Wild card weekend has arrived and we have some good games on tap! Before we get to the picks, I had to share this GREAT article from the Onion about Wes Welker. Nice to be able to laugh about one of the worst possible storylines for Pats fans. Of course Welker isn’t the only big injury teams are dealing with as the playoffs begin. Perhaps no team is more banged up than the Arizona Cardinals. Going into their matchup with GB several key contributors are question marks and that will make winning difficult. That game is one of three that feature rematches of games played in week 17, albeit under different circumstances. In looking at the slate of games, they are all really hard to pick – with no clear favorite in either the AFC or the NFC, this promises to be a wide-open and fun playoff season. Now for the picks:
Jets at Bengals
The Jets embarrassed the Bengals last week in a game they had to win but can they do it again? If the Bengals D can hold Thomas Jones to under 80 yards and avoid the big mistake that hurt them last week I like their chances because the Jets can’t win if the game is on Sanchez’s shoulders. On the other side, when the Bengals have the ball, Cedric Benson has to gain real yards on first and second down. With Revis blanketing Ocho Cinco and the creative schemes Rex Ryan can come up with, a day of 3rd and long means the Bengals will be one and done. When all is said and done, I think Jones finds just enough running room and the Jets D makes a big play at the end. On the other hand, I could easily envision a scenario where the Bengals, feeding off the “no one believes in us idea” and the tragedies their team has experienced this year blow the Jets out of the water.
Jets 16, Bengals 14
Eagles at Cowboys
Philadelphia entered last week’s game, against Dallas, with a chance to secure the 2 seed in the NFC and a first-round bye but, in what is no shocker to Eagles fans, they totally blew it. Now they have to travel back to Dallas for a really tough first-round matchup. Will the new young guns led by the most exciting player in the game, Desean Jackson, erase years of postseason frustration or will Tony Romo and Wade Phillips win their first playoff game together? Tony Romo is playing great football right now and I’m not sure the Eagles D can get the kind-of pressure they need to beat him. Points will be scored in this game but, if Romo is given all day, the Eagles have no chance. I’m looking forward to this great game between these two bitter rivals. As a side note, I am rooting for the Eagles because I will be in Philly during the game…do NOT want to see the town if Philly blows another postseason game.
Cowboys 31, Eagles 21
Ravens at Patriots
No Wes Welker? No problem…at least not in this game. If the Patriots can find a way to contain Ray Rice/Willis McGahee, then they will win this game without a problem. Belichick will find a way to mitigate the loss of Welker by getting other players involved and I am big fan of the current crop of Pats RBs. Remember when Jermaine Wiggins came out of nowhere in the Snow bowl game back in 2002? I bet we will see some unexpected guy make a huge contribution on Sunday. What’s the formula for Baltimore? Run and play-action. I just don’t think the running game will have enough of an impact to beat this team on a field that visitors rarely win on.
Patriots 37, Ravens 17
Packers at Cardinals
A banged-up secondary going up against one of the best QBs in the NFL? Almost doesn’t seem fair. Aaron Rodgers has been so good all year, even when playing against good defenses that it is really hard to pick against him versus an inferior D. I do like the Cardinals offense (if only they trusted Wells more) but, if Boldin doesn’t play or isn’t close to 100% that will really hurt. Anyway, I really believe there are football gods and those gods will let us down if we don’t have a Rodgers vs. Favre part 3 (just like a Pats vs. Colts part 2)
Packers 31, Cardinals 24
Well after 162 games + 12 very exciting innings, the playoffs are here. Each of the 8 teams have some real strengths and some glaring questions. October is always unpredictable and, with such parity among the teams, this October will not disappoint. Now, without any further ado, let’s look at the teams:
Yankees vs. Twins:
What a run the Twins (and the city of Minnesota) have been on since the beginning of September. The fact that they even made the playoffs is a victory. I hope they enjoy it because they have very little chance against NY in the most lopsided first-round series. I think some combination of Yankee in-fighting (why oh why you would start Molina ahead of Posada in two of the games is beyond me…Molina’s bat makes Tek look like a batting champion) and plain old momentum will allow the Twins to steal a game. But only one.
