Wild Cards Hope to Make It Past Divisional Playoffs
by Greg Melikov - 01/06/2009
NFL wild card teams more often than not face an uphill battle to reach the Super Bowl, let alone win it.
Nine made it all the way since 1970 when the new playoff wrinkle was added. Five were crowned champions, including three that played three games on the road in the 21st Century.
The New York Giants in 2008 defeated Tampa Bay in the wild card contest and whipped Dallas in the divisional game. The Giants won the NFC Championship Game in overtime, edging Green Bay, 23-20, and tripped New England in the Super Bowl, 17-14.
In 2005, Pittsburgh knocked off Cincinnati in the wild card decider and beat Indianapolis in the divisional playoff. The Steelers crushed Denver for the AFC title, 34-17, before beating Seattle, 21-10, in Super Bowl 40.
In 2000, Baltimore bombed the Broncos in the wild card and cruised past Tennessee in the divisional game. The Ravens won the AFC Championship Game, 16-3, over Oakland, the first of five wild card survivors to capture the Super Bowl in 1980. Then the Ravens destroyed the Giants, 34-7, in the big one.
But from 2001 through 2004 and in 2006 no wild card made it past the divisional playoffs.
Baltimore has a shot at becoming the only wild card team to capture the Super Bowl twice. But first the Ravens must journey on Saturday to Tennessee, the No. 1 AFC seed that they lost to 13-10 at home early last year.
The match-up is fairly even in several categories. The Ravens hold the edge on defense, limiting the opposition to less than 180 yards passing per contest, 20 yards better than the Titans. Baltimore only allowed 81 yards on the ground each game, 12 ½ yards fewer than Tennessee.
The Ravens rushed for about 11 ½ yards more than the Titans, averaging nearly 149 yards. The teams are even throwing the ball - just three-feet difference with the Titans averaging 176 ½ yards a game.
Baltimore scores 24.1 points to Tennessee's 23.4. The Titans limited opponents to 14.6 points compared to the Ravens' 15.3.
Tennessee is a three-point favorite, according to Bodog and Sportsbook.com. Baltimore is 6-1 straight up and against the spread in its last seven games while Tennessee is 8-1 straight up in the past nine games and 6-1-1 against the spread in its last eight games.
On Sunday, NFC East champ New York hosts the other wild card, division rival Philadelphia. They're playing for the third time this season: The Eagles lost at home, 36-31, and upset the Giants last month at the Meadowlands, 20-14.
The teams are almost dead even in scoring, with New York averaging less than a point ahead of Philadelphia's 26. The Eagles have limited foes to nearly 18 points a game, not even a half point less than the Giants.
However, Philadelphia passed for nearly 45 yards more each game, exceeding 244. Meanwhile, the Giants averaged 50 yards more on the ground, topping 156.
New York is a four-point favorite, according to Bodog and Sportsbook.com. The Giants are 7-1 straight up in their last eight games and 5-1 against the spread in the past six games. Philadelphia is 5-1 straight up and against the spread in its last six games.