2009 NFL Wild Card Round – Saturday Games Preview

NY Jets (9-7) AT Cincinnati Bengals (10-6), Saturday January 9th, 4:30 PM ET on NBC

Broadcast Team: Tom Hammond, Joe Gibbs, Joe Theismann, Tiki Barber (Field reporter) 

Let’s Do It Again…but this time, the game will be in Cincy.  Last week, the NY Jets needed a win to get in the playoffs and they dominated the Bengals by a score of 37-0.  I don’t know if the Bengals are suffering from playing a long hard 2009 season, where they lost both WR Chris Henry and the wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, but they need to look more like the team that swept the AFC North (6-0) than the group that has gone 3-4 in their last 7 games. 

The Bengals have been a great turnaround story this season – won AFC North for the second time under head coach Marvin Lewis after starring on HBO’s Hard Knocks  – but they are playing a young and energetic NY Jets team led by brash rookie head coach Rex Ryan.  The veteran defensive minded coach is trying to become 10th rookie head coach since 1990 to win his playoff debut.  Much like his father, former Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan, the former Ravens defensive coordinator has brought a “swagger” and a defensive presence to New York.  The Jets won five of their last six games after losing six of their previous seven games to make the playoffs.  New York allowed 252.3 yards per game and 14.8 points per game, which were both NFL-lows. 

However as good as the Jets has been on defense, other than their vaunted running game – led the NFL with 172.3 rushing yards per game – New York has struggled to move the football offensively.  Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Ryan have developed an offense that relies on RB’s Thomas Jones (1,402 yards and 14 TDs – both 3rd in the NFL) and rookie Shonn Greene plus Wildcat QB Brad Smith (92 yards rushing yards including a 32-yard TD run last week) in an attempt to hide rookie starting QB Mark Sanchez (196-364, 2444 yards, 12 TDs, 20 INTs, and a 63.0 QB rating).  The USC rookie played well through the Jets’ first few games, but lately he has been a turnover machine.  Even in last week’s blowout of the Bengals, Sanchez had mediocre numbers of 8 for 16 passing for 63 yards.  If the Jets are to win, Sanchez is going to need to provide more and may have to throw the ball more than 20 times, mostly likely to his favorite target Braylon Edwards (35 catches for 541 yards and 4 TDs with the Jets). Look for the Jets to run at the injury-depleted Bengals defense — 257 rushing yards in Week 17 — that earlier lost big D-linemen Pat Sims (forearm) and Domata Peko (season-ending knee surgery).  Conversely, the Bengals (301.4 yards allowed – 3rd in AFC) will be looking to pressure Sanchez in the hope of more picks to their talented cornerback duo of Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph (career-high 6 INTs).

Offensively, the Bengals have a Fantasy Football roster of weapons including former Pro Bowl players QB Carson Palmer (282-466, 3094 yards, 21 TDs, and 13 INTs), RB Cedric Benson (over 1,200 yards), RB Larry Johnson, and WR Chad Ochocinco.  But last week the Bengals were pathetic against the Jets’ defense and will need to do better –1 for 11 on third downs and finished with just 72 net yards on offense.  In front of their home crowd, the Bengals will need to establish Benson and Johnson against the Jets’ stout defense led by their LB’s Bart Scott, Danny Harris (ankle), and Calvin Pace.  If the Bengals running game can produce some yards, then Palmer can go play-action which should help his mediocre numbers from last week — career lows in completions (1), yards (0), and passer rating (1.7).  But the Bengals will need find a way to get their catalyst Ochocinco (72 catches for 1,047 yards and 9 TDs) going.  The talkative receiver last week after bragging and “Tweeting” that he would show NY Jets Pro Bowl corner Darrelle Revis (6 INTs), “How to play the game”, never showed up.  Ochocinco was held to no catches (first time since September 29, 2002, a span of 120 games) and to make matters worse he tweaked his knee in warm-ups after slipping on the cold Meadowlands turf.  All indications are that No. 85 will play in the game and the Bengals will need him.

LV’s Pick:  Last week you saw that the Jets are surging while the Bengals have not been able to sustain their early season success. But to me this game boils down to “physicality”.  The Jets can run the ball, control the clock, and produce turnovers.  The Bengals despite some good running backs are a passing team that is missing that does not have a deep threat any longer.  Unless Sanchez has an interception party, expect the Jets to win an ugly defensive game in the cold of Cincinnati – Jets win 17-13.


Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) at Dallas Cowboys (11-5), Saturday January 9th, 8:00 PM ET on NBC

Broadcast Team: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Andrea Kremer (Field reporter).

