NFL Divisional Round Preview: Four "Cs" Advance

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NFL Divisional Round Preview: Four
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.

Arizona @ New Orleans (-7)

Arizona's thrilling 51-45 overtime win over the Packers set up a showdown with the NFC's top seed, New Orleans, in a game that is sure to feature an abundance of scoring.

The Cardinals' 51 points were the most in team playoff history, and sent a warning shot that they are capable of taking down a Saints team that has struggled defensively lately.

"Obviously," says Sean Payton, "the more we hear 'three-and-out' from our defense, the less likely we are to hear 'one-and-done.' We respect the Cardinals' offense, but we don't fear it.

"Consequently, we don't fear or respect the Cardinals' defense. Those guys have to be tired, not necessarily from being on the field against the Packers, but from running off the field after all those Green Bay touchdowns."

"Indeed, there will be plenty of firepower in this game, probably enough to warrant an indefinite suspension in the NBA. And, much like Gilbert Arenas suggested in his locker room, Kurt Warner and Drew Brees will have the opportunity to 'choose their weapons' from numerous offensive talents. This is the kind of game that gives defensive coordinators nightmares, and whets the dreams of offensive coordinators."

"Inactivity is of course a concern for us. It's been a month since we've played a meaningful game, and even longer since we've won one. That's why we've been blaring 'Rust Shaker' by Wreckx-N-Effect over the loud speakers during practice. What's that? It's 'Rump Shaker?' I'll be damned."

Warner may again be a part of another epic quarterback showdown, and if he tops his performance from last week, the Saints and Brees are in deep trouble.

Warner was 29-for-33 for 379 yards and 5 touchdowns, as the Cardinals continually confused the Packers with various formations, particularly "bunch" setups, which led to wide-open lanes in the middle of the field.

"I doubt even Steve Nash has seen that many 'picks' in a game," says Warner. "Sure, we all know picks are illegal, so there's a science to getting away with it. To successfully complete a legal pick against a defender, you've got to 'rub him the right way.' You tell a defender you plan on doing that, then he's usually either too disgusted or taken aback to cover you. That's our secret."

"Last Sunday's game would have been a great one to call my last. But there's still work to be done this year. After that, I'll take stock, evaluate my health, weigh my options, talk with my coaches, then let my wife, Brenda, make the decision on my future. I'm not sure I have the necessary drive to come back next year.

"Then again, I may. Should I choose to ride off into the sunset, there's the possibility that, along the way, I'll make some stops at the homes of some quarterback-needy teams, thereby 'driving' up my price and forcing the Cards to ante up to keep me happy."

This should be a high-scoring game. Sure, that's stating the very obvious, so just consider it an homage to Mark McGwire. Once again, it looks as though the great Jose Canseco was right. He did inject McGwire then; maybe he injected McGwire again, this time with truth serum. For McGwire, that's called going from "puncture" to "perjure."

Anyway, back to Cardinals who don't do drugs. The key to winning this game are mismatches. At least that's what the NFL Network's Brian Baldinger says, and he's got more football knowledge in his crooked right pinkie that most experts have in their straight right pinkies. Arizona presents more matchup problems. For that reason, and in honor of McGwire's honesty, I'll take Arizona.

Warner out-duels Brees, the Cards win the rushing battle, and Neil Rackers, who blew a chance to beat the Packers in regulation with a wide-left kick, oddly enough fails to find a "hooker" in New Orleans, and drills a 43-yard kick for the game-winner.

One week after vanquishing a Heisman "poser" in Charles Woodson, the Cards turn back a Heisman "poseur" in Reggie Bush.

Arizona wins, 41-38.

 

Baltimore @ Indianapolis (-6½)

Baltimore manhandled the Patriots, 33-14, rushing for 234 yards and 4 touchdowns, including 159 and 2 TDs by Ray Rice, and thoroughly dominated to Patriots to such a degree that the home fans booed their team in the first quarter .

Now, after a wild card round full of regular-season matchups, Saturday night's Ravens/Colts contest is the lone rematch among the four divisional games. It's a game Ray Lewis, foaming at the mouth, has been anticipating since the Colts took a 17-15 decision in Baltimore on Nov. 22.

"Settle the score," froth the Raven. "Settle the score."

"Consider the Patriot mystique a thing of the past. In fact, consider the whole team 'a thing of the past ,' because they're old and broken down. 'Team of the Decade,' my foot; it's more like 'Team of the Decayed .'"

