Dave's Sports Views

Analysis, humor and opinion on the sports world

Location: Dallas, Texas, United States

Friday, January 06, 2006

Wild Card Picks

Washington at Tampa Bay – This matchup doesn’t seem sexy, but remember that the two teams played one of the best games of the season, a 36-35 Tampa Bay victory in Week 10. The Bucs went for a two-point conversion with 58 seconds left after the Redskins blocked a game-tying extra point but jumped offside on the play, and succeeded when Mike Alstott bulled his way over the goal line with a great second effort. That play, more than the score of the game, defines these two teams – tough and unyielding. Early in the year, I thought Tampa Bay to be a good pick for the Super Bowl, because they had developed a great balance between Brian Griese’s passing and rookie Cadillac Williams’ running. The defense still had many of the parts from the Super Bowl win three years ago. Then Griese was lost for the season, Williams had nagging injuries, and Tampa Bay finished with a solid but quiet 11-5 record. Washington closed with a flourish, riding its own strong defense, running game and solid quarterback play. The Redskins, like Pittsburgh, represent a dangerous sixth seed. While Chris Simms has matured since replacing Griese, I think Joe Gibbs and Gregg Williams have the ability to create schemes that will rattle him. Unlike his successor at the University of Texas, Simms can’t escape a pass rush and turn it into a positive play, and I expect Williams to throw the house at him and force him to adjust. He won’t. Redskins 24, Buccaneers 13

Jacksonville at New England – No one gives the Jaguars any chance to win this game, simply because they’re playing New England. I do. Jacksonville is exactly the kind of team that can give New England problems, a physical team that can take body punches all game and then deliver a well-timed blow to the head. Jacksonville’s strength on both lines can wear down New England, and despite their Southern location, the Jaguars are built for cold weather – remember the game in Green Bay last year where they looked like the team that was accustomed to playing in sub-zero weather. But Jack Del Rio is taking a mighty risk starting Byron Leftwich, just back from injury, instead of David Garrard. Bringing a rusty Leftwich back against a Bill Belichick defense is asking for trouble. I would expect Jacksonville to run the ball a lot, trying to find fresh legs among Fred Taylor, Greg Jones and LaBrandon Toefield in an effort to wear down the Patriots. Belichick will try to take the run away and dare Leftwich to beat his young secondary. Meanwhile, you have Tom Brady on the other side. Having him quarterback a wild-card game is like asking Michelangelo to paint an accent wall in your house, but it’s still January, it’s still Brady, and it’s still a foregone conclusion. New England throws the last punch – or kick. Patriots 16, Jaguars 13

Carolina at New York – Watching a playoff game at Giants Stadium harkens back memories of Phil Simms handing off to Joe Morris, Jim Burt body-slamming Joe Montana, and Denny Green staring into space as the Vikings defense gives up yet another touchdown. That’s right, Vikings fans, this is the Giants' first playoff game at the Meadowlands since “41-bubble.” And the Giants’ opponent will be coached the former defensive coordinator who helped put the bubble up, Panthers’ head coach John Fox. How much will the Meadowlands and the screaming New York faithful have an effect? That’s the key question, because the Panthers are a more experienced team, Jake Delhomme is a more consistent quarterback than Eli Manning, and the Carolina defense has the edge over its injury-plagued New York counterpart. The Giants’ offensive line needs to give Manning time to throw and Tiki Barber room to run, else the fans will actually be looking forward to the post-game traffic jam. New York needs to look to another ex-Giant coach, Bill Parcells, for the formula to beat Carolina. His Cowboys did so on Christmas Eve, albeit with a little help from the officials, by running Julius Jones 34 times for 194 yards. If a runner of Barber’s talent carries 34 times, he might double that yardage. The ghost of Jimmy Hoffa still has more luck in him. Giants 28, Panthers 24

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati – The Bengals, presumably, will attempt to play like the team that won 11 of its first 14 games, rather than the squad that lost at home to the Bills and didn’t even show up in Kansas City last week. This is a great first-round matchup between the AFC Central/North’s preeminent team, the old king if you will, and its historic rival, a rising team built around terrific offensive talent and a ball-hawking defense cast in the mold of its head coach. After the Bengals beat the Steelers in Week 13, all but clinching the division, Cincinnati proclaimed the Steelers’ run of dominance over. Yet by winning its last four, Pittsburgh tied the Bengals’ record (Cincinnati claimed the tie-breaker) and now has a chance to prove it’s still the best in the division by winning a playoff game on the road. If the Steelers can run the ball successfully, they will win. Despite a listless performance against Detroit last week, the Steelers defense has been playing well. And Ben Roethlisberger is the playoff-tested quarterback that Carson Palmer is not, who went 11-3 as a starter this year. Most of all, Jerome Bettis came back this year because he had a chance to play in the Super Bowl, in his hometown. It’s unlikely that he will make it that far – the AFC is too tough and Pittsburgh in a bad spot as the lowest seed. But Bettis will rally the Steelers around him this week and at least give them a shot against the Colts. Steelers 34, Bengals 24


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