On to the second round of the playoffs, and we finally get to see how much of a mistake, if a mistake at all, it was for New Orleans and Indianapolis to slow down at the end of the season. We will also see if Rex Ryan’s Super Bowl hopes will continue, or be dashed in sunny San Diego. We have Brees/Warner, Peyton/Flacco, Romo/Favre and Rivers/Sanchize. Let the football begin. Home teams in CAPS.
NEW ORLEANS (-7) over Cardinals
I’ll give the Cardinals this: they put up a great fight versus the Packers last Sunday, but they will have to play a much better New Orleans team less then six days later. New Orleans has been resting their starters and hasn’t played a meaningful game in three weeks. Drew Brees has been studying Cards and licking his lips just thinking about how he will take advantage of their 23rd ranked pass defense. Arizona will just be hoping that Kurt Warner will have all of his weapons available, including Anquan Boldin, who may miss a second straight game.
If you like defensive football games where a couple field goals will make the difference, this is not the game for you. It won’t be as high scoring of a game as the Packers/Cardinals 96 point blowout, but there will be next to no defense. In the end, the Saints have more big play ability and more weapons. Their ground game is much better then Arizona, and the Cardianls’ defense leaves much to be desired. The Superdome crowd won’t disappoint, and the Saints will come away with a solid victory. But to be clear, I won’t like them next week versus either Dallas or Minnesota.
Ravens (+6.5) over COLTS
Last weeks’ game between the Ravens and Patriots was pretty telling. The Ravens showed that if a couple of big plays and penalties went their way, they could have gone 15-1. If you don’t believe me, look at the schedule. They have a fantastic running back duo in Ray Rice and Willis McGahee, and although he didn’t show up in Foxboro, Joe Flacco has proven he can carry his team if they need him to. Their defense is definately missing Bart Scott and competent cornerbacks, but they can blitz like crazy, and that’s what teams need to do to beat Peyton Manning. Their return game is second in the league, thanks for the most part to Chris Carr. The Ravens are an underhyped team that is very dangerous, especially if underestimated.
The Colts, like the Saints, were incredible for most of the season until they completely stepped off the gas, except to keep Peyton Manning’s consecutive start streak alive and let Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark catch their 100th pass. Some say that resting players early has no correlation to losing early, but the last two times the Colts rested their players early, they were given early exits. Like I’ve said earlier, if you step of the gas, you are going to slow down, and if you take your foot of their throat, they will get back up. The Ravens picked off Tom Brady four times, so who’s to say they can’t do the same or something similar to Peyton Manning? We all know the football cliché, if you win two of the three parts of the game, you win the game. They have a better special teams and defense, but will be hard pressed to beat the Colts. I don’t think the Ravens will beat Indy, but the will definitely keep it within a touchdown.
Cowboys (+2.5) over VIKINGS
The Cowboys are the hottest team in the league not named the Chargers. Tony Romo has shed his late season shell and all of the receivers are showing up and not complaining (cough cough Terrell Owens). They are a new team, a team who is much more willing to run, and a team who has faith in the quarterback and head coach for the first time in a long time. Their defense is now the best in the NFC and their isn’t really any chinks in their armor. Dallas is just a fanantstic, well rounded.
As for Minnesota, they aren’t to bad either. They are probably being overlooked as teams like the Cowboys are getting more and more hyped. The Vikings forte is running the ball, except against good run defenses, which Dallas is. With the exception of the Baltimore game, Adrian Peterson has been a feast or famine running back that has beat up on the Browns and Lions, while struggling against the Cardinals and Packers. I would rather have the Cowboy’s three running backs (Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice) the Peterson and Chester Taylor. The Vikings have suddenly become under Favre’s control, which is not what you need when to win in the playoffs, you run the ball and don’t turn it over. Favre is also 2-6 career versus the Cowboys. The Metrodome crowd is always loud, but they don’t always fill up their seats with Vikings fans, so expect a ton of Dallas (bandwagon) fans to show up. All signs are pointing Dallas, and they are my pick to represent the NFC in Miami.
CHARGERS (-7) over Jets
This is by far the easiest game to pick, since it features the best and worst teams in the playoffs (yes, I said that Colts and Saints fans). The Chargers have an incredible pass attack, but the Jets have the top pass attack. Nearly all of the credit for their NFL-best pass defense can be attributed to Darrelle Revis, who has shut down nearly all the top receivers in the league. The bad new for him is that he can’t guard Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates, and Malcom Floyd at the same time. Philip Rivers has been as clutch as anyone from December on, as he owns a 23-4 record during that time. LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles are going to be the X-Factors, if they can beat out the blitzing Jets and take advantage of their hole at nose tackle, the game won’t even be close.
The Jets don’t have much to be proud of. Their “star” quarterback throws balls to the opposing team at just under the rate that he does to his own, and his top receiver can’t catch a ball that hits him in the hands. Literally. Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene do form a great tandem at running back, but when the San Diego defense brings the blitz, they won’t be able to get that far. Taking rookie QBs on the road is never a smart thing to do, and Mark Sanchez, you’re not in Cincinnati anymore.
Super Bowl Pick: I am sticking with the Chargers in the AFC, as they have done nothing to change my mind, and the Ravens and Jets don’t pose much of a threat to stop their hot streak. I did pick the Eagles in the NFC, but I said if they lose, I’ll take the Cowboys. I’ll gladly take Dallas, as they have been dominant to close the year and their team with Roy Williams is better then it was last year with TO. The Cardinals are too inconsistent, the Saints and Colts are too cold, the Jets are just bad, and I can’t pick the Ravens to win it all.
Playoff Record: 1-3
Last Week: 1-3