Welcome to 'Wild Card Weekend'
NFL play-offs begin today and just about anything can happen
This will be the first of two Saturday columns since we are now entering post-season play. This initial series of play-off contests is aptly named 'Wild Card Weekend' as eight of the twelve teams hammer it out for the right to survive another seven days into the Divisional round. There are four exciting clashes, two on Saturday (Sunday morning Thai time) and two on Sunday (Monday morning Thai time) with local times listed below.
The big picture: As expected, exactly half of the play-off teams from a year ago are now on holidays. In the AFC, the Jets, Ravens and Chiefs all fell out of contention early and the Steelers, Jaguars and Titans took their place. Over in the NFC, the Bears, Eagles and Saints collapsed and quickly gave way to upstarts Green Bay, Washington and Tampa Bay. No doubt the four teams with the best records will enjoy watching their future opponents on the big screen in a sports bar somewhere over a few cold ones.
Congrats in order: A salute to the New England Patriots for being the first team in the modern era to go 16-0 during the regular season and erasing the mark set by the Miami Dolphins, some 35 years ago. In the final game, two very special records were also set. QB Tom Brady surpassed Peyton Manning's historic mark of 49 TD passes while WR Randy Moss eclipsed Jerry Rice's 22 TD catches. Ironically, both happened on the same play early in the 4th quarter.
Got a hunch-bet a bunch: Some pretty wild odds just came out on who might make the Super Bowl Trophy presentation table in four weeks time and by the way, don't forget to join us at Shenanigan's in Pattaya the early morning of February 4th. It's going to be a blast! Naturally, the Patriots are slated at the basement odds of 8/13 followed by Indianapolis 5/1, the Chargers 14/1, Jaguars 18/1, Steelers 33/1 while the Titans have ballooned out to 150/1 in the AFC. The Cowboys lead the NFC group at 6/1 with the Packers in at 12/1 and the rest of the contenders in the stratosphere. The Seahawks are 40/1, the Bucs and Redskins 50/1 and the Giants 66/1. Remember, anything can happen in the NFL, so it might be worth a few sheckels on a couple of longshots. At least that's what I'm going to do.
HELP FROM ABOVE
Washington (+3.5) at Seattle (40) 4:30am Sunday
With less than a month to go, the Skins were completely out of the play-off picture. They had lost four in a row and their woes compounded by the untimely sudden death of DB Sean Taylor. Yet, they suddenly regrouped under experienced QB Todd Collins, the re-emergence of RB Clinton Portis, the speed and hands of WR Santana Moss and a bone crushing defense. They still had to win their final game against Dallas to grab the No 6 seed which they did in dramatic fashion 27-6. The margin of victory21 points - the jersey number of Taylor. Maybe there's a hidden meaning in all this and because I'm a superstitious sort of guy, believe Washington just might make it to the Big Dance in February, emulating the Steelers who accomplished this just two years ago. As for the Seahawks - to allow the Falcons, one of the worst teams in the league to put 44 points on the board (their highest in the past 10 years) is not my idea of getting 'play-off ready'. I'm taking the Redskins (+3.5) to win outright with the points being a golden bonus. More than likely it will be raining as well, so like the UNDER 40 in total points.
BEST SHOT EVER
Jacksonville (-2) at Pittsburgh (39.5) 8am Sunday
It's always been close but no cigar for the Jaguars in recent years but now with QB David Garrard in total command of the offense and a strong running game behind RB's Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, they could easily be the early spoiler. The Steelers will have to rely on the strong arm QB Ben Roethlisberger as their running attack took a hit with the loss of RB Willie Parker. It's not often a true Wild Card team is favoured over a Division Champion, so riding Jacksonville (-2) because maybe somebody laying the odds knows something. The Jaguars win a close one and with Heinz Field still in terrible shape going to shake and bake with the UNDER 39.5 total.
TOO LITTLE TOO LATE
New York Giants (+3) at Tampa Bay (-39.5) 1am Monday
It was a super game last week as the Giants outplayed the Pats for more than three quarters in a contest that was totally meaningless for them. HC Tom Coughlin got blasted by the NY media for playing his starters the entire way and they lost C Shaun O'Hara and LB Kawika Mitchell to injury in the process. Nevertheless, my coaching philosophy was always 'let the players play' and now picking New York (+3) to upset the Bucs if QB Eli Manning keeps his composure. Pretty sure this one will also go OVER 39.5 in a wild shootout.
Tennessee (40) at San Diego (-9) 4:30am Monday
As soon as Indy WR Reggie Wayne snagged the Receiving Title in the first quarter, the Colts jumped off the bandwagon by putting in the scrubs and allowed the Titans to make the playoff scene. I think Jeff Fischer is the best coach in the league and he's done wonders with little to work with - but the Chargers (-9) have much to prove and providing they avoid critical mistakesshould easily advance. This contest will probably be determined in the trenches so definitely like the UNDER 40 total.
YTD Summary: 139 132 9
Coach Dick Thornton is a regional marketing and merchandising specialist currently working on a Coca-Cola training project in the Philippines. He can easily be contacted however at email@example.com