Green Bay Packers (10-6) at New Orleans Saints (10-6)
Aaron Rodgers lacks experience here, but it's not like Drew Brees is all that seasoned either; Brees has just one career playoff victory. Sure, Rodgers is an unknown, but if he takes the Packers to the postseason as predicted, he must be at least somewhat decent. That's why I'm nullifying any sort of quarterbacking advantage for the Saints.
When looking at the supporting cast of the two squads, you have to like the Packers. They'll be able to run the ball against an improved but still mediocre New Orleans front seven. The Saints, on the other hand, will have problems getting anything on the ground versus Green Bay's stout defensive line.
And finally, homefield advantage won't be a factor. As mentioned in my 2008 Saints season preview, the team is just 54-66 at the Lousiana Superdome since 1992 (3-5 in 2007). For whatever reason, New Orleans just plays better on the road. Maybe Sean Payton can petition the league to have this game at Lambeau.
Packers 24, Saints 20
Dallas Cowboys (12-4) at Seattle Seahawks (9-7)
I love Seattle's defense, but the team's offense could be downright abysmal in 2008. Their receivers are either old or injured; the running game is non-existent; and the offensive line is pretty questionable. Matt Hasselbeck will carry the Seahawks to an NFC West title because the rest of the division sucks.
That said, Wade Phillips has never won a playoff game, so this one is going to be tough. Luckily, his defense will put tons of pressure on Hasselbeck, and stuff Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett in the backfield. Scoring, however, will be problematic, especially at hectic Qwest Field.
How's this for symmetry: Dallas' holder gets injured in a freak accident three days prior to this game (perhaps he slips on a McDonald's bag, slams his hand into a computer monitor and then gets abducted by aliens who anally probe him). Tony Romo has to assume those duties. However, when Dallas scores a touchdown to draw within one, Romo drops the ball on the extra-point attempt. He picks it up, runs toward the goal line, gets tackled by a Seattle special-teamer... but falls into the end zone. Cowboys win.
Cowboys 17, Seahawks 16
Buffalo Bills (11-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
As you can tell, the Bills are my upstart team for 2008. But if this playoff battle takes place the way I have it, the Steelers figure to be a huge favorite.
And you can understand why - Ben Roethlisberger has much more postseason experience than Trent Edwards, and Pittsburgh's defense is among the elite in the NFL.
The Steelers should be able to score a decent amount of points in this contest, as Buffalo's defensive front won't be able to get much pressure on Roethlisberger. The Bills will have to engage Pittsburgh in a shootout, which isn't something Dick Jauron wants any part of.
Steelers 31, Bills 17
Indianapolis Colts (12-4) at San Diego Chargers (9-7)
The Chargers just 9-7? Well, in case you didn't read my San Diego 2008 Season Preview, I don't like their chances because of major injuries to their three key offensive players. Philip Rivers is coming off a torn ACL; LaDainian Tomlinson tore his MCL in the playoffs; while Antonio Gates may not be ready for the start of the 2008 campaign, as he's struggling after having foot surgery.
So, why do I have San Diego in the postseason? Well, their defense is awesome. Oh, and the rest of the AFC West sucks. I could see the Broncos challenging them and winning the division, but that's not what I'm predicting here.
With that in mind, I can't pick the Chargers to advance past this point. I know Peyton Manning struggles against 3-4 defenses, but it won't matter if the opposing offense can't score.
Colts 20, Chargers 6
2008 NFL Playoff Predictions - Divisional Round
Green Bay Packers (10-6) at New York Giants (13-3)
Well, if Brett Favre couldn't get the job done against the Giants at Lambeau, how will Aaron Rodgers beat the defending Super Bowl champions on the road?
I could leave it like that, but I don't want any Packers fans sending me viruses and Trojans to my Gmail account.
Actually, I could see Green Bay advancing deep into the postseason; Rodgers is not the bum that ESPN is making him out to be. He was a legitimate No. 1 overall prospect a few years ago. That said, he'll have a bit of trouble eluding New York's dynamic pass rush. Green Bay's secondary, meanwhile, will get torched by Plaxico Burress, Jeremy Shockey, Amani Toomer and the emerging Steve Smith.
Giants 23, Packers 20
Dallas Cowboys (12-4) at Minnesota Vikings (11-5)
The Cowboys go from playing a team that has nothing on offense except for a Pro Bowl quarterback, to a team that's a quarterback away from being a strong Super Bowl contender. Looks like Wade Phillips has been eating his Lucky Charms.
In my 2008 Vikings Season Preview, I wrote the following: "If [Tarvaris] Jackson plays adequately and maintains his job, Minnesota will be one and done in the postseason. I just can't see someone like Jackson succeeding in the playoffs."
