Saturday, January 3, 2009

Happy Wildcard Weekend!

It's not Christmas or Thanksgiving, but wildcard weekend in the NFL is cause for celebration. We've got four compelling matchups, and despite what anyone says, none of these games is a gimme. The games today:

Atlanta Falcons (11-5) at Arizona Cardinals (9-7)

What a difference a year makes. This time last year, everyone was talking about what a slimeball Bobby Petrino was for walking out on this team, about how Michael Vick's dogfighting conviction decimated this team, and about how it would take years for the Falcons to be respectable again. However, if you go back into the Joe and Joe Sports radio vault, you'll hear me predict the Atlanta Falcons for a 9-7 record and the NFC South division title. And, you'll remember that I recommended that Atlanta start Matt Ryan immediately, while a certain colleague of mine who shall remain nameless (but not unlinked) declared that Ryan should be kept on the bench at least a year. While Ryan didn't lead the Falcons to the division crown, they won 11 games and proved me sort of right.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals finally won the division that everyone has been saying is theirs for the taking, albeit with an aging Kurt Warner at quarterback and a modest 9-7 record. But there's no doubt that Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are the best WR tandem in football today, and maybe ever. If there's any team in these playoffs that could surprise everyone and score 40 points a game, it's these Cardinals.

My pick: Arizona

Indianapolis Colts (12-4) at San Diego Chargers (8-8)

This is a meeting of two teams on a serious roll. Peyton Manning and the Colts just wrapped up his third MVP trophy, and he's looked like championship caliber Manning for a couple of months now. While Marvin Harrison has slid a bit, Dallas Clark, Anthony Gonzalez, and Dominic Rhodes have picked up the offensive slack, and this offense is as dangerous as ever. And as long as Bob Sanders can stay healthy, the defense will be solid.

Meanwhile, San Diego won four straight games it had to win to stay alive for a playoff berth, including a showdown in the last week of the season that was essentially its own postseason game. Now, they get to play the Colts (who they beat last year in the playoffs) on their own turf. Antonio Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson are nicked up, but you'd better believe they'll be playing in this game. This one could be 42-38 or 13-10. I'm jazzed.

My pick: Indianapolis

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