Best wild-card matchups to watch
Jets' Darrelle Revis vs. Bengals' Chad Ochocinco
Ravens offensive line vs. Patriots defensive front
Packers defensive backs vs. Cardinals wide receivers
Breaking down the four best position battles in the wild-card weekend games...
Jets CB Darrelle Revis vs. Bengals WR Chad Ochocino
We'll see if Ochocinco can produce more than he did last Sunday night, when he was shut out by Revis despite all of the tweeting and talk leading up the game. It won't be easy.
For one, Ochocinco comes into this one a little banged up, even though head coach Marvin Lewis said the only thing he bruised in the Week 17 meeting against the Jets was his ego. Ochocinco also has insisted this week that the game plan for last week's meeting was completely vanilla and that's why he wasn't able to make any plays.
No matter what Ochocinco says or does, the results are likely to be the same. Revis has already shut down receivers superior to Ochocinco, whose quarterbacks were playing a lot better than Carson Palmer has this season. In fact, several players and coaches have said Revis is playing cornerback as well as they have ever seen it played. He's clearly the best all-around corner in the league and will prove that again this weekend.
Eagles offensive linemen Jason Peters, Nick Cole and Winston Justice vs. Cowboys defenders DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer
The Eagles offensive line against the Cowboys defensive line is a broader way of looking at things, but these three individual matchups, especially on obvious passing downs, will prove to be the difference. The Eagles gave first-, fourth- and sixth-round picks to get Peters from the Bills, and they did it with the idea that he could hold up against dynamic rushers like Ware without help. Good luck with that. Peters has been up and down in his first season in Philly and his Pro Bowl selection was a surprise (although I can understand it given the fact that most of the league's best left tackles reside in the AFC.)
Cole has been solid but has not played much center in the NFL and that is a different animal than guard, especially on the road. Ratliff is an especially tough matchup for Cole because of his incredible quickness, which is extremely rare for a nose man. Cole's stocky build and strength make him better suited for the massive road-grader type of nose guard most teams employ, like the Steelers' Casey Hampton or the Patriots' Vince Wilfork. Ratliff simply isn't that type of player and could give Cole fits.
Justice has been a pleasant surprise as a competent starting right tackle this season but he will have his hands full with Spencer. The bottom line is if these three Eagles linemen can't give QB Donovan McNabb time, it could be another long day in Jerry's World for the Birds.
Ravens offensive line vs. Patriots defensive line
Much of the focus has been on the Pats' loss of wideout Wes Welker, and rightfully so, but this game will be won or lost by the Ravens' offensive line. The Ravens have a physical group built to run the football in rough conditions and is led by a trio of young ornery blockers in left guard Ben Grubbs, right guard Marshal Yanda and tackle Michael Oher. It doesn't seem to matter whether it is Ray Rice, Willis McGahee or LeRon McClain running the ball, this unit gets the job done.
The Patriots defensive line has been banged up lately, but stalwarts like Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren should be raring to go after sitting out against the Titans. The Pats need them to be stout against the run and create an interior push when Ravens QB Joe Flacco goes back to pass because New England no longer has elite pass rushers coming off the edge. When outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain is your most effective and consistent rusher, there is a problem. Unfortunately for the Pats, that problem has been there all season because both Derrick Burgess and Adalius Thomas have been significant disappointments.
Cardinals wide receivers vs. Packers defensive backs
It is tough to know what to expect in this matchup considering Anquan Boldin and Charles Woodson have injury issues. It sounds as if Woodson is a safer bet to play than Boldin, which could be a huge advantage for the Packers. The Cards No. 3 wideout, Steve Breaston, would be a starter on most of the teams in the league and is typically a matchup problem for teams that divert most of their attention to Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Fellow youngster Early Doucet has emerged as a legitimate threat this season as well, giving the Cardinals their own fearsome foursome.
The Packers enter the game with the No. 1 rushing defense and will likely make the Cardinals one dimensional. No matter how good Kurt Warner is or how hot he gets in this game, it is never easy to consistently deliver strikes when the opposition can rush the passer every play with no genuine threat of the run. The Cardinals' offensive line has had its struggles at times this year, which means rookie outside linebacker Clay Matthews Jr. and Co. could help out that defensive backfield by forcing Warner to unload before he is ready.
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