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NFL Pro Football 2010-11 Wild Card Picks

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Fearless Rick's NFL Wild Card Picks - Early Games

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Rick Gagliano | January 8-9, 2011

All times Eastern - Click here for late games.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

New Orleans Saints (-10 1/2, 44) at Seattle Seahawks, 4:30 pm - Seattle limps into the playoffs as the only team in NFL history to reach the post-season with a losing record. The Seahawks were 7-9, but, by virtue of a 16-6 win over NFC West rival St. Louis last week, here they are, with a banged-up QB Matt Hasselbeck and a distinctive home field advantage likely found nowhere else in the league outside of the Northwest.

That home field consists of 67,000+ extremely noisy fans, which makes Qwest Field the loudest environment in which to play an NFL game. Teams opposing the Seahawks at Qwest have committed more false start penalties than anywhere else in the NFL, though that may not bother the reigning Super Bowl champion Saints, as they play their home games in the rowdy, boisterous Louisiana Superdome.

Still, the crowd will be backing their hometown heroes to the hilt especially when Drew Brees is shouting out the calls either in shotgun formation or from directly behind center.

Not surprisingly, another non-football factor which may be of issue is the weather. Seattle has the rainiest climate in the league and the forecast is for a 40 percent chance of showers and temperatures in the low 40s. Since the field is artificial turf, it could become treacherous and slippery with just a small amount of rain, though under those conditions it will be of benefit primarily to the offenses, which have the advantage of knowing where they're going while defense have to react, and that causes players to lose the footing.

In the case of rain, the Saints would have the edge since their receivers and quarterback are far better and speedier than Seattle's.

These same two teams matched up in week 11 at New Orleans, resulting in a 34-19 win for the Saints, even though Brees was without Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas and tight end Jeremy Shockey, three players crucial to the success of the New orleans offense. In that game, Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck was 32 of 44 for 366 yards but fumbled twice and had four drives which resulted in field goals.

New Orleans pretty much had the game in hand by the end of the first half, with a 27-16 lead. While they only scored one more time in the second half - a Brees TD pass to Robert Meachem - the defense allowed only a 20-yard Olindo Mare field goal with 5:26 left in the game.

Something similar is to be expected in this rematch, as the Saints will have Bush, Thomas and Shockey in the lineup, while word on Hasselbeck is that he will likely start, but has been bothered by a sore back which limits his side-to-side motion. In case he is ineffective or unable to start, backup Charlie Whitehurst will be on call. He managed the game against the Rams well in relief last week, but he will be facing a much more aggressive defense in the Saints should he be called upon.

While the crowd was a factor in last week's win and the Seahawk defense allowed a season-low six points - something they haven't done since week 1 when they battered the 49ers, 31-6 - the Saints enter the game with the 11th-ranked scoring offense at 24 points per game, while the Seahawks are well down the list at 19.4 ppg.

Making matters worse for Seattle will be the Saints' hard-charging defense, which ranks 7th in points allowed (19.2), 4th in pass defense (193.9 ppg) and has forced 23 fumbles, third most in the league. Since the Seahawks rank 31st in the league in rushing with only the Arizona Cardinals behind them, New Orleans should have little trouble making them one-dimensional and maybe getting a pick or two with pressure defense.

Seattle enters the fray with just three wins in their last ten games, while New Orleans won six straight before losing on the road to Baltimore, but secured a playoff berth with a 17-14 win over Atlanta in week 16. Last week's home loss to Tampa Bay was of little consequence as the Saints would have had to see Atlanta lose to Carolina for them to have any chance of winning the NFC South. The come in as a wild card with an 11-5 record.

With or without starting QB Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle looks completely overmatched here. The crowd noise may be an issue at times for the Saints, though Brees and company have the tools to silence them rather quickly. Even though Brees threw an inordinate number of interceptions this season, his errors have been more than compensated for by an improved defense. On paper, this looks like a blowout. On the field, it probably will be.

