FOX: Chargers Will Be Lone Home Winner

January 3rd, 2009 analyst Bob Fox likes the Eagles, Ravens, Falcons and Chargers in the opening round of the NFL playoffs

Well, the NFL postseason starts this weekend, as the Wild Card playoffs begin Saturday. Twelve teams qualified for the playoffs, and now eight will square off. The other four teams get a well deserved bye weekend off, after their successful 2008 seasons gave them the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in their respective conferences. 

But before I try to breakdown the playoffs in each conference, I want to look at four teams that at one point looked like they were sure locks for the playoffs but faded badly down the stretch: the Denver Broncos, New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Both the Broncos and Jets have already fired their head coaches. The Mike Shanahan firing in Denver was especially shocking. Eric Mangini in New York was not so surprising, as the Jets let a golden opportunity to win the AFC East slip away. They sqaundered the contributions of newcomers Brett Favre and Alan Faneca, and the season-ending knee injury to Tom Brady of the Patriots suffered in Week 1. Plus, the Jets were once 8-3 and had defeated the Titans and Patriots back-to-back on the road.

Jerry Jones says he will not change head coaches for the Cowboys. Don’t believe it. The Cowboys imploded big time in 2008 under Wade Phillips. They were beaten at home by the Ravens on the second-to-last week of the season when they played the final game ever at Texas Stadium in front of  all the past Cowboy legends on hand. They they were thoroughly embarrassed at Philadelphia by the Eagles the last week of the season. I would not be surprised to see Shanahan move on to either Dallas or the Jets.

Jon Gruden’s situation is not as tenuous in Tampa Bay, although some say it should be. Gruden and GM Bruce Allen were both given extensions after the 2007 season. I think the Glazers will do what Ralph Wilson did for Dick Jauron (Jauron was also recently given a contract extension) following the 2008 season and keep Gruden around. Owners (except Hank Steinbrenner of the Yankees) are being very careful with their money now in these turbulent economic times.  I think the Glazers will see what Gruden and his staff can do in 2009, and then re-evaluate the team.

But the Vince Lombardi trophy that Gruden brought home after the 2002 season has used its last  coaching lifeline. Gruden has not won a playoff game since the Super Bowl season. Yes, Gruden has won two NFC South titles in that time, but the Bucs also have gone 45-51 since the Super Bowl season. If Shanahan can get fired after winning two straight Super Bowls (but that was a decade or so ago), plus being close friends with an owner, no one is untouchable in the NFL. Finally, Gruden may have to make other changes to his coaching staff, as well.  Look for defensive coordinator Raheem Morris to possibly land in Denver or Cleveland as a head coach after recently replacing Monte Kiffin as the main man controlling the defense for the Bucs.

NFC playoff scenario
The Giants and Panthers earned a bye this weekend as the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively. I expect the road teams to win all the playoff games this weekend, with one exception, and that is in the AFC.

Atlanta Falcons at Arizona Cardinals
The Falcons are playing very well down the stretch, while the Cardinals for the most part have been floundering. I expect Michael Turner and the second-leading rushing attack in the NFL will do its share of damage for the Falcons. Rookie QB Matt Ryan of the Falcons has been almost unflappable, as he was recently won The Associated Press 2008 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Ryan loves to connect with WR Roddy White.  While the Falcons are run-happy, the Cardinals are pass happy, led by QB Kurt Warner.  Warner has many weapons, including WR’s Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston. Still, I see the Falcons continuing their winning ways as the Birds are much more consistent than the Cardinals who will be hosting their first playoff game since 1947. 

Philadelphia Eagles at Minnesota Vikings
Except for a brief hiccup in Washington in Week 16, there are those who think the Eagles are playing the best football in the NFC right now. Count me as a believer, although both the Giants and Panthers will have something to say about that. The Vikings have played better down the stretch as well behind QB Tavaris Jackson, but Jim Johnson’s blitz-happy Eagles defense has to be licking its chops waiting for a game against the inexperienced Jackson.  Once again, the Eagles will be led by QB Donovan McNabb and RB Brian Westbrook, but the Philly defense will be the real key in trying to stop RB Adrian Peterson and trying to force turnovers. I expect the Eagles to move on and face the Giants next weekend; they split their meetings this season. analyst Bob Fox says the Chargers match up well against the Colts and Phillip Rivers will lead them to victory at home

AFC playoff scenario
The Titans and Steelers earned a bye this weekend as the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds.  Some think both road teams will win in the AFC this weekend, as well, but I expect the Chargers to surprise the Colts again, like they did in 2007, and almost did earlier this past season.

Indianapolis Colts at San Diego Chargers
Sometimes teams just match up well with their particular opponents, no matter the record.  That is how it is for the Chargers against the Colts.  Yes, the Chargers have not had LaDainian Tomlinson or Antonio Gates practice this week because of injuries, but I think both will be ready for the game.  The Chargers beat Peyton Manning last year in San Diego, as Manning threw six picks.  The Colts were very fortunate to get a win this year behind a last second Adam Vinatieri field goal.  I just like Phillip Rivers and the Chargers in this one, even though the Colts are playing very well.  By the way, not only should Rivers be in the Pro Bowl for the AFC (which he is not, which is a travesty), but he also deserves consideration for the MVP award in the NFL.  Rivers is the top rated QB in the NFL with 34 TD passes to just 11 interceptions for 4,009 yards and a 105.5 QB rating, and he also brought the Chargers back from the dead with three games to go in the season and three games behind Denver to win the AFC West.

Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins 
The Ravens and Dolphins are both playing exceptional football right now. I give the edge to the Dolphins at quarterback, as Chad Pennington has had a great year, but Joe Flacco has also had a very nice rookie season at QB. The edge to me in this game is the Ravens defense. If there is a better DB than Ed Reed in the NFL right now, I don’t know who he is.  MLB Ray Lewis and others have led the Ravens defense to the No. 2 ranking in the entire NFL. The Dolphins defense is in the middle of the pack statistically. The Ravens run game has also erupted recently behind Le’Ron McClain and Willis McGahee and that will also help Flacco succeed in his first ever playoff game. I think this game might come down to a field goal, and I think Baltimore’s experience on defense will be the key factor in the win.

Comments are closed.