernick-fall—to/article_54524972-5d39-11e2-bee1-0019bb2963f4.html

 

The Saints have had trouble on the road, including a 34-7 scorching on Monday Night Football. Credit for the image goes to: http://seattletimes.com/html/seahawks/2022382926_saintssidebar03xml.html

There’s no doubt about what type of player AJ Green(right) is-but the same cannot be said about his quarterback.(Andy Dalton, left) Credit for the image goes to: http://www.nfl.com/news/story/09000d5d823038c5/article/week-5-observations-bengals-playing-well-behind-rookies (Article is from 2011)

Jamaal Charles will do his best to carry his team, but will it be enough? Credit for the image goes to: http://www.rantsports.com/fantasy/2013/08/01/2013-fantasy-football-face-off-lesean-mccoy-vs-jamaal-charles/

I do not own any of these pictures and all credit goes to the photographers and the websites.

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The New York Jets-Team Report

The Jets started the season off on a poor note, losing Mark Sanchez to a torn labrum during a preseason game. This thrust Geno Smith, a rookie second round pick, into a starting role. Smith has had an up and down season, compiling impressive wins against the Falcons and Patriots, but an awful 4 week stretch has created a lot of controvesy on Smith’s future with New York. The Jets had playoff aspirations as recently as midseason, but poor play on offense has seen them slip to 6-8 and out of serious playoff contention. To be fair to Geno Smith, he doesn’t exactly have a lot of weapons to work with, given that Santonio Holmes is his number 1 receiver. Bilial Powell has ok this year, but at age 25 he has years to grow. The real reason the Jets have won six games is due to their dominant defense. Muhammed Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson are both monsters up front, there really isn’t a line that can challenge the strength, speed, and talent of these two guys. Quinton Coples, a versatile player that can play linebacker or play with his hand in the dirt, has been playing very well. Calvin Pace has racked up 9 sacks in his 11th year. David Harris has been a great run stopper, totaling 112 tackles to date. The secondary needs some work, but when Cromartie returns to health and as Milliner begins to catch up to the speed of the NFL, the unit will become stronger. The defense is top 10, maybe top 5 in the league, and Head Coach Rex Ryan is one of the best defensive minds in the game. The Jets may want to look at Mike Evans out of Texas A&M in the first round of the draft next year to be their possesion receiver. Evans is a terrific wideout that has excellent body control and has the tools to make an immediate impact as a possesion receiver. In the second or third rounds, the front office should take a long hard look at Alabama’s AJ McCarrron or Georgia’s Aaron Murray. Both are more prototypical pocket passers and should provide good competition for Smith, who is a good athlete but struggles with accuracy slumps. If Geno never figures it out at the pro level, either McCarron or Murray have the tools to be possible franchise QB’s.

The Arizona Cardinals-Team Report

The Arizona Cardinals are in an interesting (and unforturnate) situation. They are 9-5, good enough for first place in 4 NFL divisions, yet they are currently on the outside looking in for the playoffs. It doesn’t help that the NFC is clearly the stronger conference, with powerhouses such as Seattle, San Francisco, Carolina, and New Orleans all tying up potential playoff spots. Arizona looked to be in for a messy season after a week one loss to the Rams. In that loss, Carson Palmer looked erratic and turnover prone, and many fans groaned, wondering when their team would ever get a franchise QB. Since then, Bruce Arian’s club has been largely sucessful, only losing to Seattle, SF, the Saints, and Philedalphia. The only team there that they really should have beaten was the Eagles. They own a tiebreaker against Carolina if it comes to that, and they embarresed the Colts. In recent weeks, Palmer has stepped up his play and is looking like he did in his prime in Cinncinati. With strong quarterback play, the offense is humming and running on all cylinders. Patrick Peterson is making his case as the number corner in the league-Darrelle Revis looked really bad last Sunday-and John Abraham, Darnell Dockett, and Daryl Washington has really played well. Losing Tyrann Mathieu to an ACL tear will hurt, but the defense has grown together over the season. Arians has done a fantastic job with offense, and this is a team that could end up winning 10 games but missing the playoffs. That seems a little unfair, given that the both the Eagles and the Bears have defenses made out of Swiss Cheese and will be torn up by Cam Newton and Frank Gore. Arizona is a team that deserves to make the playoffs, but unless they get lucky, they most likely will not. It’s unfortunate, but the potential of this team makes the NFC West nervous for the years to come. 