"It was a great feeling to hear the Patriot fans boo their team. And Tom Brady didn't seem too happy about it. Did he say 'Boo hoo' or did he say 'Boo who ' I'm sure, before Tom was neutered by his Brazilian bombshell, he was pursued by his share of the raven-haired persuasion. Last Sunday, he wilted under pressure of the 'Raven-harried ' persuasion."

"New England found that revenge is best served with a large helping of Rice. Indianapolis will discover that revenge is a dish best served 'Colt.' As dinner guests go, we're 'bad company.' It matters not that the game is in Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the finest luxury suite attendants in all of football, the 'Personal Lubricants.'

"We owe the Colts, not only for this year's loss, but for their win in Baltimore on their way to the Super Bowl XLI. The Colts are soft. They're a lot like the Patrots—if you ride 'em for eight seconds, they'll lose their fight. For the Colts, payback's a 'hitch.'"

The Colts earned a bye as the AFC's No. 1 seed, and have not played a meaningful game in three weeks. Peyton Manning, who was awarded his fourth league MVP award last week, knows that a quick start for the Colts is imperative in the quest to keep the Ravens at bay.

"I'm certainly honored to be named MVP again," says Manning. "Now when I hold up four fingers, it's not just an indication of the number of fingers not graced with a Super Bowl ring.

"But I try to be as humble as possible when accepting awards. Thanks are in order for my teammates, coaches, family, and fans, and especially to Kanye West, who interrupted my acceptance speech, which was truly a humbling experience. I booted him off the stage, however. Mike Vanderjagt isn't the only 'idiot' kicker.

"Now I know how Taylor Swift must have felt. Or, as Kanye calls her, Taylor 'Swiff.' Anyway, Kanye's intrusion did get Beyonce on the stage, where she urged me to 'put a ring on it.' I assume she was talking about my finger and not hers."

"We are certainly well-rested. Offensively, I expect us to come out energized and active, and I expect the Ravens defense to fully commit to slowing us. If The Who's Keith Moon were alive today and were an NFL analyst, I think he'd be proud to say that Baltimore will attempt to put 11 'horse' tranquilizers on the field. And I would tend to agree with Moon that 11 of those won't nearly be enough."

"If anything, we're well prepared for the Ravens. Jim Caldwell, whose name is synonymous with 'anonymous,' may not make a sound, but he can put together a sound game plan. Offensively, we'll just have to take what the Ravens give us. Hopefully, unlike the Patriots, we'll be man enough to take it."

Manning is a master of finding favorable matchups, and if the Ravens happen to show him something he hasn't seem before, he'll just make it look like he's seen it before. The Ravens dominated a Patriots team with limited weaponry; Manning has too many options to stop.

Of course, all that is moot if the Colts allow the Ravens to trample them with their running game. Chances are Indy will do whatever it takes, short of suiting up Bob Sanders, to stop the run and force Joe Flacco to throw.

Indianapolis wins, 23-17.


Dallas @ Minnesota (-3)

After whipping the Eagles, 34-14, the Cowboys continue to roll, having won four in a row, a streak in which their defense is surrendering just under 8 points per game. Next up is a date in Minnesota, where the Cowboys expect to give the NFC North champion Vikings a stern test.

"We have no doubts the Vikings will be ready for a 'stern test,'" says Tony Romo. "Heck, they undergo a 'stern test' before every boat excursion on Lake Minnetonka. There, a 'stern test' entails calling all the talent to the back of the SS Natch , a 'booty call,' if you will.

"I'm not sure if they're asked to swab the deck, but if it were me, I'd ask to 'swab their cheeks.' I hear those chicks are looser than Adrian Peterson's grip on the ball. But I'm sure the Vikings get sick of tired references to the sex boat scandal. So, in honor of their wishes, I'll talk no more about it. 'Oral discourse' is the last thing they need on their boat rides."

"Now, with a win over the Eagles to clinch the division, plus a win over those same Eagles in the playoffs, this month has definitely been one to be proud of. So much so that our owner has taken to proudly calling himself 'January Jones.'

"And Jerry's so confident, he's promised Wade Phillips that if we beat the Vikings, then win the NFC title, then capture Super Bowl XLIV, he'll consider him as head coach next year."

The Vikings finished the regular season at 12-4, and will be backed by a raucous, 63,000-strong Metrodome crowd. Brett Favre brings a wealth of playoff experience to the Vikes, and Minnesota will likely need Favre's leadership and calming influence to reach their first conference title game since 2001.

