Wild weekend—NFL playoff picks
Wild Card weekend just ain't what it used to be. These games were once the most unpredictable and, excuse the unforgivable pun, "wild" contests fans could hope for.
Now, every game not involving the Bills and Patriots is unpredictable. Of all eight teams playing this weekend, you never know which version of which team will show up. One of them could be Super Bowl champions in a month's time. Alas, picking who wins and who loses is more difficult than ever before; again, a lot like every other NFL game played since the late 1990s.
So, with all the accuracy of Bobcat Goldthwait playing "Operation" after triple espressos, here go my picks ...
• Baltimore at New England. The Ravens' defense puts them in a position to win many games, but it's an aging group whose armor has been shown to be compromised in a handful of games this season. Meanwhile, everyone's ready to pronounce the Patriots dead, at long last, especially with a devastating injury to Wes Welker (pictured) in Week 17. But with all the Pats' playoff mileage and Bill Belichick's preparation, you'd better have some rock-solid inside information if you're betting against Tom Brady in Foxborough in January. The Pats always seem to find a way, and will give Joe Flacco all kinds of trouble, 24-10.
• N.Y. Jets at Cincinnati. The Bengals aren't even the second-best team in their division, let alone the AFC. How they found a way to sweep the Steelers and Ravens is ... well, shame on the Steelers and Ravens! The Jets, on the other hand, are only in the playoffs by virtue of playing two teams that placed little, if any, importance on Weeks 16 and 17. Their running game and defense are overrated, having built an overinflated reputation by feasting on god-awful opponents. And as unimpressed as I am with the Bengals, they're a few steps above god-awful. Expect an interception bonanza for the Bengals defensive backs. Cincy, 26-13.
• Philadelphia at Dallas. Two heated rivals who are seeing each other for the third time in a few months, and played as recently as last week? Sounds like a recipe for a grudge match, NFC East style. Both teams can look like world-beaters one week and lay an absolute egg the next. It's against my better judgement to go with the Wade Phillips-coached teams when it matters, but the Cowboys are at home and playing great defense at the right time. They'll pressure Donovan McNabb and limit their own mistakes. Boys in an absolute bore, 14-10.
• Green Bay at Arizona. The Cardinals must be the most undeserving Super Bowl runner-up in the history of pro football. That they even posted a winning record is a scathing indictment of the ineptitude of the NFC West. The Packers are an opportunistic bunch, an attribute that can get you places in the postseason. Even with Kurt Warner returning to the mix, I like the plucky Pack, 27-24.