Manziel’s NFL Projection

Johnny Manziel is one of College Football’s premier players and is making a strong case for his second Heisman Trophy in a row. It’s indisputable that he is a great college quarterback-the question is whether or not that will translate to the pros. Many NFL scouts are projecting him to go in the second to third round. A good day at the NFL Combine could launch his draft stock into the first round. Of course, this is all assuming that he decides to declare for the NFL Draft after his sophmore season.

Manziel’s supporters point out the fact that he was the first true freshman to win the Heisman in a breakout year and Texas A&M that included a victory over eventual nation champion Alabama. Manziel’s speed, quick release, and accuracy are all factors that work in his favor. His deep ball has improved quite a bit in his sophomore season. At 6’2, size is not a pressing concern. He is a proven winner and has performed well in the clutch in the past.

However, Manziel’s detractors point out quite a few flaws and raise compelling questions. Manziel frequently gains huge yards on broken plays. He’ll run around behind the line of scrimmage for 10 seconds before finding a broken coverage and zip it to his suddenly wide open wide receiver. NFL defensive backs are too smart and fast for this to happen, no to mention the fact that he won’t be able to elude NFL defensive linemen so easily. There are also questions about how Manziel will fare in the NFL without his big possession receiver, Mike Evans. Manziel relies heavily upon him, and if he ends up on a rebuilding team, Manziel will have little in the means of open receivers. Manziel also needs to learn to slide more and play smarter, if he continues to play recklessly he will get injured often and may end up having a tough season like the one RG3 is currently enduring. Some scouts also point to Manziel’s perceived arrogance, indicating that he might not want to play for a rebuilding team or ride the bench.

Manziel is not a complete quarterback prospect, nor a guy who can start for you day 1. He will need some time to learn the ins and outs of the pro game, and he will need to make big strides in his decision making if he wants to last in the NFL. That being said, Manziel is a solid draft choice for a few teams.

Best Teams: Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears.

In Arizona, Manziel would have his possession receiver in the ever reliable Larry Fitzgerald and a solid second option in the exciting Michael Floyd. Arizona’s run game looks promising and the defense can turn in dominant performances. Offensive minded Head Coach Bruce Arians would be extremely helpful in Manziel’s development and the team can always turn to veteran Carson Palmer if Manziel struggles. He could potentially be their franchise quarterback with the proper coaching. If he’s available in the second round, they should pull the trigger. The offensive line should be addressed in the first round for Arizona.

The Bears have a plethora of offensive weapons in Ashlon Jeffrey, Brandon Marshall, and Matt Forte. With a Jay Cutler contract situation looming, Manziel could sit behind Cutler in 2014 and take over the reins in the following year. Marc Trestmen has done a fantastic job in revitalizing Chicago’s offense, and he seems to be a good fit to mold Manziel into a pro ready quarterback. Manziel is in optimal position to succeed with either of these two teams.

Worst Teams: New York Jets, Houston Texans

The media, especially ESPN, loves to hate the Jets, and loves to hate Manziel. Manziel on the Jets? Oh boy. In an already tumultuous quarterback situation involving Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith, Manziel might have to see the field before he is ready. Also, what would it say about the franchise’s faith in Smith, their proposed franchise QB? The New York Media would eat Manziel alive, labeling him a bust after one bad game. Rex Ryan is a good head coach, but he is naturally a more defensive minded coach. The Jets offensive has sputtered lately, and it would be tough for any quarterback to succeed with the Jets’ depleted offensive weapons.

The University of Houston and Texas A&M have a major rivalry. With Manziel’s first mistakes the fan base would be calling for hometown hero and college legend Case Keenum. The fans allow their quarterbacks a short leash, turning on Matt Schuab after a few bad games, forgetting everything he has done for the franchise, where the real blame lies with Head Coach Gary Kubiak for not allowing him to audible. With the fans predisposed to dislike him and competition with Case Keenum, I can’t see it ending well for Manziel in Houston.