What may have been the greatest regular season for the underdog in NFL history is about to get even better as the NFL playoffs get underway this weekend.
Four of the eight teams in action this weekend finished the 2007 season in last place in their division, and better yet, the two most highly touted teams coming into the season, the Patriots and the Cowboys, will be at home watching the playoffs on TV.
You can forget about what was supposed to be one of Jerry Jones’ finest engineered teams ever. Terrell Owens pouted their way out of the playoffs, and Tony Romo chipped in with plenty of untimely interceptions of his own to help send the Cowboys’ much anticipated season down the tubes.
Instead you get to enjoy watching the scrappy “last-to-first” Baltimore Ravens led by rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, who was playing here in Chattanooga just last year for Delaware in the National Championship game.
Also, go ahead forget that Matt Cassell filled in admirably for Tom Brady and kept the Patriots in the playoff picture all season. Even with an 11-5 record the Pats’ season has already ended at the hands of the unlikeliest of foes, last year’s cellar dweller Miami Dolphins.
Instead of the Patriots you get the reinvented Miami Dolphins, just one year removed from a 1-15 season and currently thriving under the leadership of nine-year NFL veteran and Knoxville native Chad Pennington, who was dumped by the Jets before the season started to make room for Brett Farve.
However, no team contributed to this year’s upside down regular season quite like the Atlanta Falcons, who were once thought to be most dreadful team in the NFL this season, yet turned out to be one of the league’s most exciting attractions as the season progressed.
Rookie quarterback Matt Ryan, MVP runner-up Michael Turner and breakout receiver Roddy White made Michael Vick’s troubles a distant memory for Falcons fans and they’ll look to add another chapter to their storybook season with a win today against the Cardinals.
- Atlanta Falcons (11-5) at Arizona Cardinals (9-7)
The Falcons seem to be peaking at just the right time, whereas the Cardinals more or less stumbled to the finish line during the regular season. Cardinals’ receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald test cornerbacks like no other duo in the NFL can, but consistency has been an issue in Arizona all season long. There is always a possibility that quarterback Kurt Warner finds his rhythm with Boldin and Fitzgerald and the Cards put points on the board in a hurry, but I expect the Falcons to come out on top with an inspired effort defensively.
Unlike the other three games this weekend, this came could turn out to be a blow out either way if one of the offenses starts clicking.
Falcons 27, Cardinals 21
- Indianapolis Colts (12-4) at San Diego Chargers (8-8)
First of all, you’ve got a poor home field advantage system when a 12-4 team is traveling halfway across the country to play an 8-8 team. Earlier in the season the Colts edged the Chargers by a field goal in San Diego, but that was before the Chargers hit stride and this time the result could easily be different.
This one is tricky because both teams are on a roll, but still have areas of weakness that can be exploited. The game should go down to the wire where NFL MVP Peyton Manning will have an opportunity to be the difference maker for his team once again.
Colts 24, Chargers 20
- Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at Miami Dolphins (11-5)
This game has the potential to be one of the most exciting of the playoff season because both teams play hardnosed defense and conservative game management offense. The team that scores a touchdown will likely win the game. Because of their playmaking defense and much improved offense, I expect the Ravens to have a better chance at putting a touchdown or two on the board in this one.
Ravens 13, Dolphins 9
- Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) at Minnesota Vikings (10-6)
The resurgent Eagles are coming off of one of the most impressive wins in the NFL this season after thumping the Cowboys 44-6, but the Vikings have yet to go down without a fight this season. The Vikings masterfully control the flow of every game by running the ball hard on offense and stopping the run on defense as evidenced by the fact that Adrian Petersen has been the leading rusher in all 16 of the Vikings games this season. Five of the Vikings six losses this season were by a touchdown or less and they have won five games by four points or less, so it’s safe to assume that this one will be close all the way
The Eagles can match the Vikings defensive toughness, but have more versatility on offense.
Eagles 21, Vikings 17