Sunday, January 10, 2010

Match Play: Wild Card Playoffs

Sunday Game Edition

Written by: MJK

Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots
Ray Rice versus the Pats run D

Its not everyday we encounter a player who is enough of the total package to do the things Ravens running back Ray Rice does.  Not only does he run the ball with a great combination of power and elusiveness, but he has also become of the best receivers out of the backfield in the league today.  If the Patriots have visions of advancing to the next round than stopping Ray Rice will be priority #1.

The mystique of the Patriots has taken a hit this season.  Everyone remembers their performance from the 2007 season in which they marched through everyone before losing in the Super Bowl to the Giants. This is not the same team.  Tom Brady is banged up, Wes Welker is out for the remainder of the season, and most importantly the defense is young, inexperienced and at times a sieve versus the run.  Nose Tackle Vince Wilfork and ILB Jerod Mayo are going to have to play their keys to perfection, allowing safeties Brandon Meriweather and Brandon McGowan to roam without worry.

Ray Rice has emerged as one of the most dangerous players in the league this year.  He does lose touches to Willis McGahee in certain spots (around the goalline especially) but this keeps him fresh. Not only has Rice provided quarterback Joe Flacco with a nice security blanket out of the back field, but he has earned the trust and respect of his teammates.  The second year player will be sure to gash this Patriots defense with great tenacity.  IF the Patriots can hold Ray Rice under 100 total yards, they will win this game. However, this is not a likely feat considering their defensive woes throughout the season.

Verdict- Ray Rice- 22 Rush- 130 yards- 2 touchdowns-5 receptions- 50 yards
Outcome- Ravens- 24-20

Green Bay Packers vs. Arizona Cardinals
Battle of the secondaries

Both of these offenses are very potent and constantly look to use their passing attacks as extensions of the run game, while also taking plenty of shots deep. On paper, the Packers may be the more complete team…but the Cardinals are hungry and looking to prove that last seasons Super Bowl run was no fluke.  It will come down to stopping the intermediate and long passing games to determine the outcome of this game.

Arizona is still wondering if ultra speedy cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will play, all indications are that he will…but if he does not it will be a big hit to a defense that could use all of its best playmakers.  They will have the task of slowing down quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his array of vertical threats in Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. Safety Adrian Wilson is an all-pro player who brings smarts and physicality to a secondary that is active and underrated as a unit. Converted cornerback Antrel Rolle is athletic enough to compete with any route combination over the middle, while he and Wilson bring enough oomph for the Packers to have to worry about passing lanes up the middle. Still, Rodgers and company are a smart bunch who seem to continue to grow together with every game.  Rodgers will be looking to assert himself upon the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks.

Along with the aforementioned DRC, the Cardinals are also waiting until game time to announce if wide receiver Anquan Boldin will play in today’s game after sustaining ankle and knee injuries last week.  If Boldin cannot go it will put a huge damper in Arizonas offensive gameplan.  Steve Breaston’s roll will expand, and he is more than capable of handling the duties, but no receiver in the NFL presents opposing defenses with the physical presence of Boldin. Green Bay will deploy a secondary that has really stepped up this season, as cornerback Charles Woodson just completed arguably his best regular season of his career.  For a 12 year veteran, that is saying something.  This ball hawking unit, with help from a linebacking unit that could be second to none in the league will look to shut down all world receiver Larry Fitzgerald and quarterback Kurt Warner with a variety of blitzes that will look to confuse and stymie the Cardinal attack.  Without Boldin, it will be that much easier.

Verdict: Green Bay’s receivers will provide a more complete package for Aaron Rodgers to utilize, especially if Anquan Boldin does not play.  If he does play, I like the Cardinal receivers to have the advantage. That all being said, I like the Packers to win with or without Arizonas infirmary of injured players.

Outcome: Green Bay- 34-30


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