Ratings and Recommendations

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Nothing for sure on first weekend of playoffs

Saturday, May 7, 2011

There is hope for every team for the following year. Except for maybe the wretched Lions, but that's whole other sorry topic. Seven playoff teams did not make the postseason a year ago (Baltimore, Dallas, Kansas City, New Orleans, New York Jets, Philadelphia and San Diego) and three (Baltimore, New Orleans and Philadelphia) went from last place to first place in their divisions.

Think going on the road in the playoffs is an issue? Be wary of the traveler in the postseason's first weekend. In 2004 and 2005, road teams went 6-2 in wild-card weekend. That's surprising considering the road team in that game slipped into the playoffs. But don't let recent trends be the determining factor. In the three previous seasons (2003, 2002 and 2001), the home team went 9-3.

And just because a team plays in a wild-card game, that doesn't automatically nix it from Super Bowl contention. Since the 1996 season, four wild-card teams/non-division winners have reached the Super Bowl with three winning the championship, including the Steelers last year.

Also, this season has been an unusual one. Predictions aren't so easy. When you think a team should win a game, it loses. And when you think a team should lose, it wins. What's up is down, and what's down is up. What's right is wrong, and what's wrong is right. That's the nature of the NFL.

While I just can't see the Giants beating the Eagles, the way this season has gone, that's probably what will happen. Same with Dallas. There's no logical way to forecast a Cowboys win, not with the way they have been playing.

But then consider the Seahawks haven't done much lately to automatically call them the winner.

The Colts look ripe for the picking, and the Jets have already proven they can beat the Patriots in Foxborough.

There's an argument to be made for every team.


Kansas City (+6½) at Indianapolis

After Bill Parcells, Chiefs coach Herm Edwards conducts one of the more enjoyable press conferences in the league. Edwards is right. The Chiefs didn't back into the playoffs. They did what they had to and other teams didn't. It's that simple. And Kansas City is going to give the Colts a game. The Colts better be prepared – on both sides of the ball. If Indy's defense doesn't limit Larry Johnson and the team in general doesn't get out of the funk it's been in and out of since Week 11, it's going to be a long offseason for Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning.

Colts 30, Chiefs 24


Dallas Cowboys (+3) at Seattle Seahawks

Neither team is particularly attractive, but one team has to win. Dallas is even less appealing than Seattle. The Cowboys put themselves in playoff position in midseason with four consecutive wins and sputtered into the postseason, losing three of their final four games, including two straight, one being that 39-31 debacle in the finale against the Lions. Embarrassing, as Parcells stated. Seattle isn't any better shape. The Seahawks wobbled into the playoffs because the rest of the NFC West was mediocre at best. The Seahawks lost three of their past four, including back-to-back losses at home where Seattle usually has been solid. This is anyone's game but it's not a bad bet to lean toward playoff experience at quarterback, and Tony Romo doesn't have it. Matt Hasselbeck does.

Seahawks 28, Cowboys 27


New York Jets (+9) at New England

He won't admit it because he rarely admits anything – not even that the sun rises in the east, sets in the west and that Eric Mangini used to be on his staff – but Patriots coach Bill Belichick must be seething after losing to Mangini and the Jets in Foxborough. From the second Belichick barely shook hands with Mangini after that game, the Patriots coach consciously or subconsciously started planning for a potential playoff game against the Jets. Mangini is up to the task. When you can't decide who has the coaching edge, you go with the next best man, and that's Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Brady is 10-1 in the playoffs with 2,493 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and just five interceptions for a 94.5 QB rating. Take note of this, too: the Jets were 1-3 against playoff teams this year, the lone win coming vs. New England.

Patriots 24, Jets 16


New York Giants (+6½) at Philadelphia

Despite that win last week against the Redskins, it's still difficult to buy what the Giants are selling. Remember, that 34-28 win came against a Washington team that finished 5-11. It was a brutal second half of the season for the Giants, who went 2-6 to finish the year. They do nothing to instill confidence. The Eagles turned out to be one of the unsuspecting success stories of the year. When QB Donovan McNabb went down with an injury on Nov. 19, who knew backup Jeff Garcia was ready to revive his career? Who knew Philadelphia would win its final six games and make the playoffs? Count me in as one of the skeptics. But the Eagles are playing inspired football, something the Giants cannot say.

Eagles 24, Giants 20


Last week: 9-7 straight up; 8-8 ATS

Overall: 156-100; 116-136-4

2005 season: 190-77; 143-105-12

2004 season: 167-100; 119-134-8


E-mail Jeff Zillgitt at jzillgitt@usatoday.com.

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