It's wild card weekend in the NFL, where the teams who barely scratched through the bubble and into the playoffs (including the barely deserving 8-8 St. Louis Rams) will hammer one another for the right to lose to the divisional champion next week. If this weekend's wild card contests engender a sense of déjà vu, there's a good reason for it. Each of the four games on this weekend's schedule feature teams that faced each other at least once during the regular season (and of particular mention are the Broncos and Colts, who sparred just last weekend).
We're as anxious as anyone to discover how the entire NFL playoffs will unravel. Will the Patriots continue their dominance of the AFC while on their way to establishing what many experts thought was dead in this era of free agency and parity: a championship dynasty? Could this be Brett Favre's last charge at another Super Bowl trophy? More importantly, will touchdown machine Peyton Manning finally break the "most audibles called before a single snap" record that has stood for decades? We're so impatient for these kinds of answers, in fact, that we'll be simulating each round of the playoffs right up to the Super Bowl on February 6. How close will the predictions be to the real thing? Only time will tell.
For the wild card round, we simulated this weekend's games using Madden NFL 2005, which we set on All-Pro difficulty and 10-minute quarters.
We start this round of our simulated NFL playoffs feature with two offensively potent teams that nonetheless define the essence of wild card luck: the 8-8 St. Louis Rams and the 9-7 Seattle Seahawks.
St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks watched their playoff hopes slip through their fingers after a late-game meltdown saw the St. Louis Rams come from behind to win the wild card matchup 37-33. The Rams, led by an up-and-down Marc Bulger (31-62, 396 yds, 2 TD, 3 INT), fought hard to keep themselves in the game after the Seahawks took an early 14-6 lead. A touchdown pass from Bulger to tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, one of two on the day for the four-year player from the University of Arizona, brought the Rams back to within two points of the 'Hawks, but an ill-advised two-point conversion call from coach Mike Martz was ruined when Rams running back Marshall Faulk dropped the ball in the end zone.
The seesaw scoring battle continued in the second half, as the Seahawks and Rams traded touchdowns late in the third quarter. Jerry Rice, decked out in Seattle blue, looked like his old self again when he grabbed seven receptions for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Two straight field goals in the second half put the advantage firmly in the hands of the 'Hawks as they lead the Rams by 30-19. The strong legs of kicker Jeff Wilkins and running back Marshall Faulk, who scored his first touchdown and this time held on to the ball to successfully complete a second two-point conversion attempt, eventually tied the game at 30 apiece late in the fourth quarter.
With only minutes remaining in the game, Seattle took its final lead of the contest on a field goal. After holding the Rams to three and out, the Seahawks got the ball back with fewer than two minutes left on the clock. Despite a 9-yard run from Seattle running back Shaun Alexander (who ran with no visible knife in his back), the Seahawks were unable to convert the first down that would have iced the game for them. After the ensuing punt, Bulger lead his team down the field on a furious drive--with no time-outs left--that was topped off by a Marshall Faulk touchdown run that put the Rams up for good.
Final Score: St. Louis - 37, Seattle - 33
Player of the Game: Torry Holt, 12 receptions, 229 yds.
|Third Down Conversions||9-19||6-20|
|Fourth Down Conversions||0-0||0-0|
New York Jets at San Diego Chargers
The New York Jets have one man and one man only to thank for their wild card win against the heavily favored San Diego Chargers: kicker Doug Brien, who nailed six of seven field goals to lead his Jets to victory over the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium.
San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson started off strongly in the first quarter by running for 40 yards and making the Jets defensive line look silly while trying to stop him. Jets head coach Herman Edwards must have made some adjustments after the first quarter, however, because LT was silent for the rest of the game, ending up with only 5 yards thereafter. The rest of the Charger offense, besides finding one big touchdown hookup between Drew Brees and Antonio Gates, was troubled by turnovers in the first half and inefficiency in the second. The Charger defense had its share of bad luck too, especially in the third quarter, when a touchdown fumble return by San Diego's Sammy Davis was reversed upon review by game officials.
Jets fans suffered a scare in the third quarter when quarterback Chad Pennington went down with what appeared to be a chest injury. Visions of the option play ran through Jets fans' heads as former Cowboy bust Quincy Carter took the field for New York and proceeded to stink up the field for a series. Luckily for the Jets, Pennington was back for the next series and promptly tossed a touchdown strike to Wayne Chrebet to put the Jets up for good. A few more insurance field goals from Brien were all it took to keep the game out of the Chargers' reach.
