Oh how I love this weekend. For the general football fan regardless of team affiliation, this is the best weekend of professional football every year. This year is especially true, with some great matchups. So let's quickly talk about today's two games.
As for predictions, my goal was to improve on my playoff record last year (9-2). But with one loss already, I'll need to be perfect for the remaining 7 games. Fat chance of that happening.
Playoff Record: 3-1
Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers
A very good matchup kicks off this weekend between two teams whose last playoff meeting (back in January of 2004) was a classic overtime game resulting in an Al Harris interception return for a touchdown. Now, Mike Holmgren and Matt Hasselbeck return to Lambeau and will look to end the almost fairy tale-esque season of Brett Favre and the Packers. Oh yea, I'm ready!
I'm very interested in seeing how this one plays out and I think that it will be the most competitive of the 4 games this weekend. I think that the Packers best gameplan here would be to run Ryan Grant early and reduce the number of times Favre is asked to make a play. Remember the last time Favre played in a big game (the Thursday night game in Dallas a few weeks ago), Favre struggled big time before suffering an injury and leaving the game. If I'm a Packers' fan, I'd be worried if I see Favre gun-slinging the ball around Lambeau early in the game today.
For Seattle, I think the gameplan is different. I think the Seahawks should spread the Packers out and attack their depth at cornerback. Seattle's receiving corps is among the game's deepest group and they will be able to go right after Green Bay's 3rd and 4th corners. I'd look for Hasselbeck to throw the ball close to 40 times in this game. If he has time to throw, the Seahawks will have every opportunity to steal this game away.
Prediction: Packers win 23-20
Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots
Heading into last week, many were hoping that we would get to see Jacksonville travel to New England to take on the Pats. Most think the Jaguars pose the biggest threat to New England (outside of the Colts, of course). I, myself, thought that as well until last week. That's when I saw the real David Garrard show his face. He was just 9/21 with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions.
I think the Patriots will do what everyone believes they should do, which is to put 8 men in the box, stop the Jaguars running game, and force Garrard, Reggie Williams, Ernest Wilford, and company beat them through the air. And quite frankly, that isn't going to happen. Not this year against this Patriots team. I think the best chance the Jags have at pulling off this upset is by making big plays in every phase of the game (much like last week). They'll need Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor to turn short passes and screens into big plays. They'll need the defense to force a few turnovers and even score a touchdown. And I think they will need a big game on special teams.
To Jacksonville's delight, though, I think the potential is there for a big return day for guys like Jones-Drew and Dennis Northcutt. The Pats have struggled in kick coverage, even as recently as their last game when they let the Giants return a kickoff for a touchdown. A few big plays in the return game could very well help Jacksonville pull off the upset.
Defensively, the Jaguars are going to have to get pressure on Tom Brady. And the key is not so much from the ends, but to apply pressure up the middle on Brady. He loves to step up into the pocket but rarely ever runs outside the pocket. So the Jags' need to bring heat right down New England's throat. However, not having Marcus Stroud and Mike Peterson hurts. And John Henderson is banged up as well, though he is expected to play. All in all, though, the Jaguars can't expect to hold the Patriots under 21, meaning the Jaguars will have to find ways to score points. I'd love to see it, but I just don't think it will happen.
Prediction: Patriots win 30-17