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THE FIRST POINT...Why Eric Karlan is settling on Cincy
Earlier this week, New York Jets jokester of a head coach Rex Ryan boldly stated that his team should be favored to win the Super Bowl. These are the same New York Jets that are “led” by a rookie quarterback who tossed more than twenty interceptions this season, backed into the playoffs by beating second string players on the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals, and after suffering an embarrassing home loss to the injury-ridden Atlanta Falcons three weeks ago, were discounted from playoff contention by every football fan, their mothers, and even Ryan himself.
The world should have stared at Ryan as if he were a delusional idiot. Instead, we laughed, and then were forced to consider his arguments.
He does have the league’s top-rated defense. He does have a lethal running game. And in Darrelle Revis, he has a cornerback who can shut down even the most elite wide receivers in the league.
Does this mean I am about to start gulping the Kool-Aid and declare the J-E-T-S as my Super Bowl favorite right now? Well...definitely N-O.
My point here is that, in January of 2010, anything can happen. The lack of a clear favorite, at least in my eyes, is not some result of postseason parity. Rather, every team seems to have a fatal flaw that, depending on the matchup, can be completely exploited and spell doom for dreams of a Lombardi Trophy.
The Indianapolis Colts may hold the best record in the league at 14-2, and arguably should still be undefeated if not for a few conservative coaching moves. The San Diego Chargers may be the hottest team in the league right now, closing out the season on an 11-game winning streak. The New Orleans Saints may be the most electric team to face, with Drew Brees and company bringing the greatest offensive show to turf since, well, The Greatest Show on Turf.
None of these squads, however, stand out as a clear-cut favorite. There is no ‘team of destiny’ with a definitive bulls-eye on the back of its helmets. We are watching a game of survivor, where the ultimate winner will have to grind out victories by outsmarting opponents, and not making the last mistake. Given the nature of this scenario, predicting a Super Bowl champion is almost impossible to predict.
And with that said, I predict the Cincinnati Bengals will make an inspiring run to Miami and win the Super Bowl.
I would have picked the Philadelphia Eagles had they secured a first-round bye last weekend – instead they are the last seed in the NFC and have a daunting road ahead of them. I would have picked the Green Bay Packers could someone absolutely guarantee me they would not have to face Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings at any point. I would have picked the Arizona Cardinals or New England Patriots had both teams not suffered some devastating injuries in meaningless games on the final weekend of the season.
Instead, I am picking the Bengals – the team that struggled down the stretch in the wake of teammate Chris Henry’s shocking, untimely death, and has virtually no playoff experience under its belt. Beating the Jets at home will be a task in itself, and the boys in orange and black will probably have to win their next two games in Indianapolis and in San Diego, which sounds ludicrous.
But I am a believe in intangibles and I think the Bengals have what it takes to emerge victorious. The Colts are mired in a disgruntled state after Coach Caldwell abandoned dreams of perfection, and regaining momentum may be impossible for a team whose starters will not have played a full game for almost a month by the time Divisional Round weekend rolls around. And the Chargers always seem to find ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at the precipice of greatness; they are the most popular pick right now, and I cannot find tangible facts to deploy against their cause, but my gut just says no.
So Cincy it is!
GOING FOR TWO...Why Steven Waye is struck by the Bolts
I’m in a bind. I think articles written prognosticating playoff outcomes are generally just attention grabs. A writer will go off and pick some perpetually downtrodden underdog team just to stir up controversy. And for the possibility of writing 21,879 follow-up “I-told-you-so” articles on the slim chance that whatever dartboard they were throwing at is made of abnormally prescient cork. (For the record, I’m not talking about Eric’s Bengals pick. He’s just dopey. He’s like the Robin Hood of sports fans. And if you mention the phrase “expansion franchise” within 20 miles of his presence, he wets himself a little bit. True story. But seriously…the Bengals?)
And…we’re back. The bind. Right. With this sports column for which I am now one half responsible, I am in the unfortunate position of having to make the picks and serving up some controversy stew. So, disclaimer: I am not a sports expert. But I am awesome. So without further ado:
Wild Card Round: AFC
Game 1: Jets vs. Bengals: Bengals 17-7
As much as I hate the Steelers, I’m honestly embarrassed for them for letting the Bengals win their division. It’s like the class bully letting the computer geek take his lunch money to go enter a Magic: The Gathering tournament. That being said, the Bengals beat who they had to beat this year, improving on both sides of the ball. I don’t think it’s fair to grade this one on last week’s meeting, as the Bengals were definitely checked out. This game will be fought at the lines and on the ground. Whichever team breaks double-digits first is the victor, and my bet is the Bengals, only because the Jets don’t have any semblance of a passing game right now.
Game 2: Baltimore vs. Patriots: Ravens 24-21
Something is off about the Pats this year. They’ve been missing their swagger, and now they’re missing the NFL’s receptions leader in Wes Welker. The Ravens have been extremely patchy, but with Willis McGahee returning from the dead last week they have a potentially terrifying one-two punch in McGahee and Ray Rice, who I love. When Joe Flacco is on, he’s no slouch either, and their defense is still formidable, if no longer dominant. I’m picking the Ravens to upset in this one.
Wild Card Round: NFC
Game 1: Philadelphia vs. Dallas: Dallas 21-10.
This one pains me already. As a diehard (and die often) Eagles fan, picking the Cowboys to win at ring toss would feel like high treason, but it’s hard to see how the Eagles can come back from last week’s flogging. With a first-round bye to play for, they looked horrendous. This was no freak outing: they got dominated by the Cowboys at the line, in the secondary, everywhere. And let’s not forget DeSean Jackson’s pulled groin. That’s kryptonite for a player like Jackson who relies so much on speed. Take away Jackson, and the Eagles don’t have much on offense, and Donovan McNabb’s never been much of a big game quarterback. Dallas gets the hat trick in the season series with the Eagles and their first playoff victory since ’96. Kill me now.
Game 2: Green Bay vs. Arizona: Green Bay 31-21
So many rematches, so little clarity. What can we tell about all of these blowouts? Who was throwing in the towel and resting up, and who was seriously overmatched. With the Cards Jekyll and Hyde act it’s impossible to know which team is going to show up, and they are just as likely to make another Super Bowl as they are to fall flat on their faces. With injuries to top cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and receiver Anquan Boldin however, it’ll be an uphill battle against the hot Packers.
As for the rest…
AFC Divisional round:
Colts over Ravens, 21-14
Chargers over Bengals, 35-7
Chargers over Colts, 27-21
NFC Divisional round:
Packers over Saints, 35-31
Cowboys over Vikings, 24-14
Packers over Cowboys, 31-17
And drumroll please…your Super Bowl XLIV Champion is…
Chargers over Packers 28-17