If you thought the stakes were high in Week 17’s NFC East title showdown, then buckle-up because this is the playoffs and Jerry Jones’ billion-dollar playpen will be rocking.  The Eagles and Cowboys will play for the 3rd time this season after Dallas swept the other two games for the first time since 2005.  Not to bring up some awful info for Eagles fans, last week in one of the league’s most anticipated Week 17 games, the Cowboys won in dominant fashion by a score of 24-0 to claim the NFC East crown – first since 2005.  So with the thought that just 6 days earlier they dominated the Birds, the Cowboys are hoping to duplicate the efforts of the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers.  Last year’s Super Bowl champs beat the Baltimore Ravens three times, including in the AFC Championship game, on their way to the title.  Since 1970, 19 teams have gone 2-0 against an opponent in the regular season and then faced that club in the playoffs.  Surprisingly, the sweeping team has won the postseason meeting 12 times (63.2 percent).  On the other side of the rubber match, the Eagles will be trying to follow in the footsteps of the 2007 New York Giants who defeated the Cowboys in the Divisional round after Dallas had defeated them twice in the regular season.

The history between these two teams is lengthy (played 98 times with the Cowboys holding an edger of 55-43), but you know the recent Dallas’ star spitting incident involving Eagles web guy Dave Spadaro will make fans from both sides even more heated.  This will be the 4th time these two teams have met in the playoffs, but Saturday’s meeting will be the first time since 1995 when the Cowboys thumped the Eagles 30-11 – the Cowboys have won 2 of previous 3 playoff meetings.  The key player of the game will be much-maligned Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, who broke three team single-season passing records this season — completions, pass attempts and yards – but as everyone knows he is 0-2 in two playoff starts.  Romo will be trying to put away his bobbled snap on a potential game-winning field from the Cowboys loss to the Seahawks in 2006 and his Cobo trip during the team’s bye week before their loss to the Giants.

But Romo and the Cowboys definitely have a new swagger about themselves after winning the NFC East for the first time since 2007 and putting up a respectable 3-2 record in December and January this season. Included in that end of season success were a huge win over the formerly undefeated New Orleans Saints and posting back-to-back shutouts in Weeks 16 and 17 over the Redskins and Eagles.  Make no bones about it, the Cowboys are a hot team right now, they won their regular-season finale for the first time since 1999, have won 3 straight games and swept the Eagles for the first time since 2005.  The Cowboys in their Week 17 win over the Eagles established the run early with power running Marion Barber and speedy Felix Jones (ran for 179 yards on just 19 rushes).  Then Romo hit some big throws to WR Miles Austin and TE Jason Witten as he was only sacked once by Philadelphia.  To show the Cowboys dominance in Week 17, Dallas had 21 first downs to Philadelphia’s 10 and doubled them in time of possession.  Look for the Cowboys to go right back to that same plan unless Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott can dial-up “pressure” that his mentor the late Jim Johnson was so great at doing against Romo and the Cowboys.  The key players for the Eagles defense will be Pro Bowl players CB Asante Samuel (9 INTs) and DE Trent Cole (11.5 sacks), but others, namely the Birds underachieving linebackers, will need to step-up.

When the Eagles have the ball offensive, they will need to get more out of their running game (only 37 rushing yards last week) and establish veteran running back Brian Westbrook and rookie LeSean McCoy on screens.  The Eagles lack of a running game or balance, allowed the Cowboys to harass Eagles QB Donovan McNabb all-day with 4 sacks to show for their efforts.  The Birds were never able to find explosive Pro Bowl WR DeSean Jackson (An NFL record 8 TDs of 50 yards +) or rookie Jeremy Maclin.  The Eagles failed to score and had their 6-game winning streak snapped – in 21 possessions against the Cowboys this season, Philly has produced 7 points.  With Dallas Cowboys head coach and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips running the show, the Cowboys defense has been awesome — allowed 37 points in their last four games and became the first defense to post back-to-back shutouts since 2000.  The Cowboys 2nd ranked NFL Defense will count on pass rushers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer plus Pro Bowl NT Jay Ratliff.  If the Eagles are to have any success against Ware and his mates, McNabb will need to make plays in and out of the pocket plus spread the ball around to everyone and not just emerging TE Brent Celek.

LV’s Pick:  Last week the Cowboys dominated by a score of 24-0 and everyone is now picking them to finally end their playoff futility by beating Philly – Dallas has not won a playoff game since 1996.  However when I look at this match-up I have to point to the quarterbacks and head coaches.  Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid has never lost in an opening playoff game (7-0) while Phillips has zero playoff wins under his belt going back to his days in Denver.  McNabb is 9-6 playoff games and Romo has well documented playoff struggles.  With all of the pressure on the Cowboys, expect a looser Eagles teams to be more prepared.  The Eagles win a hard fought game on a David Akers field goal.  — Eagles win 23-20


Author: lloydvance

Lloyd Vance is a NFL Writer, Analyst, Draft Expert, Researcher, and Historian. He serves as a Editor for "Taking It to the House and he covers the NFL on a daily basis. He is an Accredited Member of NFL Media and Philadelphia Eagles Media. Member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA), Pro Football Researchers Association (PFRA), and The Maxwell Football Club

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