NFL playoff grudge matches

The NFL playoffs are a four-week grudge match among the cream of the crop. With wild-card weekend over, we have eight teams that could potentially be in the playoffs. The AFC has dominated the league in the last few years but this year could be different.

The favorite to win the Super Bowl is the Indianapolis Colts, who are coming off one of the most spectacular seasons since the Denver Broncos of 1998. This week they face the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that runs hard on offense and hits harder on defense. Also, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, last year’s rookie of the year, leads the Steelers. It will be an epic match up that won’t go well for the Steelers.

The Colts have the best pass attack in the NFL matched with a fantastic run-pounding offensive line and a perennial pro-bowler in Edgerin James. The missing ingredient from years past was the defense. But this year is a new story; Bob Sanders has become the big hitter missing on defense. He is third in total team tackles with 92.

Indy has an excellent pass-rush featuring Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, who had a combined 22.5 sacks and unlimited amount of quarterback pressures. Look for this Sunday match up to be epic. The Steelers will get behind fast and Big Ben will not be able to catch up with the dominating Colts. Colts win 30-20.

Another fantastic game will be the Carolina Panthers at the Chicago Bears. Both teams rank in the top five of every defensive statistic. Expect a field goal to win this one. Although the Bears are favored having already beat up on the Panthers earlier in the year, Carolina will have some revenge. The Bears have allowed the fewest points in the NFL (202) regular season, and feature one of the meanest defenses around.

Led by middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, AP Defensive Player of the Year, and four other defensive players from the Bears that made the All-Pro team: Nathan Vasher had a team-high eight interceptions, linebacker Lance Briggs, strong safety Mike Brown, and disruptive pass-rushing defensive tackle Tommie Harris. The offensive will be a key part of Chicago’s downfall. Quarterback Rex Grossman might as well break his leg again because he is going to be on his back a lot.

The Panthers have their work cut out for them. The Panthers feature an MVP candidate in Steve Smith who had over 1500 yards and 12 touchdowns in the regular season and quarterback Jake Delhomme loves to throw to him. Also running back Deshaun Foster has rushed for 315 yards in the last two weeks behind a dangerous Panthers offensive line. On defense the Panthers really shine, featuring one of the best front seven in football.

Defensive end Julius Peppers had an off year with 10.5 sacks and DE Mike Rucker on the other side had 6.5. Brentson Bucker who will help stop the run, along with talented linebackers Dan Morgan, Will Witherspoon and Brandon Short. It will be a defensive game with lots of turnovers, especially with a young quarterback. The Bears will dominate, only allowing one touchdown out of Steve Smith and three field goals, but the Panthers will stop the Bears on a fourth quarter comeback. Panthers advantage 16-13.

The three-time Super Bowl-winning Patriots will find the Bronco’s running tandem of Tatum Bell and Mike Anderson too much for them. The Pat’s, led by the all-American quarterback Thomas Edward Brady Jr., will end up keeping the game close by sheer will power. But he will end up sticking to his Visa ads to pay for his lip collagen. The Patriots looked spectacular in the Wild Card game against the Jaguars, allowing only three points for the poor Jags.

The Patriots do have a scary defense, linebackers Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel and Tedy “Heart-Attack” Bruschi. It doesn’t matter who Brady throws too or who he hands it off to, he is 100 percent of the Patriots offense. So it is up to the Broncos to see that he doesn’t go completely crazy. Cornerback Champ Bailey and free safety John Lynch will be in charge of keeping Thomas’ passes away from the receivers.

The real way that Denver will be able to win is if they can run on the Pats. It’s a daunting task, but very possible. The run will set up Jake Plummer’s fantastic play-action boot play that no one can run better then him. If the Broncos can stop Brady and run on the Pats then the Broncos take this one. Broncos stomp’em 31-20.

The last game is the Seattle Seahawks against the Washington Redskins. This will be a dull game. The Redskins will not be able to keep up with the Seahawks fantastic offense. Led by NFL MVP Shaun Alexander who will gain at least 120 on the beat up ‘Skins defense. This game will be over before it even starts.

Matt Hasselbeck has a great receiving core headed by Darrel Jackson, Joe Jurevicius, Bobby Engram and deep threat DJ Hackett. The ‘Skins have made a good run at it but with Seattle’s sack attack defense, which has a league high of 50 sacks, it will leave Mark Brunell tasting dirt. This game will be the worst of the four this weekend. Seahawks sit their starters by the second half. Hawks win 35-10.