"I know this franchise and this city are desperate for a playoff victory," says Favre. "I want to be the man responsible for ending the futility that has dogged this team. I'm capable of doing that. I can be called a pain -killer just as well as I can take one."

"Defensively, we'll need to get pressure on Romo. Most of the responsibility for that falls on Jared Allen. He'll have to be on top of his game to beat Flozell Adams. As you know, Adams can be a dirty player. Just ask Justin Tuck, who's been a victim of Adams' 'bro-mestic' violence. The Eagles got very little pressure on Romo, and Adams' play had a lot to do with that.

"That was in a night game; Adams will be even tougher on Sunday afternoon, when he becomes a 'day tripper.' That'll just be one of the 'hurdles' Jared will face, and I'm confident he'll overcome it. Jared's pretty darn good at 'jumping' white tails; I hope he's equally as proficient at 'jumping' black men."

The Cowboys are on such a hot streak that you can draw almost only one conclusion — that it will end. But leave it to Favre to be responsible for keeping something going that should have ended long ago. Favre's two turnovers are the Vikings' undoing, and Romo plays error-free, throwing for 312 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Dallas wins, 28-23.


NY Jets @ San Diego (-9)

To punch their ticket to the AFC title game, the Chargers will have to first overcome the upstart Jets, who validated their playoff berth with a bruising 24-14 win in Cincinnati last week. In all likelihood, the Jets will test the heart of the Chargers defense with the same running attack that has served as the catalyst for New York's late-season push.

"That's what they want us to think," says Norv Turner. "Rex Ryan is no fool, except when it comes to the science of playoff elimination. The Jets physically dominated the Bengals, but don't underestimate their finesse game. Let's face it, they're not going to ride their defense and running game all the way to the Super Bowl.

Sure, they can open up a can of whoop ass, and Mark Sanchez can open up a hot dog bun, but can they also open up the playbook ? That's what we'll have to find out by forcing Sanchez to do more.

Sure, he's been an inspiration to this team, but don't be fooled by the chants you hear. It's not 'Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!' you hear. It's 'rudi-, rudi-, rudi-mentary .'"

"Sure, the playbook's been simplified for me," says Sanchez. "But why pass when we have the league's top-ranked running game? More importantly, the success of our running game doesn't hinge on Braylon Edwards catching the ball. He may be good at 'catching hell' for a disorderly conduct charge, but his ability to 'catch balls' is criminal."

"Don't forget, just over a year ago, I was still in college at USC, where the playbook is no piece of cake, but I mastered it anyway. And although I'm only making marginally more money now, I plan to do the same with the Jets' playbook."

"Now, I think our win over the Bengals, and the Ravens' upset of the Patriots, is a testament to true parity in the NFL. How's this for parity? There's a team left in the playoffs representing each of the NFL's eight divisions. We're the true Cinderella team of this year's playoffs, and she's sporting a wicked playoff beard right now."

The Chargers will be led into battle by their unquestioned leader, Philip Rivers, who passed for 28 touchdowns and led the AFC with a 104.4 passer rating. A deeply religious man, Rivers adheres to strict Christian guidelines, except on those occasions in which some acid-tongued trash talk is warranted to rile an opponent, a heckler, an atheist, or Jay Cutler.

"And on the seventh day," says Rivers, "God said, 'Let there be smack.' I feel equally as comfortable 'preaching the gospel' as I do 'talking the shit.'"

"Confidence is something I don't lack, and I feel confident about our Super Bowl chances. Heck, so does every sportsbook . This team has really come together at the right time. Call it a 'communion' if you choose to associate it in a religious context.

"There was no eating of the 'body of Christ' or anything creepy like that, although Shawne Merriman did offer Tila Tequila as a sacrifice. Talk about a communion 'waif.' Of course, we refused. Like Merriman, she's done way too many 'sack' dances."

The Chargers won't win this game with their running game. The burden firmly rests on the shoulders of Rivers. San Diego ranked 31st in the regular season in rushing offense. Sure, LaDainian Tomlinson can still produce, but only when the Charger passing attack puts him in position to fall in the end zone from the one-yard line.

"Rivers might as well concede that he won't be able to throw in the direction of Darrelle Revis. Revis has proven that he can shut down any superstar, and Chad Johnson. Antonio Gates has always been an integral part of the Charger offense; he'll be even more important on Sunday.

Can the Jets run on San Diego? Absolutely. But this game will boil down to red zone efficiency and turnovers (what game doesn't?).

San Diego wins, 19-16.

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