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NFL Divisional Playoffs

This is perhaps the best weekend of football during the season. Four games featuring eight good to great teams spread over two days. What else can a gridiron geek ask for? Of course it would be nice if our beloved Jets were still playing, but alas, it was not to be. Let’s look at each game, and how they relate back to the Jets (this is after all, a New York Jets blog):

Baltimore Ravens vs. Tennessee Titans
Of course, the high point of the Jets season was their 34-13 win in Nashville to end the Titans unbeaten run. It was the best the Jets would look the rest of the way. In a way both teams serve as a model of what the Jets hope to create in 2009. Both teams feature an immoveable-object defenses; controlling the opposition’s running game and creating turnovers to set up their offense. Both teams also feature a dominating platoon of rushers, the LenDale White and Chris Johnson for Tennessee and Willis McGahee, LeRon McClain and Ray Rice for Baltimore. The only difference is Tennessee has the veteran quarterback in Kerry Collins, while Baltimore has rookie Joe Flacco. But both just try to avoid mistakes, especially in the fourth, and use the weapons that are at their disposal. Depending on what is available this spring in the draft and free agency will depend on what direction the Jets go in. Baltimore could play a big part of that. As I have previously written, Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan is one of the top candidates for the Jets head coaching position. We’ll see how much of an impact this game has on that decision. Tennessee won in Baltimore 13-10 in week five. The Ravens have improved, but it’s hard to believe a rookie quarterback on the road for the second straight week. With the teams close to equal everywhere else, Collins gets his revenge against the Ravens from Super Bowl XXXV and reminds everyone just how good the Titans are.

Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers
The Jets had one of their more impressive wins of 2008 against the Cards in week four, taking advantage of seven Cards turnovers and scoring 34 points in the second quarter en route to a 56-35 win. The Cards have had a few embarrassing games after that, but won the putrid NFC West and used their home field advantage to beat the Atlanta Falcons last week. They also feature a potential Jets coach in offensive line coach Russ Grimm. But this probably won’t be a game Grimm wants on his résumé. The Cardinals had the reverse fortunes of the Jets; losing all five east coast games they played (at Washington, Jets, Carolina, Philadelphia, and New England). The game against the Panthers was a close one, with the Cardinals holding a 17-3 lead early in the third quarter before the Panthers came back with a couple Steve Smith touchdowns. The Panthers were the only team to go 8-0 at home this season, and have one of the best running combos in the NFL with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. If any game turns out to be a blowout, it will be this one. Expect the Panthers in the NFC Championship game.

Philadelphia Eagles vs. New York Giants
This game also features a potential Jets head coach in Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Spags could possibly have his pick of the coaching jobs as the Denver Broncos, St. Louis Rams, Detroit Lions, and the Oakland Raiders still have coaching vacancies as well, and he’s at or near the top of everyone’s list. He’ll certainly send Justin Tuck and company at Eagles QB Donovan McNabb to snap his mojo. The Eagles have been finding ways to win. They’ll need a healthy and effective Brain Westbrook to get that accomplished. He amasses 203 total yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles victory at the Giants in the Eagles’ December 7 victory (the teams split the season series, with each team winning on the road). The Eagles are rolling with fate the same way the Giants did last year, and are possibly the only team in the NFC that could win in Giants stadium. I think I speak for all Jets fans when I say that it was nice to see the Giants stop the Patriots last year (and it truly was, thank you Giants) but the Giants fans are becoming too annoying, and another Super Bowl year will be too much to handle. Plus, I’d really like to see McNabb win a Super Bowl, as a Syracuse alum and to see make Terrell Owens shut up.

San Diego Chargers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Jets lost to the Chargers in week three on Monday Night Football, 48-29, an early sign of their West Coast troubles. The Chargers didn’t look that good again until December, as they rallied form 4-8 to go 8-8 and win the worst division in football. And they got the perfect matchup in the wild card round against the Indianapolis Colts, a team the Chargers always seem to be able to figure out. The November meeting between these two produced the first 11-10 game ever in NFL history, and it was a sloppy and confusing game, and it could be the same way again. Will Darren Sproles reproduce his insane numbers from last week? Can Mike Scifres? The Steelers have one of the best defenses (possibly the fastest) in football, and their field is best described as muck, which could slow down Sproles. The big question mark is Ben Roethlisberger’s health after his concussion. If he’s still wobbly, it’ll be tough for Pittsburgh to win. But I think the Steelers D won’t let this one slip away. They could remind us that the Chargers were a bad team for most of the season.

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NY Jets Mix blog featured writers Paul Malamood
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