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The Pro Game

2011 wild-card preview

About the Author

Tom Danyluk

Danyluk1@yahoo.com
Contributing writer

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Posted Jan. 05, 2011 @ 7:04 p.m. ET
By Tom Danyluk

Each contest of the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs comes wrapped in its own distinctive cloak. In Seattle, the cloak is a disguise — an unclean passenger breaches security and slips onto the post-season caravan.

For the first time in the Peyton Manning era the Colts have the look of a retreating army, wounded, supply-less, fending their flanks in a push for the safety of the mountains.

Kansas city is a playoff baby, while the visiting Ravens always seem to be rattling their swords come the winter solstice.

And in Philadelphia you stare at the wild, splashing colors of the Eagles' offense and you think of a quote from the artist Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin — "Talent does not declare itself in an instant" — and you realize that the artist Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin was wrong.

In order of kickoff:

New Orleans (-10) at Seattle

In a way there's a little bit of raunchiness in this setup, a classy, defending champion forced onto the road to face a team that finished the season underwater. An uncomfortable feel, like routing the Papal caravan on a shortcut through the red-light section.

But they've given us the 7-9 Seahawks, and Pete Carroll ain't apologizing, and sportswriters, if they're doing their job, are supposed to present some reasonable case for the upset. The case for the upset here is pretty much human nature, where the Saints would laugh or yawn their way to Seattle and find themselves stuck in a fourth-quarter ballgame. Suddenly it's not so hilarious.

We see it all the time, as recently as last week's bowl action, when Washington nailed a bored, flat Nebraska team that was still proud of the eight touchdowns it jammed on the Huskies back in September.

Napoleon said it — put a rogue in the limelight and he'll act like an honest man. Another human nature play. Deadbeat Seattle is a group with a light on it. Watch them keep things honest.

Danyluk's prediction: Saints 26, Seahawks 17

N.Y. Jets at Indianapolis (-3)

Years ago, in the early breaths of the Walsh-49ers empire, San Francisco beat Dallas in the 1981 NFC championship game, and an exhausted Cowboys safety named Charlie Waters looked in disbelief at the newsmen around him and said, "They were executing with guys that I didn't even know who they were."

Look at the AFC South champs of 2010 and its Javarris James … Jacob Tamme … Blair White … the faces this Indy offense has been executing with over the second half of the season. Of course, Peyton Manning remains the coachman behind the operation, his shouts and snapping whip driving whichever horses are reined into the team. Or Manning the field commander, gathering bodies for his regrouping army from the villages and refugee camps along the way.

But he's a bleary-eyed Manning now, the bleariest we've ever seen him. He looks exhausted, dragging. The playoffs meant mustering a four-game win streak to close the season, a stretch when the Indy starters usually have their feet up and we watched names like Jim Sorgi and Curtis Painter come up 4-for-17 in their passing. Those are what no-names used to mean in Indianapolis.

In come the Jets. A vulnerable team but a live one. More importantly, a healthy one, hungry for revenge from last year's AFC title loss in the same building.

Manning knows they can be thrown back again if he had the right troops, the proper supplies. But he already has read the telegram:

"REQUEST FOR REINFORCEMENTS RECEIVED. UNDER CONSIDERATION. HOLD YOUR POSITION UNTIL SPRING."

Danyluk's prediction: Jets 30, Colts 18

Baltimore (-2) at Kansas City

The Chiefs snuffed only one team with a winning record all season — that was 9-7 San Diego … early September San Diego, when the Chargers are typically at their weirdest. The rematch in Week 14 ended badly, 31-0.

Meanwhile, KC offensive coordinator Charlie Weis spent the season refining his run game, the left-right flurry of Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles. Not very Weis-like, but the result came out to be the top rushing club in football at 164.2 yards per game.

The Ravens retaliate with the NFL's No. 5 run defense, a level that has been propped up a bit by pass coverage that has been only so-so. Safety Ed Reed missed a bunch of time, so opponents were a little bolder in exploring downfield against Baltimore.

The media drummed up this late-season theme that the Baltimore defense is out of shape (all the huffing and puffing at the end of their win in Houston), but the Texans' offense makes a lot of teams huff and puff so I don't buy that. Anyway, the Chiefs have thrived on the run all season, so expect them to start there, trying to create some early breathing space for QB Matt Cassel.

History. The Ravens always get themselves together for these early-round games. Joe Flacco won't cut you ribbons but he gets enough on the scoreboard then hands it over to his linebackers and pass rush. For Kansas City, well, there is no precedence for these Chiefs; the postseason is all new terrain. That said, I have a hunch they'll manage to handle the footing.

Danyluk's prediction: Chiefs 23, Ravens 20

Green Bay at Philadelphia (-2½)

The Bears could have flopped to the canvas, but last weekend in Green Bay they stood firm and tried to win a ballgame, and the action bled a lot out of both teams. As a reward, the Packers must trek their weary legs into Pennsylvania for a night at the races.

The Eagles are a strange outfit lately … that explosive recovery in New York three weeks back, followed by la-di-da strolls against Minnesota and Dallas to close out the regular season. Conquered by a pair of rookie free-agent quarterbacks named Joe Webb and Stephen McGee. A lesson in disinterest, I suppose. You figured they'd have come up tougher, but under Andy Reid December always has been a funny month for the Eagles.

But they do have their legs, that wondrous speed we saw destroy the Giants in that blazing four-TD explosion. It can go off at any time. The wobbly Packers prefer something calmer, a serve-and-volley afternoon, field position, a tug of war. Philly plans to run them to death … Vick, McCoy, Jackson, Maclin … that 28-point Meadowlands ka-blooey. … I can't get it out of my head.

Danyluk's prediction: Eagles 34, Packers 17

 

Tom Danyluk is an award-winning freelance writer based in Chicago. His book on pro football, "The Super '70s," is available at Amazon.com. You can contact Tom at Danyluk1@yahoo.com.

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