Stage is Set for Wild Card Weekend

In a thrilling final day of the season, the remaining questions have been answered and the playoff matchups are finally settled.  Here’s a quick look at the seeding for both conferences, and the games set up for next weekend.

NFC

The Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers have earned the top two seeds, and the bye next week.  The Packers had already secured the top seed and home field advantage throughout, and despite resting starters including Aaron Rodgers, they beat the Detroit Lions 45-41 to give them a 15-1 regular season record.  The Packers scoring 45 points on the Detroit Lions without Rodgers on the field should be a scary thought for the rest of the league going into the postseason.

The 49ers locked up the number two seed and a first round bye with a 34-27 victory over the St. Louis Rams.  The 49ers ended the season 13-3, with their best record since 1997, and their postseason appearance in two weeks will be their first playoff appearance since 2002.

Next weekend’s matchups for the Wild Card round are:

Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints

The Saints have the number 3 seed and will host the 6th seed Lions.  Drew Brees is having an MVP caliber season, and is probably the hottest quarterback in the league right now – in his last three games, he has completed 72.8 percent of his passes for 1,108 yards, 14 TDs and 3 INT.  Yes – that’s 14 TDs in his last 3 games.

The Lions are coming off a game where they gave up 45 points, 480 pass yards and 6 TDs to Matt Flynn, Aaron Rodgers’ backup.  This is a scary looking match up for the Lions and the Saints appear poised to roll into San Francisco for the second round.

Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants

The 10-6 Atlanta Falcons will travel to the 9-7 New York Giants, who took the division on Sunday night by defeating the Dallas Cowboys for the second time in four weeks, 31-14.  Both the Falcons and the Giants finished the season on a high note, each winning 3 of their 4 final games.  Eli Manning had perhaps his best season, throwing for 4,933 yards, just missing joining the 5,000 yard this season.

Both teams have also relied much more heavily on the pass this season, as they are both in the top 7 passing offenses, and near the bottom of the league in rushing.  Both teams play solid defense, and this looks to be a good matchup.  Given the home field advantage of playing outdoors in New Jersey in January, the nod goes to the Giants, but this is likely to be the best game of the weekend.

AFC

The New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens have earned the top two positions and will get the bye for next week in the AFC.  The 13-3 Patriots have home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, despite their occasionally shaky defense, and playing outdoors at Foxboro in January is a big advantage.

The Ravens have looked like potentially the best team in the AFC, but have lost surprising let down games.  The Ravens are 12-4, and their 4 losses only included 1 loss to a team with a winning record, as they dropped games to Tennessee, Jacksonville, Seattle, and San Diego.

In a curious circumstances, both teams hosting games next weekend backed into the playoffs with 3 game losing streaks.  The match ups for Wild Card Weekend are as follows.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos

The Steelers fell to the Wild Card with their 12-4 record due to losing both head-to-head matchups with the Baltimore Ravens, so they will travel to the 8-8 Denver Broncos.  The Broncos had the advantage of playing in the AFC West, where they were the last man standing.

The Broncos backed into the playoffs thanks to Oakland self-destructing and losing 4 of their last 5.  Tim Tebow was the buzz of the league, and always seemed to find a way to win… until the last 3 weeks.  The Broncos last three games were losses by a combined score of 88-40.  Tebow was 30 of 73 for 439 yards and 1 TD with 4 INTs over that span.

The Steelers have won 6 of their last 7 games, and have only lost 1 game all season to a team not coached by a Harbaugh brother.  This game looks like a mismatch, strongly in favor of the visiting Steelers.

Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans

The 9-7 Bengals will visit the 10-6 Texans in one of the more interesting matchups of the season.  No one expected the Bengals to make the post season with their Pro Bowl quarterback and receiver both replaced by rookies.  With strong performances by Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, combined with a good running attack with Cedric Benson and a solid defense, the Bengals are in.

The Texans looked like a strong candidate to go all the way, but after losing two quarterbacks in two weeks, they have been struggling.  They have lost their last three games, including losses to 6-10 Carolina and 2-14 Indianapolis.  Third string quarterback T.J. Yates left this week’s game with a bruised shoulder and was replaced by Jake Delhomme, who was signed only a few weeks ago.

Cincinnati has won 2 of their last 3, and looks healthier and in a good position for the upset to make it to the divisional round, where they would travel to Foxboro to face the Patriots.

AFC Playoffs:

  1. New England Patriots (13-3) AFC EAST Champions
  2. Baltimore Ravens (12-4) AFC NORTH Champions
#3 Houston Texans (10-6) AFC SOUTH Champions vs. #6 Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) WILD CARD #2
#4 Denver Broncos (8-8) AFC WEST Champions vs. #5 Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) WILD CARD #1
NFC Playoffs: 
  1. Green Bay Packers (15-1) NFC NORTH Champions
  2. San Francisco 49ers (13-3) NFC WEST Champions
#3 New Orleans Saints (13-3) NFC SOUTH Champions vs. #6 Detroit Lions (10-6) WILD CARD #2 (GAME IS SATURDAY on NBC)
#4 New York Giants vs. #5 Atlanta Falcons (10-6) WILD CARD #1 (GAME IS SUNDAY ON FOX)

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trippy man