Prediction: Saints 31 Seahawks 17


--- Story continues below ---


NY Jets at Indianapolis Colts (-2 1/2, 44 1/2) 8:20 pm - If this were a matchup of soap opera teams, it would likely be called The Young and The Restless versus the Days of Our Lives gang or, considering the huge pile of injuries on the Colts, maybe General Hospital might be more appropriate.

It is a football game, however, and New York brings it's young QB, Mark Sanchez into the game to face a now-aging veteran, Peyton Manning, the master of pocket passing and blitz-beating quick outs. Where Sanchez gets by with grit and guile, Manning does his work with precision and planning, but the Jets bring a defense which yielded the 3rd fewest yards per game (291.5) and the 6th-fewest points (19.0) to gum up Manning's well-laid plans.

New York's defense will likely try to bring pressure on Manning, and though they recorded 40 sacks during the regular season, getting to the Indianapolis starter won't be easy. Manning was sacked only 16 times - on average, only once per game - but the Jets and head coach Rex Ryan will be pleased if Manning's passes are knocked down or he has to throw the ball away to avoid a loss. Pressure is the name of the game, and Manning, while he doesn't go down with the ball very often, has tossed 17 picks this season (33 TD passes too).

The Colts' running game is a foregone conclusion: they don't have one. with Joseph Addai healthy, he'll team with Donald Brown for maybe 50 or 60 yeards rushing in this game. Anything more than that will be a bonus as Indy backs are used primarily to pick up blitzes and keep Manning clear of the pass rush or on occasional passes out of the backfield. This makes the Jets' job a whole lot easier, as their expert secondary can focus on coverage, their primary skill.

Injuries are also an issue for the Colts. In addition to Manning being without receivers Austin Collie, Anthony Gonzalez and Dallas Clark - normally his go-to guy on third down - Indy's defensive secondary is battered, with no less than ten players, either safties or cornerbacks, being listed on their injured reserve. They've been without their heart, Bob Sanders, since early in the season, and have suffered, dropping to 10-6 this season after going 14-2 and reaching the Super Bowl in 2009. The Colts allowed 24 points per game during the regular season, not the kind of number upon which championships are built. If Mark Sanchez is on his game, he could have a field day against the Colts.

When New York has the ball, they will probably try to grind on the ground. LaDainian Tomlinson has been a godsend to their backfield and in the latter part of the season, and Shonn Green, after rushing for 70 yards on 12 carries week 16 in Chicago, appears ready to bore through the line with abandon.


Be.


A concern for the Jets is the health of QB Sanchez, who missed the final week of the season with a sore shoulder. However, that issue seems to be dead, as the week off and limited practices seem to have the second-year pro back in form as of Wednesday's practice. He'll have his usual assortment of targets, including Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery and tight end Dustin Keller at his disposal. The Jets big concern will be to keep the Colts' stud defensive ends, Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney off their quarterback, and they should be up to the task, considering they have a very solid offensive line and can mix in play action and runs with straight drops.

This game is a rematch of last season's AFC championship, won by the Colts, 30-17. The Jets actually led that game by 11 points in the first half, but were beaten when Manning rallied the offense to three straight touchdowns and the defense held the Jets scoreless in the second half.

It's doubtful this game will play out in much the same manner, as two of those Manning TDs were to Collie and Clark, missing in action this go-round, and with the Indianapolis defense so bruised and missing key players, the Jets will probably score in every quarter. A blowout could commence should the Jets establish the running game early. If the Colts can't stop them on the ground, Sanchez will pick his spots for downfield throws and he has guys on the wings and in the backfield who can make plays.

Indy won't be going back to the Super Bowl this season, though the Jets, who have loudly pronounced their intention of winning it all, should advance one round.

Prediction: Jets 37 Colts 23

All times Eastern - Click here for late games

Copyright 2010, 2011, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.

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