Yankees in 4
Red Sox vs. Angels
Well this looks familiar. Is this the year when the Angels finally rise to the occasion and beat the Red Sox? Nope. Late-season struggles aside, Lester and Beckett will both pitch well and I am confident about getting 2 wins out of them and then one from either Clay or Dice-K. In some ways, however, this series might turn on which big bat (Papi or Vlad) can be more consistent…I think Papi. Besides, does anyone really think that the ALCS won’t be Red Sox – Yankees? Just has to happen based on all that has gone on this season. Of course if Beckett or Lester are not fully healthy and can’t pitch to their ability, then the Sox are in a lot of trouble. Red Sox in 5
Dodgers vs. Cardinals
Without a doubt, this is the first round series I am the most excited about. Any time you are have two of the best managers in baseball history (Torre and La Russa) matching wits, you know it will be good. As a fun side-note, this series also features the two best pure hitters in the game today (Manny and Pujols) and two nearly stastically identical pitching staffs. If this series was played with pre-July 31st rosters, LA would win. But St. Louis did a better job at the deadline and those new additions will tip the scales in their favor. Cardinals in 5 (note: I have absolutly no faith in this prediction and, if Manny gets really hot, I think LA might win. Either way, it is going to be fun!)
Phillies vs. Rockies
Another series that could go either way. On paper the Phillies have the advantage since they have three elite LHP and most of the best hitters Colorado has are lefty. However, the Phillies bullpen is in terrible shape and their closer, Brad Lidge, has been nothing short of awful in the second half of the season. If he isn’t the guy, then the bullpen options for Charlie Manuel are even more limited and, as the series goes on, it will make for some difficult decisions. By contrast the Rockies have a very solid pen and that will serve them quite well. Rockies in 5
I want to give you my quick predictions for the other series now. However, I will revise and comment on the matchups as they become known
Yankees over Red Sox in 7 😦
Cardinals over Rockies in 6
Cardinals over Yankees in 7
The Red Sox sometimes take risks on veterans. It seems to be a theme among Boston teams (especially the Sox and Pats). We take a a guy, late in his career, sign him for little money and hope for the best. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. And, when it doesn’t, the team isn’t shy about moving on and admitting it didn’t work out. Totally understandable and the right thing to do. However, it really gets me to see a guy who couldn’t do it in Boston suddenly thriving somewhere else.
In the last few weeks we have had a couple of examples of this and it is frustrating! Now, mind you, I don’t wish ill on former Red Sox players (well not all of them anyway) but you’d think a guy could wait a few weeks to re-discover his dominating self. It’s like being dumped because you are an inconsiderate slob who has gained 50 pounds by sitting on the couch eating all day and can only make ends meet by stealing from your significant other and then, an hour later, marrying a brilliant and wealthy supermodel who you happened to run into on the street. Just shouldn’t happen. A few months later? Sure. Just not right away.
Are lineups in the NL that much worse that Smoltz can go 2-5 with an ERA of 8.32 (and if you watched him pitch in Boston you’d be shocked it was even that low) and then go to St. Louis and, in 2 starts, have an ERA of under 1?? The batting average against him has dropped from .343 as a member of the Soxto .182 with St. Louis! .182!!!!! And Penny can, in his first start with the Giants, go 8 shut-out innings against the Phillies – IN PHILLY – who are probably the best team in the NL??? Penny NEVER pitched more than 6.1 innings in Boston. NEVER! Heck, the last time Penny pitched 8 innings in a game was August 7, 2005!!!!
I know it is the name of the game that sometimes people will change teams and thrive in their new setting (and I’m sure there are more dramatic examples). But come on. John- can’t you please just look shell shocked and lost after giving up 10 straight hits once for me? And Brad, how in the world did you hit 97 mph in the first inning? And why couldn’t you do it here????
Look, I think both Penny and Smoltz are classy guys and I was excited when the Sox signed them. And I wish them nothing but the best. But is it too much to ask that they wait a few weeks before pitching like they are 25 year old studs. C’est la vie I suppose. Anyway, I’ve already got the date circled for Game 7 of the NLCS when Penny will face Smoltz for the right to go to the World Series. Let’s just hope we don’t lose the October classic because one of those guys outpitches Beckett or Lester in a pivotal game. If that happens, I might stop wishing them nothing but the best.