Wild Card Weekend has arrived folks. While I always am excited for the NFL Playoffs, it also reminds me of how few football games left we have in the season. But lets save that for another today, because we have some serious football to break down.
Washington @ Seattle, 430 PM Saturday
How Washington got here: No team has overcome as much as the Skins have. Besides the unspeakable tragedy of Sean Taylor's death, they have also had to overcome the loss of the Young Bull (Jason Campbell) to a knee injury and some buffoonish coaching decisions by Joe Gibbs that cost the team some victories. Despite all this turmoil, the Redskins rallied behind Wolverine never-was Todd Collins and ripped off four straight wins to reach the playoffs. I'd try to give reasons for why this late season surge happened, but that would be as effective as trying to understand how Roy Williams made another Pro Bowl.
How Seattle got here: Because the Seahawks played in the worst division in football, they had time to overcome early injuries to key players, and the general ineffectiveness of the running game. Once they opened up the offense and let Matt Hasselbeck take charge, the Hawks really got rolling. Now they appear to be a dangerous team, loaded with offensive playmakers as well as an underrated defense led by the excellent Julian Peterson and Patrick Kerney.
3 Strengths of Washington:
1. Clinton Portis has been the team's MVP. These last four week's he has looked like he did back in Denver, which is allowing the Skins to control the ball, the clock and the flow of the game.
2. Washington's run defense has become much better as well lately. They were able to shut down Brandon Jacobs and All Day Peterson in games they absolutely had to win. If they can shut down those guys, why can't they do the same to Shaun Alexander?
3. Washington's will to win may be unsurpassed in these playoffs. No team is playing for more than these Skins. You can see it every time Clinton Portis takes a hand-off, or every time the defense makes a big play, no one is playing with more intensity than this team as they try to honor the death of their fallen teammate.
3 Strengths of Seattle:
1. Home Field Advantage. The crowd in Seattle gets hella rowdy, and the Seahawks feed off of them as good as any team in the entire NFL, especially their opportunistic defense.
2. Matt Hasselbeck is a very good quarterback. He may not get the hype of a Brady or Manning, but he is very capable of leading his team on a playoff run. He does not make many mistakes, and knows the offense like the back of his hand.
3. The experience of the Seahawks. This team knows how to win playoff games. While they have been inconsistent in the regular season, they usually play their best when it counts, especially at Qwest Field.
3 Weaknesses of Washington:
1. Todd Collins. OK he's had a nice run. But his success has basically been a consequence of the efforts of Portis and the running game. I doubt he has the talent to bring the Redskins back on the road if they fall behind and can't use that running game.
2. The Secondary. Seattle spreads the ball out all over. The Redskins are without Carlos Rogers and of course Sean Taylor. Sean Springs can only cover one man, which leaves Matt Hasselbeck's 2nd and 3rd options with great advantages over any one the Skins match them up with.
3. Fatigue. It took a ton of effort for the Skins to reach where they have. It seems natural to have a letdown with them knowing they have made the big dance. Lets see if they can maintain the intensity in a hostile environment on the road.
3 Weaknesses of Seattle:
1. The running game. The team really took off when Mike Holmgren basically said screw it to the running game and let Hasselbeck run the team. It may have not hurt them so far, but they will need a running game to rely on at some point, and i doubt it will be there.
2. Inconsistency. One week they look unstoppable, next week they are letting a crappy team run all over them. While they should be firing on all cylinders, its not out of the realm of possibility that they shit the bed in a big game.
3. Special teams. I included this because Josh Brown thinks he is a badass for tackling a Falcon last week on a kickoff return. Memo to Josh Brown, as long as you kick field goals, you are a pussy. Go play with your leg warmers jackass.
Player to watch for the Skins:
Undoubtedly Todd Collins. At some point in the game he's going to have to make some plays for them. If he limits his mistakes and makes the Seattle defense respect him, the Skins have a shot. If not, his 15 minutes are up.
Player to watch for the Seahawks:
Shaun Alexander. If he can give the Seahawks any kind of ground game, they have the chance to not only win this game, but make it all the way to the Super Bowl. Its asking a lot of a guy who has looked a lot like Grandpa Simpson running the ball this year, but I still believe he's too good to have forgotten how to run it when it matters.
NY Giants @ Tampa Bay, 1pm Sunday
How the Giants got here: They might as well rename this team the Millenium Force, cause every damn year their season is a total rollercoaster ride. One week the look amazing, the next week they look like the Raiders. Despite the inconsistency, they had enough talent to sneak in thanks to the overall weakness of the NFC.
How Tampa Bay got here: Sounds like the old Tampa teams. Effective and mistake-free offense, and tough defense. They did have a super easy schedule, but they won the games they had to and look dangerous heading into the post-season.
3 Strengths of the Giants:
1. The running game. Even though Tiki Barber is off doing TV and designing fashion, the Giants running game remains formidable. Between the epic colossus known as Brandon Jacobs, the wily veteran Reuben Droughns, and the bastard love-child of Ahmad Rashad and Terry Bradshaw, the Giants have the running game to be successful in the playoffs.
2. The Pass rush. We saw what they could do in the first Eagles game. With ballers like Strahan and Umenyiora coming off the edge, no QB is safe. And with Jeff Garcia being injury prone, it only take one hit for the Bucs to have to rely on Luke McCown.
3. Overcoming Adversity. Every time you want to bury this team, they remind us that they actually have a lot of talent and can win at any time.
3 Strengths of the Bucs:
1. Jon Gruden. He is still a very good coach. We can see this in how he has basically remade the entire team since their super bowl win, but has this year's team playing exactly the way he wants them to.
2. Jeff Garcia. Yeah he is old and weak-wristed, but he is also tough and knows how to run the west coast offense. And he will not make the killer mistake that so many other qb's are prone to.
3. The defense. With old classics like Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber, and young ballers like Jermaine Phillips and Barrett Ruud, they still know how to intimidate young quarterbacks just like the vintage Bucs defense did.
3 Weaknesses of the Giants:
1. Eli Manning. He embodies the entire team pretty well. One week he looks like a guy worthy of number 1 pick. The next week he throws 4 interceptions against the Vikings and looks more lost than fat guy on the road to diet camp.
2. Offensive playcalling. Despite having a swole running back, noted jackass Kevin Gilbride still tries to make this a finesse, throwing offense. Against a team like the Bucs that could spell disaster.
3. Tom Coughlin. Every good coach outcoaches him when it matters. If i was a Giants fan i'd have no faith in him making the right decision when its needed.
3 Weaknesses of the Bucs:
1. Offensive Line. They have gotten better this year, but they face a huge task this weekend trying to stop the Giants D-Line, and control the time of possession by providing a competent running game.
2. Lack of receiving options. Joey Galloway is still pretty damn good, but when your other receivers are chumps such as Ike Hilliard and Mark Clayton, you know that there isn't much to work with for Air Garcia.
3. Inexperience. This will be the first playoff game for many of the Young Bucs. It may take them time to settle down and find their groove against the more experienced Giants.
Player to watch for the Giants:
Eli Manning. Isnt it about time this guy has his defining moment? Every time he seems to be "getting it", he regresses straight back to mediocrity. If he plays well, the Giants can get the win, if he shits up the joint its straight back to another dissapointing offseason for Big Blue.
Player to watch for the Bucs:
Ernest Graham. This guy has been amazing replacing injured Cadillac Williams. Sunday will be the biggest test of his career however. They cannot beat the Giants solely relying on Jeff Garcia. They need to have a running game to complement him and let them play the way they want to. This responsibility falls on the shoulders of Graham.