A new year brings a new season for NFL fans... it's the postseason, baby. All the wannabes and should-have-beens, the pretenders, are looking for their golf clubs. But 12 NFL teams still have a shot at Super Bowl XLII.
The Patriots (16-0) are still perfect (although the Giants got their attention last weekend), and this record-breaking effort will continue to be a media mainstay through February, if New England can, in fact, make it to Arizona.
All the conference seedings are set, and game times have been confirmed for the first round. At most, each team needs to win only three games to advance to Glendale for SB42. The Patriots, along with AFC counterpart Indianapolis (13-3), will rest this weekend. The first two seeds in the NFC also receive byes this week, so Dallas (13-3) and Green Bay (13-3) will take breathers before playing home games next weekend.
Only 8 teams will still be around for this postseason after this weekend.
Tennessee (10-6) at San Diego (11-5), Sunday, 2:30 p.m. MST Prediction: San Diego 23, Tennessee 17
The Chargers have won six in a row, the longest streak other than that of the Patriots. If San Diego QB Philip Rivers beats the Titans and begins to play a bit more consistently this postseason, the Chargers will have another home game before their potential shot on the road against New England in the AFC Championship. Not sure the Titans have enough firepower or superstars to match up against RB Tomlinson and those such as Merriman and Cromartie on the other side of the ball.
Jacksonville (11-5) at Pittsburgh (10-6), Saturday, 6 p.m. MST Prediction: Jacksonville 27, Pittsburgh 24
Based on the fact Jacksonville beat the Steelers on Dec. 16 in Pittsburgh, the experts think the Jaguars can pull off another win at Heinz Field. This game should be close throughout, and likely will come down to the last couple of drives. Pittsburgh's defense has looked suspect over the last month or so, but winning twice on the road against the Steelers is a tough order. The Steelers' only home loss of the season came against the Jags.
Washington (9-7) at Seattle (10-6), Saturday, 2:30 p.m. MST Prediction: Redskins 30, Seahawks 21
The Redskins are winners of four in a row, including big wins against Minnesota and Dallas (albeit the latter was against the B team). This upset pick is based on the fact that long-time back-up quarterback Todd Collins is playing with confidence, and the fact the Seahawks have been inconsistent this season. Matt Hasselbeck's experience at QB is an X factor, but running back Shawn Alexander's injury woes have left Seattle with a one-dimensional attack. These two teams met in the playoffs in 2005, when the Seahawks escaped 20-10 at home.
New York Giants (10-6) at Tampa Bay (9-7), Sunday, 11 a.m. MST Prediction: Tampa Bay 17, Giants 13
This game may appear to be a case of the blahs at face value, but it's an intriguing contest for a few reasons. Eli Manning looked great in a narrow defeat to the Patriots last Saturday, and the Giants had won 3 of 4 before that setback. The Buccaneers will lean on the experience of QB Jeff Garcia, as well as a defense that has slipped under the radar, yet is among the best in the NFL. The Bucs' takeaway-giveaway ratio is great, and when you combine all of these factors, you have a recipe for playoff success.
It All Comes Down to This
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The wildcard games are incredibly important, but the NFL's four best teams are not taking the field this weekend. These four teams (Patriots, Colts, Packers and Cowboys) are a combined 55-9 this season, so it's easy to see which teams are favored to advance to the conference championships.
That being said, there won't be much left on the field by any of the teams taking to battle this weekend. A few lucky bounces in either direction, for any team, can mean the difference between another week of postseason bliss or a postseason on the couch.
Personally, I have no problem with the couch or the recliner this time of year. It's the postseason, baby!