|NFL Wild Card Playoff Picks and Predictions for Saturday and Sunday January 3 & 4|
|Written by Anthony Rome|
|Friday, 02 January 2009 15:00|
NFL Wild Card Picks
The 2008 NFL Regular Season has concluded and the playoffs are set to begin. Our team of writers and handicappers hand out their picks for Wild Card Weekend.
Atlanta Falcons (11-5) at Arizona Cardinals (9-7), 4:30 PM ET
With his best season in years, grizzled veteran Kurt Warner has led the Arizona Cardinals to their first playoff appearance in 10 years.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has accomplished something just as impressive as a rookie.
The 23-year-old Ryan looks to help the Falcons continue their remarkable turnaround as they visit the 37-year-old Warner and the NFC West champion Cardinals in a wild-card game Saturday.
Warner was named league MVP in 1999 and 2001 and earned Super Bowl MVP honors after leading the St. Louis Rams to the title following the 1999 season. After several inconsistent years, he regained his old form in 2008.
Warner has lost the starting quarterback job four times with three teams since earning his second MVP award. He's been benched twice in Arizona, only to persevere with a season that statistically matches his best with the Rams.
More impressively, he's guided the long-downtrodden Cardinals (9-7) to their second postseason berth since 1982 and first since 1998. It was the longest playoff drought in the NFL before Arizona clinched its first division title in 33 years with a 34-10 win over St. Louis on Dec. 7.
The Falcons won seven of their last nine regular-season games, including their last three. But they're 1-5 all-time in Arizona, where these teams last met in Week 16 of 2007. Neil Rackers connected on a 31-yard field goal in overtime to give Arizona a 30-27 win and snap the team's four-game losing streak to Atlanta.
Indianapolis Colts (12-4) at San Diego (8-8), 8:00 PM ET
After struggling through the first two months of the season, the Indianapolis Colts regrouped to secure a seventh consecutive trip to the playoffs. The San Diego Chargers faced a bit more adversity en route to clinching their third straight postseason berth.
Indianapolis, winner of nine straight games, and San Diego, which has won four in a row, meet for the second consecutive year in the playoffs and for the second time this season on Saturday night in an AFC wild-card game.
Indianapolis (12-4) endured four defeats in its first seven contests this year, but closed out the regular season with nine straight wins, including 23-20 at AFC West champion San Diego (8-8) on Nov. 23. That victory came after the defending Super Bowl champion Colts were eliminated by the Chargers from last season's playoffs with a 28-24 home loss in the divisional round.
Indianapolis, coming off its league-record sixth straight 12-win season, had its five-year reign as the AFC South champion snapped by top-seeded Tennessee, but extended its playoff streak to seven, having reached every year since coach Tony Dungy's arrival in 2002.
The last three matchups between these teams have been decided by a combined nine points, with the Chargers winning twice. Manning went 32-for-44 for 255 yards and two TDs, while Rivers was 24-for-31 for 288 yards and two scores in November's meeting, which Indianapolis won on an Adam Vinatieri 51-yard field goal as time expired.
Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at Miami Dolphins (11-5), 1:00PM ET
At the start of the season, the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens were two of the NFL's least likely teams reach the playoffs. Led by unassuming quarterbacks, however, each team has made an impressive run to the postseason.
The Dolphins and Ravens meet on Sunday in an AFC wild-card game, as Miami looks to avoid another postseason exit at the hands of Baltimore.
The Ravens are in the playoffs for the second time in three years, but they returned after going 5-11 in 2007. As remarkable as that turnaround is, however, it pales in comparison to the surprising success of the Dolphins.
A year after going 1-15, Miami won the AFC East for its first division title since 2000. The Dolphins, who were 0-13 in 2007 before beating Baltimore 22-16, won their final five games of 2008 to become just the second team in NFL history to post a 10-win improvement.
Miami's unlikely turnaround came after an overhaul in the offseason under the guidance of Bill Parcells, who was named executive vice president of football operations. Under new coach Tony Sparano, who took over for Cam Cameron - now the offensive coordinator for the Ravens - the Dolphins still got off to a rough start, losing four of their first six games, but after a 27-13 loss at home to the Ravens on Oct. 19, things rapidly began to improve.
Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1) at Minnesota Vikings (10-6), 4:30PM ET
Six weeks ago, the Philadelphia Eagles weren't even thinking about the playoffs, as they tied a game and had their star quarterback benched in successive weeks. While it wasn't looking promising at the time, those events proved to be pivotal in getting the Eagles to the postseason.
In Sunday's NFC wild-card game, Philadelphia looks to carry its strong regular-season finish into the playoffs as it visits the NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings, who are also surging into the postseason.
The Eagles (9-6-1) are making their seventh playoff appearance in nine years, but this one happened after a chain of surprising results in Week 17. Philadelphia avoided elimination when Oakland upset Tampa Bay and Houston beat Chicago in the early games. The Eagles then completed their unlikely journey to the playoffs with a 44-6 victory over Dallas to clinch the final NFC wild-card spot.
Philadelphia has won its first playoff game each of its last six times in the postseason, while Minnesota has won its first game in the playoffs five straight times.
Posted: 1/2/09 9:00PM ET