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A Preview Of Wild Card Weekend

Another regular season is in the books my friends.  As we look ahead at the playoffs, here are two comforting facts regarding the Colts that I think you should be reminded of in case you have forgotten:

  1. The Colts are the #1 seed in the AFC and have home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  Meaning, the road to Super Bowl XLIV will end in Indianapolis for the two unfortunate teams who have to play the Colts.  No matter who it is, may our opponent be damned because as Mr. Raheem Brock so eloquently stated, the Colts are on a mission.
  2. The Colts are as healthy as a team can be going into the playoffs.  Aside from a few minor bumps and bruises, no player sustained a devastating injury in the past two meaningless games.  And there is no player being hampered by an injury that will prevent them from performing at his best when the Colts take the field against their opponent.  All of the key starters who give the Colts the best chance of obtaining that coveted Lombardi trophy are healthy and are focusing on kicking some serious tail.

If that is not comforting enough for you, then what are you doing rooting for the Colts?  Forget all of that nonsensical YouKnowWhat and 0 talk, it's time for the playoffs!

For the first time since anyone can remember, the contenders in the AFC are a mediocre bunch.  No team, aside from the Colts and Chargers, have shown that they can consistently perform at a high level this season.

Even though the Bengals swept the AFC North and clinched the division title for the first time since the 2005 season, they aren't without flaws.  As of late, both the Bengals and Patriots have been gouged by injuries to key players.  During their week 16 game, starting rookie strong side linebacker Ray Maualuga fractured his ankle and was subsequently placed on injured reserve.  Starting defensive tackle Pat Sims is also done for the season after breaking his right forearm, an injury he suffered against the Jets last night.  And lastly, Chad Eightfive who recently reneged on a bet he made that would have him change his last name back to Johnson if he were to be shutout by Darrelle Revis, which he was, which also ended a 120 game streak of at least one reception in a game, injured his left knee in pre-game warm-ups and was clearly hindered by the injury.  He was scheduled to have an MRI earlier today at noon, but there is no word on the results from that test.

The good news for the Bengals is that they certainly couldn't play any worse than they did this past Sunday.  Cedric Benson, the same Cedric Benson that Bob Sanders clobbered in Super Bowl XLI, has been carrying this Bengals team all season long and should be well rested going into this rematch against the Jets.  So the Bengals' chances of not being a complete flop in the first round is better, but not by much.

Considering that the Bengals were the second best team against the run this season, you'd think they would fare well against the very predictable Jets offense.  The Jets' plan going into this game is most likely to ride their very good running game all the way to the promised land and hope/prevent Dirty Sanchez from ruining everything.

The key for both teams in this contest is to stifle the opposing rushing attack and force the other team to pass the ball more hopefully causing more mistakes.  If the Jets can do this, their chance of winning the game will go up tremendously.  Having a player like Darrelle Revis on your defense gives you the luxury of leaving man coverage on a team's #1 receiver and rolling coverage, sometimes even doubling up the remaining receivers on a team which ultimately nullifies a teams passing game all together.  This is the only reason that the Jets would worry me if I were Caldwell or Manning if they had to prepare to play against the Jets.  Just go look at opposing team's #1 receiver's stats; Revis shuts them down, period.

Because of Revis and the Jets'  dynamic, deadly, versatile defense, I'm picking the Jets to win this game again.  I know that the Bengals basically threw in the towel very early in that game on Sunday night.  But even when they were trying to get something going the Jets defense wasn't having it.  As long as Dirty Sanchez doesn't lose the game for them, I think the Jets will come out with a victory.  Expect a low scoring affair with a little more defense played by the Bengals.

As I mentioned earlier, the Patriots are also dealing with the loss of the most valuable player on their entire team in Wes WelkerRandy Moss is a freak, Randy Moss can burn you, but Randy Moss is also in a world of his own.  While he is not nearly on the same playing field as the likes of T.O. in terms of being a diva, Randy Moss only plays when Randy Moss wants to.  The Patriots - Panthers game was a prime example of this.  Now that Brady's little boyfriend is out of the mix, he'll probably start forcing passes to Moss and their entire offense will be completely out of rhythm and will suffer.

At least that's what I'm hoping will happen, but let's not kid ourselves here.  Julian Edelman will probably fill in for Welker and do admirably.  Fred Taylor has returned from his hand injury and is looking like he's ready to go in the playoffs.  Depending on how bad the weather is, I would expect to see the Patriots try to abuse a horrendous Ravens' secondary, mixing in a lot of draw plays to control the clock as they methodically pick the Ravens apart.

The Ravens defense is a shell of its former self and no matter how much yelling and dancing Ray Lewis does, Brady is just smarter than them.  He knows what they have to do to rip into those guys and I don't see the Ravens having an answer for it.

Oh, and those concerned or interested in the health of Tom Brady, he's fine.  Those reports about him playing with a broken rib and finger and whatnot is old news.  Those are injuries he sustained earlier this season and has since recovered from.  One thing he hasn't recovered from is bitchassness.  Please tell me I'm not the only one who saw Brady flip out after a Texans defender pushed him to the ground and then he kneeled there pointing at the ref as if to say, "Dude I know you saw that hook me up with that flag man!"  No flag came and Brady was irate.  Screaming at the refs and at the Houston players.  So sad.

On a quick side note, what is the possibility that Polian goes after Bernard Pollard?  That guy is the bane of the Patriots' existence.  Anytime he plays the Patriots half of them snap their ACLs.  Do want.

Ok let's get back on topic. 

One answer the Ravens could have for the Patriots passing game is their decimating running game.  Ray Rice has been a stud and a half all season long, and much like Cedric Benson for the Bengals, Ray Rice has been the Ravens' offense.  As Colts fans, we know that tired argument of controlling the clock, pounding the ball, yadda yadda yadda, is the way to beat a pass happy team.  And while that is all good and true for the most part, that's not how you beat Brady and the Patriots or Manning and the Colts.  When I say they need to rely on their decimating running game, I really mean get Ray Rice the ball as much as possible and let him do his thing.  In my eyes, he's one of very few every down back in this league right now.  Everything about his game is top notch and it's somewhat refreshing to see a running back do so many different things well.  Addai is 2/3 of the way there, but for the Colts offense, 2/3 is good enough.

The proven way of smashing the Pats is pressuring Brady.  When people are in Brady's face he gets upset and he starts making mistakes; arguably the biggest difference between he and Manning.  Hopefully defensive coordinator Greg Mattison took a few notes from Rex Ryan and will bring a few exotic blitzes to hit Brady early and often because aside from Ray Rice scoring about 30 points on his own, this is their only hope of beating the Patriots.

As much as I'd like to see the Ravens win this game, I just don't see it happening.  I predict the Patriots will win this game by a significant margin (by at least a touchdown).

If the wild card games finish as I had predicted, I really like the Colts chances at not flaming out in their first playoff game against the Jets.  Unfortunately for the Jets, the Colts have two #1 receivers and two others who will torch you over and over again.  The Jets just won't have enough defenders to cover all of the Colts receivers, and that's not even considering Addai and Brown running and catching passes.

For more indepth analysis of these upcoming games please check out Baltimore Beatdown, Cincy Jungle, Pats Pulpit, and Gang Green Nation.