If you caught me early last week, I was 3-1 on my playoff predictions. If you caught me late, I was 1-3. For reasons unknown to logical minds, I changed my pick in the Eagles-Cowboys game. I changed that pick from Dallas to Philadelphia — after being down on the Eagles all season, after listing in gross detail the many ways they could not beat Dallas. I also changed my pick in the Green Bay-Arizona game after hearing that Anquan Boldin would miss the contest. I originally thought the Cardinals would take advantage of fatigue on the part of Green Bay defenders (specifically, the front 7).
I Could Beat You With One Hand Tied Behind My Back
The Baltimore Ravens are reputed to be among the toughest and most intimidating teams in the NFL. As proof of this, do we need to look beyond the video of last week’s throttling of the smoke and mirrors New England Patriots? I do; I’m not convinced. There are a number of teams tougher than the Patriots. They just aren’t who they used to be — and neither are the Ravens. Baltimore’s defense is ranked third in points against and yards allowed. The biggest difference, though, between this version of Ray and the Ruff Necks and previous versions is the play of the cornerbacks. Now, it’s not that Domonique Foxworth, Fabian Washington, Frank Walker and Chris Carr don’t play hard or don’t make plays. They do (when healthy). They just don’t make plays like Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle. But, more importantly, this is the same team that lost twice to the Bengals this season and thrice to the Steelers last season.
And, every season since 2005, the Colts have beaten the Ravens (with most of those games being played in Baltimore). The Ravens are 0-5 in their last few contests with the Mayflower Franchise. Frankly, the Colts own the Ravens. Ray Lewis can’t even remember the last time he beat the Colts. For all the Ravens alleged power, they have been remarkably ineffective in their own building. Now, they’re heading on the road to face a speed rushing team that allowed 200+ rushing yards in the final two weeks of the season. Could a team with such a dismal head-to-head record be more confident? The Ravens never see it coming. Indianapolis 31, Baltimore 24.
Rookie Linebackers and Third-String DBs: So What Are You Saying?
The Green Bay Packers, statistically, had a great defense in 2009. As the season wore on, things changed. Injuries mounted and inexperienced players wore forced into the center of the action. The Packers, for all their raw talent, lacked experience at critical positions all over the field. First year and second year players dotted the field and were lit up by Kurt Warner and the Cardinals in the desert. This week is going to be a little different. The New Orleans Saints have played three seasons in one. Perhaps the clearest example of this is Darren Sharper. He didn’t force four fumbles and get two sacks, but he did make 9 interceptions and return 3 for touchdowns long before it was done by Charles Woodson. It didn’t matter. Sharper, like the Saints has faded from the national consciousness since a Saturday night loss to the Cowboys that very few people saw live.
The first part of the Saints season, defensively, was all about mixing veterans from a number of teams into a new, aggressive system under the guidance of Greg Williams. The prototype games were vs. New York Jets and vs. New York Giants. The Saints snagged 6 combined turnovers and won by a combined score of 72-37. The second phase of the season was about internalizing the nuances of the system. Williams’ system creates havoc in the passing game. From Week 7 through Week 13, the Saints only played one game where opponents made less than 3 turnovers. New Orleans came away with 20 turnovers and put themselves at the front of the national consciousness with a franchise defining win over the smoke and mirrors Patriots on Monday Night back in November.
The third part of the season was about the final kick. It is with this aspect of the season that this veteran team began to show signs of fatigue and injury. The Saints did not finish strong. That’s not a crime in the regular season when you start out 13-0. We’re going to see if the same wily veterans who could so easily undress Tom Brady can have some success against Kurt Warner. I think they will. I think the Saints will have better personnel on the defensive side of the ball than the Packers did. I really like the Cardinals team on both sides of the ball, but I like where the Saints are headed — and I cannot see New Orleans losing a shootout to anyone, especially in the Super Dome. This might be the most entertaining game ever played. New Orleans 52, Arizona 51.
Hail Mary, Part II — The Revenge of Sidney Rice?
I knew you would, if you could. How could you forget?
A big part of being a Minnesota Viking is having a deep and abiding hatred of the Dallas Cowboys. If names like Fran Tarkenton, Chuck Foreman, Matt Blair, Paul Krause and Jim Marshall mean anything to you, the mere mention of Drew Pearson probably triggers a visceral reaction. You haven’t been able to help yourself since 1975; and a win this week might make it a little better, but a loss would be catastrophic. Get ready for a little catastrophe.
The Cowboys are hot. If the Vikings had E.J. Henderson, I might feel differently about this game. If there wasn’t so much good film on how to dissect the Vikings on both sides of the ball (Arizona, Carolina, Chicago), I might like Minnesota. If I didn’t say during the off-season that Minnesota would lose to a team that could stop Adrian Peterson and force him to win the game…
Adrian Peterson is probably injured. I doubt that he’s healthy and has been unable to pop a big run in more than a month. No team has been hammered by Peterson since the Lions in Week 10. If Peterson was injured and feels better now, this is good news. If Peterson’s troubles are really attributable to the injuries of Steve Hutchinson, the Vikings need to deeply concerned. I know Brad Childress, with his Philadelphia Eagles pedigree, does not believe he can win this game without Peterson. That’s going to show up in the play calling. The real key to this game for the Vikings may well be Chester Taylor. Minnesota would do well to play he and Peterson at the same time and put pressure on backers like Keith Brooking and Bradie James. The Vikings have matchup problems in this game and conventional approaches are not likely to work. Childress needs to step out of the box on this one. Dallas 27, Minnesota 24.
New York, New York!!!
I may live here, but I’m not crazy. The Jets have a serious chance to win this game — but I like the Chargers. Last year when these teams met out in San Diego, the first 3 touchdowns of the game were scored by the defense, special teams, or by the offense following a turnover. The game was played at a frenetic pace until the Chargers firepower overwhelmed the Jets. This Jets team may be a tougher test for the Chargers because the offensive game plan will use a conservative approach and rely on the power and experience of the offensive line. The Jets had some success on the ground last season with Jamal Williams in the lineup. His replacement Ian Scott is not going to be able to handle Nick Mangold and company. Braylon Edwards, with his surprising penchant for dropping passes, is still a threat on the field. Last year, Charger DB Antonio Cromartie scored a touchdown by playing through his fellow FSU Seminole Laveranues Coles. He won’t be able to play through Edwards or Phillip Rivers’ favorite collegiate target, Jerricho Cotchery. Dustin Keller can still be used to stretch the defense. Will that be enough?
Not a chance.
The Chargers are not the Bengals. San Diego runs a dynamic and aggressive offense that puts pressure on defenses all over the field. The Jets defense is as well equipped to handle this challenge as any in the league. The real question in this game will be the Chargers defense vs. the Jets offense. If the Chargers defense has looked past the Jets to a date with the Colts or Ravens, we’ll know early. Dirty uniforms, guys getting carted off the field, bickering about coverages…and if they’re doing that in the 2nd quarter, it won’t be over until late in the 4th. If Brad Smith gets into the boxscore, this could be an upset for the ages. San Diego 23, New York Jets 13.
Last year in the divisional round, three home teams lost (Giants, Panthers, Titans). This year, I suspect the trend will swing back the other way — and because there is some big advantage to playing at home…I just think most of the home teams have favorable matchups this week.