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NFL Week 18 2010: Wild Card Weekend

By: Nick Popyack

[Have a comment? Click the title of this article and go crazy!]

      After a long season full of twists and turns, the playoff brackets are set and the 2010 postseason is ready to begin. The wild card round is unique in that three of the matchups this week are rematches of the games played last week. The only game that isn’t being rerun is the Patriots-Ravens game, but even they already played this year! With the first round of these ‘doubleheaders’ being blowouts [combined 94-7], some analysts are quick to declare the winners of last week the winners of this week, but there are some games that may have a few surprises. Who’s going to win? Here’s week 18: Wild Card Weekend.

New York Jets @ Cincinnati Bengals
[Saturday 4:30]

      These teams are incredibly similar. Both paved their way to the playoffs with strong running games and tough defenses. The Jets ended the year with the top rushing attack in the league, along with the top defense in yards and points, while the Bengals swept their division and finished 4th in yards allowed and 6th in points allowed.
      The big difference between these teams is the passing game. The Bengals have big-play threat Chad Ochocinco [1,047 receiving yards] and a healthy Carson Palmer [3,096 yards, 83.6 quarterback rating], while the Jets have rookie Mark Sanchez [2,444 yards, 63.0 quarterback rating] throwing to Jerricho Cotchery [821 receiving yards]. However, the Jets have run the ball so well, why would they need to pass? The Jets ran a league-high 607 times this season, and helped Thomas Jones run for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns. While I don’t like to look at the meaningless game they played last week, I can’t overlook the shut out New York put on Cincinnati, along with the 257 rushing yards they accumulated. The New York defense finished the year strong, and the Bengals’ offense has been fading. I expect a New York victory.
New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys
[Saturday 8:00]

      Everything that happened last weekend points toward a Dallas win. While I do think the Cowboys will play a good game, I think the Eagles will come out on top.
      The Cowboys held the Eagles to their only shut out of the year last week, and that’s a testament to how good the Dallas defense is. They ended the year with the 7th most sacks and the second fewest points allowed, while also allowing the ninth fewest yards. However, the Eagles have a defense as well, and they thrive on making big ‘splash’ plays. They ended the year tied for the third most sacks in the league and the fourth most interceptions. The Dallas defense may be tough get yards against, but the Eagles have a definite edge in the turnover column.
      The other thing I want to bring up is Andy Reid’s success when he’s had two weeks to prepare for an opponent. In his career, he is an impressive 14-1 following a bye week, the lone loss being to the 2004 Patriots in the Super Bowl. While this circumstance may not be the exact same as in previous years, Andy Reid knows how to get the best of opponents after preparing for them for two weeks, and has never lost in the fist round of the playoffs. Wade Phillips, on the other hand, has never won a playoff game in his career. While the Cowboys got the best of the Eagles in the regular season, they’ll run into familiar demons in the postseason.
Philadelphia Eagles

Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots
[Sunday 1:00]

      Why, Belichick? Why? The team had absolutely nothing to play for, and the Steelers needed a Texans loss to help them get into the playoffs. Why did you play your starters? In case you haven’t turned on a sports channel or read a sports article in the past week, Wes Welker will not play in the playoffs after sustaining a season-ending dual MCL-ACL tear in his left knee. Such a shame for one of the top players of his position, and another questionable decision this season made by Bill Belichick. He went for it on 4th and 2, he sent his players home for showing up 10 minutes late to practice in a snowstorm, and he played his starters for the majority of a game that essentially meant nothing to his team.
      Either way, the Pats have to play football this weekend. They’ve been flying under the radar ever since they lost to New Orleans on Monday night, going 3-2 since then, but scoring less than 22 points in three of them. Their defense has played well, though, only allowing the fifth fewest points in the league. The Ravens are familiar to good defense, though, allowing the third fewest points themselves. Both teams have been stout on defense, and they seem evenly matched.
      With both teams being so good on defense, it’ll ultimately end up being the offense that’ll make the difference in this game. While Tom Brady won’t have Welker, he still has the better offense behind him. Sure, he only threw one touchdown in the two games Welker was injured in ’09, but Brady has always come through in the playoffs, and the Pats aren’t just a passing team. They have a plethora of running backs, and a great running game. While the Ravens have an excellent runner in Ray Rice, he seems to be one of their few playmakers, while the Patriots have them all over the place. Despite losing Welker, the edge is in New England.
New England Patriots

Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals
[Sunday 4:40]

      After a great 2008, the Cardinals managed to have an incredibly mediocre 2009. They may have improved their record, but they regressed in almost every statistic. The one plus that they can draw from this season is the emergence of Beanie Wells, who rushed for 793 yards, leading his team and placing second among all rookies. The Packers, on the other hand, leapt mountains to get to where they are this season. They bring the sixth ranked offense and the second ranked defense to the playoffs, and have scored the third most points in the league.
      A great story for this year is how successful the conversion to the 3-4 has been for the Packers. They lost two starters, Al Harris and Aaron Kampman, midseason, but lost no momentum on their way to clinching a playoff spot, winning seven of their last eight games. The biggest story for the Packers, however, is Charles Woodsen, who is a very strong candidate for defensive player of the year. Aside from Darrelle Revis and Elvis Dumervil, he has little competition for that award, and is looking to cap off the year with a run at the playoffs. Aside from his excellent play, the unit as a whole has had excellent success against their opponents, and lead the league in interceptions in the regular season with 30. With the pressure the defense has put on passers this season, expect the Packers to win their first playoff game without Brett Favre since 1982. That win, by the way, came against the Cardinals.
Green Bay Packers

New York Jets
Philadelphia Eagles
New England Patriots
Green Bay Packers

Last week’s winner: Nick [13]

2009 Regular Season totals:

Nick: 164
Kavik: 163
Pat: 151 [15 weeks]

Fantasy Football: The story of Team Nate Kaeding [3-10]

While my year of fantasy football didn’t go nearly the way I had expected, I’m still satisfied with the way my team did. Considering that my team somehow had the most points scored against it, I think a 3-10 record is pretty darn good, also considering that I took a kicker in the first round, and also considering I won my final two ‘playoff’ games. Next year will be different, and I’ll keep you informed.

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