If I were a bragging man, I’d mention here that I was darn near perfect with my first Qcitymetro prediction last week when I wrote that the Carolina Panthers would beat the New Orleans Saints 34-31.
The final score, you might remember, was 33-31, Panthers.
A braggart would tell you only a sheer genius could come that close to picking a huge game on the nose. He’d tell you that my – (ahem) his – football insight must be unparalleled. Heck, a sports writer that awesome should have his keyboard bronzed or something, he’d remind you.
But since I’m not that kind of person, there’s no need to get into stuff like that. I’ll just let this week’s predictions do the talking.
So here’s a look at my wild-card playoff picks:
SATURDAY, JAN. 3
Atlanta (11-5) at Arizona (9-7), 4:30 p.m. on NBC
Atlanta’s definitely come a long way from that Michael Vick-less team that went 4-12 last season, but I don’t think the Falcons’ fairy tale turnaround can keep going against the Cardinals.
Arizona has the best passing attack in the NFL, with quarterback Kurt Warner and receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Even if Atlanta’s brilliant rookie quarterback, Matt Ryan, is hot early and the running tandem of Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood is eating up yards, the Cardinals are not out of the game; they don’t have to alter their offense to rally, because they throw the ball a million times a game anyway (actually, their 39.4 attempts per game rank second only to New Orleans’ 39.8, but you get my point).
Plus, this being playoff time, I just can’t pick against Warner in the first round. He’s led a team to two Super Bowls, and he’s a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player.
Watch and learn, Matt Ryan.
Final score: Arizona 31, Atlanta 28.
Indianapolis (12-4) at San Diego (8-8), 8 p.m. on NBC
Most of America instantly wants to give Indianapolis the benefit of the doubt because of the great Peyton Manning, and I’m one of those people. Plus, Tony Dungy’s one of the most underrated coaches of all time.
But I still don’t completely trust the Colts.
I don’t know which Colts defense will show up, and I never know which of the team’s key players are going to be healthy – Joseph Addai, Bob Sanders, I’m talking to you. I know Manning’s probably going to win the league MVP award, but can he carry the Colts by himself this week?
The Chargers, meanwhile, have the immortal LaDainian Tomlinson at running back and just enough guys who show up and do their jobs every week. Plus, for all the talk of Manning’s excellence this season, San Diego’s Phillip Rivers quietly has thrown for 4,009 yards and 34 touchdowns (compared with Manning’s 4,002 yards and 27 touchdowns).
San Diego coach Norm Turner could mess things up at any time, but I expect L.T. and Rivers to come through.
Final score: San Diego 24, Colts 20.
SUNDAY, JAN. 4
Baltimore (11-5) at Miami (11-5), 1 p.m. on CBS
This matchup of rookie head coaches – Miami’s Tony Sparano and Baltimore’s John Harbaugh — should be pretty boring, at least offensively. Neither team has a 1,000-yard rusher, and both defenses are stout – especially Baltimore’s, which ranks second in the NFL behind Pittsburgh’s.
Miami quarterback Chad Pennington has been superb this season, helping the Dolphins to a surprising AFC East title. But he surely won’t solve that Ravens defense, which is the only unit to take the magic out of Miami’s “wildcat” offense this season. In fact, the Ravens defense scored a touchdown when the Dolphins lined up in that formation on Oct. 19, a game Baltimore won 27-13.
I don’t expect things to be much different this time around, especially since Baltimore rookie quarterback Joe Flacco has evolved into much more than a manager of the game.
Final score: Baltimore 17, Miami 7.
Philadelphia (9-6-1) at Minnesota (10-6), 4:30 p.m. on FOX
This is the weekend’s toughest game to predict because both teams are hot: The Eagles have won four of their last five games and the Vikings five of their last six. Both defenses are nasty, and each offense can leave you scratching your head.
So I’m going with my heart on this one.
I’ll confess: I’m a Donovan McNabb apologist, and I want him to win a Super Bowl. I know he won’t earn a ring this year, but it’d be nice to at least see him win a playoff game or two. But I wonder how McNabb will handle things with Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen and his sidekicks harassing him all day.
The key will be Philadelphia running back Brian Westbrook, who can help the Eagles eat up clock and keep Minnesota’s amazing running back, Adrian Peterson, on the sidelines.
Final score: Philadelphia 24, Minnesota 23.
C. Jemal Horton has covered sports for the Washington Post, Indianapolis Star and Charlotte Observer. He currently is group sports editor for Carolina Weekly Newspapers.