Before we get into this week’s picks, a short announcement: all four games will be live-blogged at Awful Announcing this weekend — I will be handling the AFC matchups while AA chronicles the NFC battles. Do join us.
Washington @ Seattle: Completely contrasting offensive styles in the first match-up, and since the Seahawks don’t have to travel all the way across the country, this factor goes out the window for now. With Shaun Alexnader’s general uselessness over the majority of the season (the retirement of Mack Strong sealed it), the onus has been put on Matt Hasselbeck to throw more than 40 times a game in order for the Seahawks to win. This is all terribly effective against teams with weaker secondaries, but even with the death of Sean Taylor, that Redskins’ corners and safeties have played well, and no host team wants to see a visitor with serious motivation on their hands. Todd Collins makes the necessary throws and dispenses the ball to Clinton Portis, who should be able to get plenty of movement against an undersized Seattle defense. Julian Peterson will get pressure on Collins, but this is probably the most likely NFC upset — give me the Skins to go back to Dallas.
Jacksonville @ Pittsburgh – For all the ish Fred Taylor talked about Heinz Field, he certainly did well enough on it last time to hand the Steelers a can of whoop-ass. The only reason the Jags are a wild card in the first place is because they play in a division with the Colts; half of the AFC playoff field consists of AFC South teams this year. David Garrard is much too secure with his QB play to make errors at bad times, while Ben Roethlisberger has that hazard available at any time — and may have to play out of his mind with Willie Parker gone; also, while Pittsburgh may stack against the run with the general mediocrity that is the Jax receiving corps, it may not be enough to play off both Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. The Steelers better hope no Jaguar receiver gets hot, but someone will — the Jags will take their act on the road for a second week; New England is waiting.
New York @ Tampa Bay – So, we are now faced with the task of measuring the Giants’ suck when it comes playoff time against the mediocrity that is the NFC South. Yeesh. Despite the admirable quality of Jeff Garcia to get it done when he needs to, the talent is not as good around him in the Tampa/St. Pete area as it was up in Philly, filling in for Donny Mac. Thus, the outcome of this game becomes dependent on just how much those injuries to Sean O’Hara and Kawika Pittman last week against the Patriots hurt Big Blue, and let’s not forget that every since the Colts that lost to New England lost the week after, too. There is also the tantalizing possibility of Ronde Barber or some other TB defensive stalwart picking off a turnover-prone Eli Manning multiple times. However, the Giants showed offensive power last week that I didn’t see for much of the season (until it fell apart due to an Eli pick, of course.) Third time’s the charm, I guess — the Giants will earn a trip to Lambeau.
Tennessee @ San Diego – I’m fairly convinced that the Titans are the last team that the Chargers wanted coming into town at all. Not that the Jaguars would have been much better, but we are talking about a Tennessee defense that can make a quarterback’s day miserable and keep a top-notch running back fighting for yards when he normally doesn’t have to. There is Norv Turner’s history as a coach to deal with, and the pressure to at least win a playoff game for once. Vince Young is still day-to-day with a quad injury, but I’m not sure if there’s that huge a drop-off with Kerry Collins — yes, you lose mobility and intangibles, but Collins is capable of playing within himself and leading drivers. The Chargers defense is playing, well, lights out. The seven up front have tapped into an aggressiveness in the last few weeks that wasn’t there early on, and Antonio Cromartie has developed into a top-line cornerback. San Diego will survive by the slimmest of margins to go the the RCA Dome.
Photo: AP/Nick Wass