Commentary: NFL playoffs begin; Lions end valiantly

Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz and the Lions have won four straight games, turning their season around.

It’s been weeks since my last column ran on Dec. 8 and, yes, a lot has changed. If you recall, it was then that I encouraged fans and media alike to pardon the poor 2-10 Detroit Lions and refrain from judging the team strictly on results when the team is playing (and playing hard) without it’s starting quarterback.

Since that column was published, the Lions are 4-0. So, feel free to judge them. This team finished 6-10, which would actually be 7-9 if Mike Pereira didn’t exist. Not only is that the best record the Lions have had since 2007, it’s very respectable for a team that played just about every game with their second and third string quarterbacks. Considering this team was just two years removed from the apocalypse that was the Matt Millen-era, it’s an incredible achievement by Lions General Manager Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz.

Fortunately for Lions fans, I believe this is just the beginning of incredible achievements. Barring a potential lockout, next season the Lions will have a healthy Matthew Stafford and possibly another game-changing player as they hold the 13th pick in the NFL Draft. For the first time in my lifetime, it’s completely reasonable for Lions fans to dream big. Next season is not only up in the air, but also a long way away; it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the 2011 NFC North Champions reside in the Motor City.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, there’s still a lot of football to be played until then as the first round of the playoffs kicks off this weekend.

New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks: Nobody in their right mind is picking the Seahawks in this contest. Seattle’s pass defense has been atrocious this year and they just squeaked by St. Louis last week amidst Ram’s receivers dropping everything. Sam Bradford couldn’t do it by himself, Drew Brees doesn’t have to. The Saints run defense isn’t very strong again this year, but Seattle’s rushing attack isn’t anything to write home about either. The pick: Saints.

New York Jets vs. Indianapolis Colts: A rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game, only this time both teams have been hit with major injuries. The Colts are missing safety Bob Sanders (of course), but also receivers Austin Collie and Dallas Clark. The Jets will be without safety Jim Leonhard, who broke his leg in practice earlier in the season, so expect Indy tight end Jacob Tamme to have a big game. New York’s shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis has been fighting a nagging hamstring injury seemingly all year. Jets coach Rex Ryan loves to blitz, unfortunately Peyton Manning is the best quarterback against the blitz only taking five sacks on third down all season. Without a healthy secondary or the ability to pressure Manning with just four rushers, it will be difficult for the Jets to get the Colts offense off the field. The pick: Colts.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Despite going 7-1 at home and winning the AFC West division, the Chiefs find themselves an underdog in round one. This certainly has something to do with the pounding the Chiefs took from the Raiders last week losing 31-10 in a game that meant nothing to Kansas City. Still, KC’s running attack was impressive finishing fourth in the league in yards per rush with a 4.6 mark. The home team runs the ball that well, they’ll control the game. The pick: Chiefs.

Green Bay Packers vs. Philadelphia Eagles: I don’t know if the NFL did this intentionally, but they saved the most perplexing game for last. If there’s one team in the NFC that could beat the Eagles in round one, it’s probably the Packers. Michael Vick has taken plenty of hits this year and no team in the NFC has a better blitz than Green Bay. Still, this Packers team has been hit hard with injuries and only managed to put up ten points in a game they had to have last Sunday. The coaching matchup will certainly be one to watch as either Mike McCarthy or Andy Reid could self-destruct at any moment. When in doubt, I go with the home team. The pick: Eagles.

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By Doug Kapustin / McClatchy Newspapers
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco during Sunday’s game. The Ravens play the Chiefs this Sunday.

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