I stand by that statement. I have a friend who works for a renowned sportsbook in Vegas, and he told me all the sharp bettors were praying for the Vikings to qualify for the playoffs just so they could bet the farm against Jackson.
Cowboys 16, Vikings 3
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) at New England Patriots (15-1)
Remember when Steelers safety Anthony Smith proclaimed that his team would unseat the Patriots from the ranks of the unbeaten? Well, New England clobbered Pittsburgh in that 2007 matchup. In case you missed it, I once again have the Patriots destroying the Steelers this season, 45-28. Will the third time be the charm for Pittsburgh?
I don't think so. Unlike the Bills, the Patriots have the defensive front to take advantage of the Steelers' only weakness - their offensive line. Ben Roethlisberger will be sacked five or six times.
Big Ben will keep his team around for a while, but having to score on almost every possession is just too much.
Patriots 34, Steelers 24
Indianapolis Colts (12-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (13-3)
One of the surprises in my 2008 Season Previews is my belief that the Jaguars can finally eclipse the Colts in the AFC South. Betting against Indianapolis has made many look like fools over the past few years, but with Marvin Harrison old, distracted, injured and possibly suspended, Jacksonville has a good chance to take over as divisional king.
Indianapolis has dominated the Jaguars over the years, but Peyton Manning is not as imposing in the playoffs. David Garrard, meanwhile, proved himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL by following up a superb season with the game-winning scramble against the Steelers, and going toe-to-toe with the Patriots in the second round of the postseason.
The Colts will probably be favored in this contest, but I like the Jaguars to take the rubber match.
Dallas Cowboys (12-4) at New York Giants (13-3)
I'm a big fan of symmetry. Consider the following about the Giants prior to their playoff run last year:
1. Eli Manning was chastised for his habit of melting down toward the end of the season and his 0-2 record in the Doggone Playoff.
2. Tom Coughlin was characterised as a very good regular-season coach with a terrible playoff track record.
3. The Giants, huge underdogs at rival Dallas, were swept by the Cowboys that year.
4. Everyone dismissed the Giants because they were perennial playoff chokers.
Well, take a look at the Cowboys:
1. Tony Romo is known as a choking quarterback because he's 0-2 in the playoffs.
2. Wade Phillips has no postseason victories, but a solid record overall.
3. I have the Giants sweeping the Cowboys. The host will be a huge favorite here.
4. If someone suggests that Dallas could win the Super Bowl, don't you exclaim, "But they suck in the playoffs every year!?"
Like I said, I'm a huge fan of symmetry. Guess what the score is?
Cowboys 21, Giants 17
Jacksonville Jaguars (13-3) at New England Patriots (15-1)
Giants vs. Patriots. Colts vs. Bears. Steelers vs. Seahawks. What do the previous three Super Bowl matchups have in common? You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who predicted them.
Cowboys vs. Patriots? Might be a popular pick, so I can't have New England going to my Super Bowl. I'm not saying they won't get there; it's just nowhere close to being a lock.
I really like what the Jaguars have done this offseason. I'm not talking about the terrible receivers they gave David Garrard (though I'm convinced Jerry Porter is an upgrade; think about it, Porter hasn't played with a good quarterback since Rich Gannon), but rather the pass rushers they acquired in the draft. I know defensive ends seldom succeed as rookies, but they'll be effective if they're just asked to be situational pass rushers, similarly to what Mark Anderson was for Chicago two years ago. The Giants found the formula to disrupting New England's offense. Unless Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves are complete busts, the Jaguars should be able to copy it.
Meanwhile, Garrard proved he has what it takes to be a great playoff quarterback. He single-handedly beat the Steelers and then went toe-to-toe with one of the best offenses the NFL has ever seen. If it weren't for some dropped passes, Jacksonville may have pulled off the big upset.
Jaguars 17, Patriots 14
2008 NFL Playoff Predictions - Super Bowl XLIII
Dallas Cowboys (12-4) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (13-3)
Cowboys vs. Jaguars? Now that's more like it. Though the Jaguars had the tougher road to get here, the Cowboys will be a 3- or 4-point favorite, as there will be tons more Dallas money.
This should be a pretty good game, as both squads are about even at almost position, save for receiver and tight end. It's safe to say that Terrell Owens and Jason Witten absolutely out-class almost every top duo in the league, let alone the garbage Jacksonville has at wide out. That could prove to be the difference. I don't really see another edge.
The trend of recent Super Bowl champions has been quarterbacks and coaches overcoming their inability to win in the playoffs. Bill Cowher. Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy. Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin. All were severely criticized for choking in the clutch, but they eventually got the job done. I'd like to welcome Tony Romo and Wade Phillips to this pantheon. Sorry, Eagles, Redskins and Giants fans...