Final Score: New York - 32, San Diego - 19
Player of the Game: Doug Brien, 6 FG
|Third Down Conversions||8-17||7-14|
|Fourth Down Conversions||0-0||0-2|
Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts
When judged on statistics alone, the Denver Broncos dominated the Indianapolis Colts during their wild card matchup. The Broncos, playing indoors and on the road, outgained the Peyton Manning-led Colts by more than 160 yards, had nine more first downs, and clearly held a strong advantage in third down conversions. Luckily for Indianapolis, however, games are not won by statistics alone, as the Colts managed a startling comeback to beat Denver 31-27 in a stirring victory.
Early on, the Broncos looked to run away with the game after going up 13-0, despite quarterback Jake Plummer having to sit out a few series with a rib injury. Just when the boobirds began to emerge from their collective hibernation in the Indianapolis stands, however, Peyton Manning brought his team to life with a touchdown strike to receiver Reggie Wayne, who would end the day with 10 receptions, 156 yards, and three touchdowns. The Broncos answered back with a touchdown pass of their own to Ashley Lelie, which made the team appear to be back in control of the game going into halftime...that is until Wayne caught his second touchdown of the day to bring the Colts to within six points of the Broncos at halftime.
The second half belonged to the Colts, as Edgerrin James pounded his way to his only touchdown on the day to put the Colts up for the first time 21-20. Two key field goal misses by Denver kicker Jason Elam didn't help the Broncos' chances of victory, and when Indy went up 24-20 following a successful field goal, hope began to fade for the team from the Mile High City. Quarterback Jake Plummer showed he had no quit in him on the next possession, however, by laying out a 60-yard missile to Triandos Luke to put the Broncos back on top 27-24. Denver's defense was not up to the task of stopping the brilliant Peyton Manning, though. Manning found Wayne in the end zone for a third and final time to put the game once and for all out of Denver's reach. The Broncos hoped for a miracle with a hurry-up drive as the clock wound down, but on fourth and inches on the 6-yard line, these hopes were dashed as Jake Plummer was sacked. The Colts eked out a win to remain alive in their bid for a Super Bowl berth.
Final Score: Indianapolis - 31, Denver - 27
Player of the Game: Reggie Wayne, 10 receptions, 156 yards, 3 TDs
|Third Down Conversions||15-23||3-16|
|Fourth Down Conversions||0-1||4-4|
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Sometimes it's the smallest details that make the biggest difference. Nowhere was this more evident than in the dominating win by the Minnesota Vikings over their archrivals, the Green Bay Packers. Down 33-20 late in the game, Packers quarterback Brett Favre led another of his trademark comeback drives to score a touchdown, thus bringing his team to within six points of the Vikes. After this brilliant display of gridiron command from the Mississippi-born field general, Favre could only watch from the sidelines as a Minnesota punt was fumbled by the Packers' punt return specialist, resulting in a quick Vikings touchdown. On the ensuing drive, Favre, desperate to keep Green Bay in the game, forced a pass into heavy coverage, which resulted in an interception for Vikings' linebacker E.J. Henderson, one of two he had on the day and one of four total picks for the Vikings D.
Even this interception wasn't enough to kill Favre's spirit, though, as the future Hall of Fame QB answered right back with a touchdown pass to receiver Antonio Chatman to bring the Pack within nine points of the Vikings (at 42-33) with just 15 seconds left in the game. A failed two-point conversion, however, meant the game was out of reach for Green Bay, which propelled the Vikings to the next round of the playoffs.
While the Vikings' typically explosive offense was in full effect today, it was the team's oft-invisible defense that gave the Vikes the win. In addition to causing five turnovers in the game, the defensive line swarmed Brett Favre all day, sacking him twice and forcing bad passes throughout the contest. It was an atypical day for the Vikings defense, but the result was one the team could surely live with.
Final Score: Minnesota - 42, Green Bay - 33
Player of the Game: E.J. Henderson, 11 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT
|Third Down Conversions||10-22||6-16|
|Fourth Down Conversions||0-0||0-1|
Come back next Friday, when we'll be simulating the divisional round of the NFL playoffs!