NFL Survivor Pool Picks - Wild-Card Round
by Matt Severance - 01/02/2009
In my Week 17 Survivor column, which I assumed to be the last of the year, I asked if any of you were in a Survivor-type playoff pool and to email if you were. Well, you did, so we are back for the postseason. Thanks for writing in.
Many playoff pools are done differently, but I'm going to stick with the opening weekend's games in this column assuming you are in an elimination pool and not a pre-set bracket like the NCAA Tournament. Although if the latter is the case, feel free to drop us another line, and I'm happy to give my opinions all the way through. You will also find a column on Doc's about which wild-card team I believe is most likely to pull a repeat of what the Giants did last year, for what that's worth.
On to the wild-card round matchups, in which each road team amazingly opened as the favorite:
Atlanta (NFC 5) at Arizona (NFC 4), Saturday: Some people might believe this is the No. 1 wild-card lock of the weekend, and it certainly appears that the Cardinals are the most flawed team in the postseason. Arizona has only beaten two teams with a winning record (Miami and Dallas, in the first third of the season), but both of those came in the desert. Can you believe this is Kurt Warner's first playoff appearance since the Rams made the second of their Super Bowls as the "Greatest Show on Turf"? This also is the Cards' first home playoff game since they were the Chicago Cardinals. There's no question Arizona has some offensive weapons, and that this club is dangerous - at least offensively - at home. The Falcons are a tremendous running team, but Matt Ryan, the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, did struggle down the stretch, throwing for only 500 yards combined in Weeks 15-17. Will the running game bail him out this week? It's possible, but I don't think so.
Indianapolis (AFC 5) At San Diego (AFC 4), Saturday: A rematch of a Week 12 game at Qualcomm, where the Colts escaped with a 23-20 victory. Indy hasn't lost since Week 8, while the Chargers completed yet another unbeaten December. The problem for them is that this game is in January. The Colts are the smallest favorites on the board as of this writing even though they were able to rest most of their key players last week and the Chargers had to go full-bore against Denver on Sunday night. San Diego had won three in a row vs. Indy before Week 12, including in last year's playoffs, but will LaDainian Tomlinson be 100 percent for this game? He says no after injuring his groin against the Broncos. I agree that this is the closest matchup of the four games this weekend, so I'd stay away if you can, but you probably can't, so I would take the Colts.
Baltimore (AFC 6) at Miami (AFC 3), Sunday: This is my favorite game of the weekend in terms of believing a team will win, and that's Baltimore. The Ravens dominated the Fins in Miami in Week 7, allowing just 71 yards on the ground. The Dolphins are 9-1 against them, sure, but Joe Flacco also is a much better quarterback for Baltimore since then. That Raven defense is a big matchup problem for the Dolphins, who can't stretch a team out with weak-armed Chad Pennington. The Ravens opened as the biggest favorites on the board this weekend, and have the best chance to win out of these eight teams, in my opinion.
Philadelphia (NFC 6) at Minnesota (NFC 3), Sunday: It's almost not fair that the Vikings won the division and basically got punished by having to face Philly. I think this matchup comes down to whether Pro Bowl defensive tackle Pat Williams can play for Minnesota. Williams missed the final two games of the regular season with a fractured shoulder but said early this week that he no longer has any pain in the shoulder and that the plan is for him to return Sunday. Coach Brad Childress also said that Williams will "make a push for this weekend." If he plays, and Williams is the anchor of Minnesota's run defense, that changes the outlook of this game even though the Eagles are just No. 22 in rushing. I'd stay far, far away from this game but lean toward the Eagles.
That's it for wild-card weekend. I hope the quick breakdowns of the opening four games help you in whatever Survivor-type competition you are in for the playoffs. Look for this column again previewing the divisional round. Good luck.