With the playoffs less than a week away, here is everything you need to know about Wild Card Weekend.Atlanta Falcons at Arizona Cardinals
When -- Saturday, Jan. 3, 4:30 PM EST
Where -- University of Phoenix Stadium
Channel -- NBC
How They Got Here -- Atlanta, in a must-win against the Rams in Week 17 for a potential two seed, took care of business behind running back Michael Turner. The first-year Falcon had 208 yards and a touchdown in the 31-27 win over the Rams to secure a playoff bid. Arizona struggled down the stretch but won a lagging NFC West division that only had one team with a winning record.
2008 Meeting -- None
Last Five Games -- Atlanta - 4-1. Arizona - 2-3.
Best Win -- Atlanta taking down a hot Minnesota team in Week 16, 24-17. Arizona beat Dallas in Week 6, 30-24.
X-Factor -- For Atlanta, it is the rookie Matt Ryan. When the play-caller has a quarterback rating of 94 or higher, the Falcons are 8-1. For Arizona, it is the running game. With Edgerrin James being pushed out as the top back, Tim Hightower and J.J. Arrington have been asked to carry the load. Kurt Warner and his great receiving core will get theirs, so it is up to the running game to balance their offensive attack.
Who Will Win -- In terms of least intimidating stadiums to play in, the one in Phoenix has to rack up. Living in the area, I know what Cardinals fans come to expect, and if the team falls behind 10-0 early, you can bet the Card hopefuls will be basically saying to one another, "No surprise here." For Ryan, a playoff game is a different beast, but he has a pretty favorable match-up to get his feet wet. I think the Falcons go to Glendale and beat the Cardinals.
Indianapolis Colts at San Diego Chargers
When -- Saturday, Jan. 3, 8:00 PM
Where -- Qualcomm Stadium
Channel -- NBC
How They Got Here -- The Colts got here because they decided years ago to draft Peyton Manning. The 2008 MVP (I'm already calling it) has this Colts team on a 9-0 run and arguably the hottest team in existence. The Chargers got here because of another crummy division. Just 8-8, San Diego got in by beating the Broncos in a must-win Week 17 game.
2008 Meeting -- Week 12, Indianapolis won 23-20 in San Diego.
Last Five Games -- Indianapolis - 5-0. San Diego - 4-1
Best Win -- Indy beat Houston in Week Five to avoid going 1-3. Indy scored 21 points in the final 2:10 to slide past the Texans 31-27 and keep the season afloat. San Diego taking down Denver on Sunday. They had to win to keep their season alive, and the offense put up 52. It wasn't the toughest opponent the Chargers played, but it was the best win and has their hopes fairly high.
X-Factor -- For Indy, it will always be Peyton. He is their leader and the best player on the field. With the Chargers offense never scared to put up big points, Manning and company will have to be in sync to have a chance. For the Chargers, it is the secondary. Peyton throwing, the Chargers secondary defending. If Antonio Cromartie and company can keep Reggie Wayne from picking up anything big down field, neutralizing Peyton becomes a lot easier.
Who Will Win -- Indianapolis, plain and simple. They are on a hot streak and have a leader that has been here before. In the postseason your biggest flaws are exposed, and when it is your defense and you are playing the smartest player in the NFL, the formula just doesn't add up.
Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins
When -- Sunday, Jan. 4, 1:00 PM
Where -- Dolphin Stadium
Channel -- CBS
How They Got Here -- Baltimore got here like they always do -- a defense that makes quarterbacks struggle to sleep Saturday nights. Ray Lewis and company looked rejuvenated this year, holding their opponents to 10 or less points in seven games this season. Miami went with the Harry Houdini effect -- appear out of nowhere. The worst team in the league last year, the Dolphins won the AFC East over both the Jets and Patriots.
2008 Meeting -- Week 7, Baltimore won 27-13 at Miami.
Last Five Games -- Baltimore - 4-1. Miami - 5-0.
Best Win -- The Ravens whupping of the Cowboys in Week 16 took their playoff chances from hopeful to realistic. A 33-24 beating of the 'Boys made everyone in the NFL realize what they didn't want to say -- Baltimore has found a successful offense. The Dolphins biggest win was Sunday against the Jets. On the road with that "win and get in" pressure hanging over their heads, Miami took down Brett Favre and his squad 24-17.
X-Factor -- For Baltimore it is Le'Ron McClain. In games the second year man out of Alabama rushes for 80 or more yards, the Ravens are 4-1. Joe Flacco knows his role, so it is up to McClain to pound through the tough Miami defense. For the Dolphins, you have to look at Chad Pennington. One of the most valuable players in the league, Pennington is the team's offense. Just seven interceptions all season, if Chad can stay away from turnovers, the Dolphins have a chance against the league's best defense. If not? In games where Pennington has thrown a pick, Miami is a very mediocre 3-4.
Who Will Win -- Baltimore. The defense is too tough and this just screams 10-9 final score. Baltimore wants to keep playing, and they know if they can get through Miami, they'll go and face a very similar looking Titans team.
When -- Sunday, Jan. 4, 4:30 PM
Where -- Metrodome
Channel -- FOX
How They Got Here -- Philly did it by being the best team at the end of the season. A tie to Cincinnati in Week 11, the Eagles came back four big wins to give themselves a chance, which Dallas handed to them on a very pretty, and fumble-y, silver platter. Minnesota did it by winning the NFC North.
2008 Meeting - None
Last Five Games -- Philadelphia - 4-1. Minnesota - 4-1.
Best Win -- The Week 17 blowout of Dallas. A game to show which player could step up to the pressure, Donovan McNabb was fantastic while Tony Romo struggled all day. The Vikings best win came in Week 3 against a very tough Panthers team. Starting the season 0-2, Minnesota needed something, and 20-10 win at home helped keep the team afloat until they could find their groove.
X-Factor -- For Philly, it is Brian Westbrook. The all-purpose machine, Westbrook has to have a good ground game so that Donovan doesn't feel as much pressure in the pocket. Minnesota holds teams to an NFL best 76.9 yards on the ground, so Westbrook will need to be as shifty as possible to open up the pass game. For the Vikings, it is Tarvaris Jackson. Plain and simple, the Viks can't win if he has a stinky game. It will be the playoffs, so as long as Jackson can go to the Joe Flacco School of Minimal Mistakes, things could end positively for Minny.
Who Will Win -- Minnesota. I think the Eagles had their best game of the season against the Cowboys, and will now have to travel to a raucous Metrodome with a team thirsty for some playoff fortitude. When two teams are fairly similar, you have to go with the squad that has the best player. In this case, it is Adrian Peterson, who has gone over 100 yards in eight of his last 11 games.