The playoffs are never easily predicted; just ask the Cincinnati Bengals and the Green Bay Packers. Late-game heroics and spontaneous spurts of greatness are enough to prove any conjecture wrong.
This week will be no different. The NFL playoffs" target="_blank">2009 NFL playoffs have similar faces, but don’t expect similar results.
Brett Favre and the Jets both made it back to the postseason, but not together. The Colts won enough games in the regular season to earn the bye week and, once again, the talk centered on them isn’t about #18 but rather the old adage “rust” vs. “rest”.
In this case, most would argue that they are one in the same.
Then you have the hottest team in the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys, and the hottest team in the AFC, the San Diego Chargers. Both have capable quarterbacks and a tenacious defense.
However, there may not be a better defense in the postseason than that of the Ravens. Each matchup this week should have no lack of suspense or great performances.
Arizona @ New Orleans
The Cardinals come into the Big Easy with a potent offense and a rising defensive superstar in Karlos Dansby. Kurt Warner had possibly his best postseason game against the Packers last week, racking up 379 yards for five touchdowns.
The run game between Hightower and Wells is still suspect but with 91 yards on 14 attempts against the number one defense in the league, Wells is looking more like an NFL running back every day.
The Saints come into the playoffs off a three-game losing streak, something no team desires. If momentum is what drives a team to greatness, then consider the Saints out of the running.
However, as the regular season taught us time and again, never completely doubt these ragin' Cajuns. Drew Brees is playing the best football of his career and he has a superstar corps of receivers to throw to.
I expect this to be nothing short of a prolific shootout. Both offenses have the ability to put up dominant numbers. With Charles Grant out for the Saints, though, I give the defensive edge to the Cardinals, despite their falling out to Aaron Rodgers arm last week.
It will come down to each team’s ability to run the ball and maintain balance on the offensive side of the ball. If either team can get 100 yards on the ground and force the opposing defensive backs to creep in, their quarterback will have an easier time of it throwing the deep ball.
Baltimore @ Indianapolis
Many people felt at the end of the season that the Ravens didn’t belong in the playoffs. The maturity of quarterback Joe Flacco and the explosive running of Ray Rice has propelled their offense to consistent efficiency.
The defense, headed up by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed makes any offense look Pop Warner. Some could even allude that those two beat the Patriots singlehandedly. Sure, Rice ran all over the Patriots run defense, but putting New England behind early sure helped.
However, Flacco had less completions than Arizona’s Warner had touchdowns and that won’t cut it against Indy.
Once again, the Colts went the option of resting their starters the final weeks of the regular season and one can’t help thinking this will lead to a rusty performance come this weekend.
Peyton Manning is no stranger to this situation, though, and I expect him and tight end Dallas Clark to hook up just like in the regular season.
Coach Caldwell is a playoff virgin, too, and he will need his team to step it up in order to advance to the conference championship.
An injured Colts defense may struggle against Ray Rice and the Ravens rushing attack but Freeney and [ ] should counteract that by putting pressure on Flacco for sixty minutes.
I think it will come down to how well each team can command the middle of the field with their tight ends and seam runners. If either team can keep the linebackers and safeties inside the hash marks, it should open up the receivers to one-on-one coverage on the outside.
New York (Jets) @ San Diego
New York is another team people didn’t expect to reach the postseason but after a rout of Cincinnati in the final week of the regular season and a follow-up victory against them in the Wild Card round, the Jets are looking more and more legitimate.
New coach Rex Ryan has his boys convinced they have what it takes to go the distance, especially now that the once-struggling Mark Sanchez has come into his own and is making few mistakes when it matters most.
The Jets still have one of league’s best rushing attacks in Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene, while cornerback Darrell Reevis was a close second to Defensive Player of the Year. He is one of the best man-to-man defenders in the NFL and will have his work cut out for him against the physical wideouts of the Chargers.
When San Diego lost Brees in free agency to the Saints and put their faith in the youthful Phillip Rivers and coach Norv Turner, people were skeptical of their chances for success.
Now, the Chargers are arguably the hottest team in the NFL and, after earning a bye week, they come into this game refreshed and ready for the underdog. They boast some of the most physical wide outs in the league and a tight end that can command the middle of the field.
Not to mention, they now have a healthy LaDainian Tomlinson to complement the explosive Darren Sproles.
While this game may not garner as much attention as the rest this weekend, I feel it will be closer than people expect. The Jets defense is quick and physical, owning the title of the highest-scoring defensive squad in the league.
Rivers will have to make good decisions because too many mistakes could spell doom for the offense. The line-backing squad of the Chargers has the capabilities to hold the Jets rushing attack in check, but it will come down to whether or not Antonio Gates can dominate the middle of the field.
If Rivers can connect with him often, it will open up the outside running game and give him a one-on-one matchup with his receivers on the outside.
The X-factor for both teams will be their special teams. Darren Sproles has the ability to return one to the house at any time and Jay Feeley is arguably the best kicker left in the playoffs. He is their every-kick man right now and if he has a good game, the Jets have a shot at advancing.
Dallas @ Minnesota
When talks of the Vikings courting Brett Favre arose in the preseason, most, including myself, were skeptical. Minnesota was a team on the rise in 2008 and an aging quarterback seemed far from the right direction to continue their progression. So much for the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
Favre has since proved every critic wrong by having the best season of his career. The gun-slinger has always been known for making big throws and big interceptions alike. This year, he had 33 touchdowns and only seven interceptions, something no one thought he was capable of, especially at this age.
Dallas is on a roll, plain and simple. Momentum is key in this league and the Cowboys have plenty of it. Tony Romo is blossoming into a top-ten quarterback and their three-headed rushing attack in Barber, Jones, and Choice is formidable at the very least.
The defense has shown up big in recent weeks, getting adequate pressure on the quarterback and keeping opposing runners in check. Roy Williams was bordering on earning the “bust” label but he and Miles Austin are getting it done on the outside.
Romo also has a very good safety valve in tight end Jason Witten, a receiver that can flash up the seam and get big yards on third down.
This game is probably the least predictable of the four. It’s hard to bet against the red-hot Cowboys but Brett Favre and the Vikings also ended the season on a high note and have electric capabilities.
Adrian Peterson has been absent of late, going seven consecutive games without going over 100 yards and he will need to step it up in the postseason if Minnesota has a chance to beat the ‘Boys.
Roy Williams will also need to continue his resurrection because you can be sure the Vikings secondary will blanket Miles Austin the entire game. The Williams wall and Jared Allen of the Vikings also have their work cut out for them.
The Cowboys have versatile runners, backs that can go up the middle and bounce outside. If the line can keep the middle plugged up and the linebackers can keep Felix Jones from ripping one off outside the hash marks, then they have a chance to force Dallas to become one dimensional.
Balance will be the key for both teams. They will need to establish a run game and not allow themselves to stray away from what got them there in the first place.