The time has come. Even though we are a New York based site and both the Jets and Giants crapped the bed this year, that doesn’t mean that Sports Debaters interest in the NFL playoffs lessens. The Wild Card Round is upon us and there are some extremely exciting match-ups. Here is our breakdown and predictions for both of Saturday’s Wild-Card games.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Houston Texans: In a rematch of last year’s Wild Card game, the Bengals and Texans will face off in Houston to open this year’s festivities. The Houston Texans were in the drivers seat all season long, and many experts expected them to win the AFC’s home field throughout the playoffs. However, over the past few weeks, they have come back to earth and their loss last week to the Colts forced them into action the opening weekend. The Bengals have played an impressive brand of football the past few weeks, and their Week 16 nail biting win over the Steelers catapulted them into today’s game. Last year, the Texans beat the Bengals 31-10 behind QB T.J. Yates, as starter Matt Schaub went down with an injury heading into the playoffs. This year, Schaub is back and ready to prove himself in the post season for the first time. The Bengal’s Andy Dalton and AJ Green are easily among the best young QB/WR combinations in the NFL and it is a sure bet that they will be a presence in the playoffs for years to come. However, we expect the Texans, behind Arian Foster, J.J. Watt and the rest of the supporting cast to take care of business in front of their home crowd. Prediction: Houston 21- Bengals 17.
Minnesota Packers vs. Green Bay Packers: Anytime two division rivals matchup in the playoffs, players on both teams inevitably bring their best games. In a rematch of a game that was played only a week ago, the Minnesota Vikings beat the Green Bay 37-34 in a thrilling game to clinch a playoff spot. Adrian Peterson came into the game needing 208 yards to break the all-time rushing record one year after tearing up his knee, and he came a mere 9 yards short. In the two games against Green Bay this year, Peterson has put up 210 and 199 yards so we can expect a similar performance in this battle. Unfortunately for the Vikings, there is a well known QB opposing them in the likes of Aaron Rodgers, who has completed 75% of his passes against the Vikes in the past five seasons. Greg Jennings finally looks healthy and he will join forces with Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones as the best set of wideouts in the NFL. Although Viking’s QB Christian Ponder threw for three TD’s against the Pack last week, Green Bay’s Charles Woodson will return to action and will surely make life more difficult for the Sophomore QB who is 1-3 in his career against Green Bay. We expect a close, high-scoring game and a lot of Peterson yards but in the end Aaron Rodgers will out-duel Christian Ponder by a margin that even Peterson can’t overcome. Green Bay will make up for last year’s disappointing home loss to the Giants and a 2-4 record in their last 6 playoff games at Lambeau, and move on to the Divisional round next weekend. Final Score: Packers 38- Vikings 28
Check in tomorrow prior to kickoff for our predictions on the Colts vs. Ravens and Seahawks vs. Redskins.
With 4 weeks in the bag, the NFL players have begun to establish themselves as pretenders or contenders. There have been many surprise breakout stars and a lot of busts through the first 4 weeks of the season. Unknowns have become household names and former superstars have turned into forgettable faces. We have put together what we feel is the first quarter of the seasons All NFL Pro Bowl team.
Quarterback: Matt Ryan
This was probably the easiest pick out of all the positions that we are choosing. Ryan has led his team to an impressive 4-0 start, which only 2 other teams in the NFL has matched thus far. Matt, great name by the way, has the best passer rating in the NFL (112.1) and is the front runner for NFL MVP in the early stages of the season. In his 6th season out of Boston College, Ryan is off the best start of his career. For his career, Ryan has sported a 90.0 passer rating, 61.5 completion percentage and a worse than 2:1 TD:TO ratio (106 TD’s 63 TO’s-48 interceptions and 15 fumbles). Through the first quarter of the season, Ryan has a near 70 completion percentage and has 11 touchdowns with only 2 interceptions and 0 fumbles. In his first 4 years, Ryan has never had more than 122 rushing yards and through only 4 games thus far, he already has 48 yards on the ground. Matt’s incredible passing accuracy as well as his ability to stand in the pocket till the very last second has made both Roddy White and Julio Jones two of the best receivers in the game. If Ryan keeps this up he will put the Atlanta Falcons in a good position to make a Super Bowl run.
Running Back: Marshawn Lynch
The 7 year man out of California is making a huge statement to start the season trying to prove that his breakout year in 2011-12 wasn’t a fluke. Last year Lynch had career highs in carries (285), rushing yards (1,204), touchdowns (13), and all purpose yards (1,416). While he might not reach that touchdown total that he amassed that year, Lynch is on pace to set career highs in everything else. Right now, Lynch leads the NFL in rushing (423 yards) and has already picked up 50 receiving yards; just 250 off his career best for a season. Marshawn is not just a powerful back, but he is extremely smart when he picks his opportunities. Lynch has shown an amazing ability to cut up the field and make defenders look foolish as they whiff at him as he runs by. Lynch’s performance so far has made life a hell of a lot easier on rookie QB, Russel Wilson. While the Seattle Seahawks are a respectable 2-2, Lynch has helped lead his team to two extremely impressive victories over the playoff probable Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys…maybe they didn’t deserve one of those. Lynch has played perfectly through 4 weeks with a 4.6 YPC and deserves to be recognized for his performance.
