The Wild Card round of the 2008 NFL playoffs are set, and there are some fine matchups in line.
The Wild Card Matchups
SAT Colts at Chargers Falcons at Cardinals
SUN Ravens at Dolphins Eagles at Vikings
I believe the NFC games are easier to predict than the AFC games in this round. The Falcons have been playing heads-up ball lately while the Cardinals have limped into the post-season after claiming the championship in one of the weakest divisions in the NFL. I think the Falcons take this one. And the Eagles are on fire. Granted, they took apart a faltering Cowboys team, but Philadelphia is firing on all cylinders. It took all the Vikings had to get past the Giants by one point. I'm not sure the Vikings can handle the Eagles at full strength. I'll go with the Eagles in this one.
The AFC matchups are more intriguing. The Colts are riding a nine-game win streak, but the Chargers, who are on a four-game win streak of their own, have a huge chip on their shoulders and are playing much better than their record indicates. Being from and living in Indiana, and since my Bengals didn't even come close, I'll be rooting for the Colts, but I think I'll be prepared to be disappointed. I call this one a toss-up with a slight edge to the Chargers for home-field advantage.
Of all the games this coming weekend, I think the Ravens/Dolphins matchup is the most intriguing. Miami is riding high on the wave of an 11-5 season after an abysmal 1-15 campaign last year. They had to beat the Jets this past Sunday to get in. They played effectively and efficiently and got the job done. For the Dolphins, this will come down to mental toughness. For some players, the game against the Jets may have been the playoffs, do-or-die to make the postseason, but, on the good side, the Dolphins come into the game on a five-game win streak. There could be a letdown coming, a letdown they can't afford against a Ravens team that also squeaked their way in, but which also has a lot of playoff experience on the team. Typically, a rookie quarterback could be a weak link under playoff pressure, but Ravens QB Joe Flacco has grown into the position this year and has shown poise beyond that of a typical rookie QB. If the Ravens' defense can handle the flair that the Dolphins' offense may try to throw at them, they should win this game. Behind that defense and with more playoff experience, I'll give the Ravens a slight edge in this game, in spite of home-field advantage for the Dolphins.
Three head coaches early casualties . . .
Browns' head coach Romeo Crennel, Jets' maestro Eric Mangini, and Lions' ringmaster Rod Marinelli were all three shown the door today. Crennel's Browns were 4-12, Mangini's Jets were 9-7, but flamed out toward the end of the season when they looked like sure locks for the playoffs, and Marinelli's Lions set an NFL season record by going 0-16, a mark that will be hard for the hard-luck franchise to live down considering recent years and recent events.
Now, fans are left to wonder where these three will land and who will take their places on their former teams. There are still a limited number of jobs, a limited number of candidates and a limited number of teams, so it's likely Crennel, Mangini and Marinelli will end up somewhere, perhaps even as head coaches again, though it may take a couple of years. The better question is who will take their places -- who might be lured from somewhere else, who might be lured out of retirement, or who might be willing to take a chance on reviving some franchises that have fallen on rough times and want to find a spark to get them going again.