NFL: Wild Card Weekend 2009

The Second Season

by Rick Rockwell

For those who don’t follow sports, the second season means the playoffs. To some, this is the only season that matters.

There’s no messing around in the playoffs. Make one too many mistakes and your team is done for the year.

So with that philosophy in mind, let’s get right to the pertinent question: who will play in the Super Bowl?

This year, it will be the Manning Bowl. Yes, if you think the Manning brothers are over-exposed commercially now, wait until they are the two headlining quarterbacks in the Super Bowl. That alone should be reason for us to pray against such a possibility. However, the elder Manning, Peyton, is on many lists as the league’s MVP and Eli merely plays quarterback for the World Champion New York Giants. Right now, the Colts and Giants are the best teams in their respective conferences. Sure, the Tennessee Titans have the best record in football, but they are not as hot as the Colts, a team that has won nine straight. Meanwhile, the Giants have the best record in the National Football Conference (NFC) and as usual look primed for the playoffs with a solid rushing attack and tough defense. (The prediction: the Colts triumph in a very close Super Bowl.)

Isn’t this a betrayal of the so-called Hero Team, the Philadelphia Eagles? Well, certainly, but this is the first year the Hero Team was not hexed by its selection so we are in new territory with the team actually in the playoffs. In all seriousness, the Eagles are never sure which team will show up week-to-week. Will it be the shut down defense and flawless Donovan McNabb at quarterback who smothered the Cowboys during Week 17? Or will it be the mistake-prone, lackluster bunch which could not beat Jim Zorn and his mediocre Washington crew in Week 16?

The Eagles have the most intriguing match-up of the coming weekend, as the Minnesota Vikings are also a talented but inconsistent bunch. Minnesota's problems begins at quarterback. Due to injuries, Travaris Jackson returned to the quarterback spot in December and Coach Brad Childress decided he should keep starting. But since that decision, Minnesota’s offense has become more prone to fumble. Gus Frerotte is a steadier hand at quarterback, even if he doesn’t hold the future promise of Jackson. Don’t be surprised if the Vikings blow their playoff chance due to a bad hand-off or interception in the late going against the blitz happy Eagles, especially with Jackson at quarterback. But with Adrian Peterson, the league leader at running back and one of the best defenses against the run in the league, the Vikings have the ingredients to do well not just against the Eagles but also against many other playoff teams.

But neither the Eagles nor Vikings can play at the same level as the Colts or Giants, at least right now. And that’s how it is in the second season. Some teams play just well enough to get into the end of the season tournament. Others are playing at a dominant level.

The Year of Collapse

Some surprise moves in the year-end messiness of firing coaches needs further commentary. If 2008 is remembered for anything, both in football and on so many other levels, it will be remembered as the Year of Collapse. So the Jets fell apart at the end of the season, blowing four of their last five games; that included losing what amounted to a playoff entry game to the Miami Dolphins. The result: Eric “Mangenius” Mangini was axed as the coach. With the division lead in hand, the Denver Broncos lost their last three games, the first time in league history a team with a three game lead with three weeks left lost its division. The result: Mike Shanahan is out as coach; someone who won two Super Bowls in his 14 years in Denver. By those standards, shouldn’t Wade Phillips be out in Dallas? The Cowboys under Phillips lost three of four games in December and winning just one of those contests would have put them in the playoffs. (Most agree Phillips is not the coach to bring cohesiveness to the collection of all-stars and misfit talents assembled by micromanaging owner Jerry Jones.) What about the fate of Jon “Chucky” Gruden, coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? The Bucs also collapsed by losing their last four games. Before their swoon they were leading the NFC South but now they too are out of the playoffs. The truth is Mangini and Shanahan probably should have been given another year despite the poor endings to their teams’ seasons. Likely, in 2009, neither the Jets nor the Broncos will be better for changing coaches.

Wild Card Weekend Office Pool Predictions

Game of the Week/Upset Special: Eagles at Vikings (Vikings)

Falcons at Cardinals (Falcons)
Ravens at Dolphins (Ravens)
Colts at Chargers (Colts)

Last Week: .688
2008 Season: .620

For other blogs calling NFL games, please see:
  • The D.C. Universe,
  • Gun Toting Liberal, and
  • The Liberal Journal.

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