Wide Receiver: A.J. Green
Adriel Jeremiah Green made a statement in his rookie season last year, making the world aware that he is one of the best receivers in the NFL. Luckily for the Cincinnati Bengals organization, there is absolutely no Sophomore slump for this Georgia Bulldog. Off to a blazing start, Green has helped lead his team to a division leading 3-1 record. After getting obliterated in the opening weekend on Monday Night Football, the Bengals reeled off 3 straight wins and each of those wins had one thing in common; an A.J. Green TD. Right now, Green is second in the NFL in receiving yards (428) and has more highlight reels already this season than a Sportscenter top 10. Green alone has made Sophomore QB, Andy Dalton, look like a top 5 caliber QB. Between Green’s speed and agility, he is without question one of the best receivers in the NFL and he has impressed the nation in every week this season. After an impressive 65 reception rookie campaign, Green is on pace for a Pro Bowl worthy 108 catches for the 2012-13 season. Even though I think Baltimore is the team to beat in the AFC North, nobody is going to want to play the Bengals with this rising star on the field.
Defensive Lineman: J.J. Watt
Watt and the Houston Texans are off to their predictable 4-0 start, which will soon be 5-0 after facing my lowly Jets, and their defense is one of the main reasons why. Houston plays in the worst division in the NFL and will coast to the playoffs this season. After losing Baby Mario Williams to the Buffalo Bills during the offseason, the Texans needed a player to step up and become a leader on their defensive line. Enter J.J. Watt! Watt is off to a record breaking season. Through 4 games, Watt already has 7.5 sacks and has been making it look easy. He provides the Texans with the luxury of only needing to rush 4 players on every play and have them still be able pressure the opposing QB consistently. J.J’s potential is endless as he is only in his second season out of Wisconsin and he has already identified himself as one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL.
Linebacker: Chad Greenway
One of the big surprises of the 2012-13 season so far is the impressive play of the Minnesota Vikings defense. One of the main reasons for the success of their defense is the amazing play of the 7 year veteran out of Iowa, Chad Greenway. Greenway is tied for second in the NFL for most tackles (44) and has also provided a couple of sacks to go along with that. Chad is coming off of a career best 154 tackles last season and is now on pace for a ridiculous 176 while his Vikings are in first in a tough NFC North division that most people wrote them out of before the season even began. Greenway plays the game very smart and consistently calls out defensive reads that helps the Vikings pass rush put pressure on the opposing offense. Greenway has repeatedly been a quality defender as he has recorded a minimum of 100 tackles in all but 1 of the seasons he has played; the one season he did not hit the mark (2009 season) he had 99 take downs. With Greenway at the center of a great defense, Minnesota will be a team to recon with for the remainder of the season.
Secondary: Cortland Finnegan
The former Pro Bowler, Cortland Finnegan, spent 6 very impressive years with the Tennessee Titans where he developed a reputation as one of the hardest hitting corner backs the NFL has to offer. In his first season with the St. Louis Rams, Finnegan is reminding the NFL world why he was such a coveted Free Agent. Finnegan already has 3 interceptions in this young season and he brought one of those back for a touchdown. To go along with his 3 picks, Cortland has 24 tackles and has shut down pretty much every receiver that he has faced. What’s even more impressive about that is he has been faced against the opposing offenses best receiver almost every game. Finnegan provides great leadership out of the secondary for a team with a relatively young defense. While the St. Louis Rams are only 2-2 so far in the season, the fact that they don’t have a losing record in arguably the best division in the NFL, the NFC West, is all the more impressive. I expect this to be Finnegan’s second Pro Bowl season and I look forward to seeing him infuriate opposing QB’s for the rest of the season and years to come.
Special Teams Player: Greg Zuerlein
Never has an NFL kicker been Rookie of the Year before, but if Greg Zuerlein keeps having the season he is having, then he will have to be in consideration for the award. Zuerlein was drafted in the 6th round out of the all too familiar Missouri Western State. Little did the Rams know that they had a record breaking rookie on their hands. To start his young career, Greg is an astonishing 12 for 12 from field goal range and 5 for 5 on extra points. Sure 12 for 12 seems like an easily attainable feat for a professional kicker to achieve, but the way he has gone about it is remarkable. Zuerlein has hit 5 of 5 from 40-49 yards and 3 of 3 from 50+ yards with a franchise long of 60 this past Sunday. What’s amazing about his franchise best 60-yard field goal on Sunday is that he set the franchise record by hitting a 58-yard shot earlier in the game. So technically he set two franchise records in only his fourth ever NFL game. People who participate in fantasy football have been very happy to find Zuerlein being owned in only 12% of ESPN leagues. That will change soon.
So those are our picks for the best of the best in the first quarter of the NFL season. Please let us know if you agree or not with our picks and tell us why.