NFL Elite Eight Preview

NC NighthawkAnalyst IJanuary 16, 2010

MINNEAPOLIS - JANUARY 03:  Brett Favre #4 of the Minnesota Vikings calls out the play against the New York Giants on January 3, 2010 at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Giants 44-7.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

This weekend’s NFL Divisional Playoff games feature several elite quarterbacks and some young quarterbacks: Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers, Tony Romo, Joe Flacco, and Mark Sanchez.

Flacco and Sanchez cannot win without their team's running backs performing well.  Therefore, the running game and defense will also naturally shape this weekend’s elite eight matchups.


In one of the four games, one or two big special team plays (besides field goals) will have an impact on the outcome. Usually, one of four of divisional playoff games is won by the road team—we may see two visitors win this time around.

Of the elite eight teams, two “snuck” into the playoffs with bold confidence: the Ravens and the Jets. Both squads rely heavily on defense and the rushing game to lead them to victory.

Arizona Cardinals at New Orleans Saints

New Orleans scored a total of 510 points during the regular season, and Arizona is coming off a 51 point performance against Green Bay in the first round of the playoffs. This may be a case where the team with the football last wins the game.

If you loved Arena League Football and a lot of offense, this game is for you. Personally, I prefer a balanced high level of performance on offense, defense, and special teams over flag football.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt has a 4-1 all time record in the playoffs. Arizona QB Kurt Warner is 9-3 in postseason play for his career. 

Warner has averaged 312.3 yards passing in playoff games, the highest average in league history among quarterbacks with at least five postseason appearances.

The Saints are the No. 1 seed for the first time in franchise history.  New Orleans is 2-6 all-time in the playoffs.

New Orleans finished the regular season ranked No. 9 in pass defense, so they have as good a chance as anybody to slow down the Cardinals' aerial attack.

Did the Saints peak too soon?  Either way, Drew Brees will play greatly but Warner will play a fantastic game.

Unexpectedly, the Cardinals were a great road team this season.

Arizona Cardinals 41, New Orleans Saints 38

Baltimore Ravens at Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have won seven straight matchups versus the Ravens, including a 15-6 victory in their only other playoff meeting in 2006.

The Ravens’ defense has had recent success against the Colts offense, although Baltimore ended up losing the games.  Similar to the Jets, the Ravens will have to slip in significant passing plays to stay in the game on the road.

Manning has a lifetime 7-8 record in playoffs. Indy is 0-3 after earning a first-round playoff bye and has not won a postseason game since beating Chicago in the Super Bowl following 2006 season.

This game is also an assessment of the Colts’ approach to the playoffs.  Thus, there is a great deal of pressure on Indy to win not only this game, but to get to and win the Super Bowl.

Will the Colts defense contain and stop the run?  Both defenses will dictate this game, and perhaps a referee call, or non-call, will impact the final outcome.

Indianapolis Colts 20, Baltimore Ravens 17

Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings

It’s only been two years since Brett Favre reached the NFC Championship Game—why does it seem longer than that? Well, two teams and two drama-filled seasons later, here we are.

Favre is 2-9 lifetime against the Cowboys over his 19-year career. Favre owns a lifetime 12-10 record as a starter in postseason play, with a 4-4 won-loss record in the Divisional Playoffs.

The Dallas Cowboys finally got over the “haven’t won a playoff game since 1996” and “Romo can’t win in the post season” obstacles with a vastly improved defense and an efficient offense.

The Cowboys and Vikings employ two of the most talented rosters in the NFL. If both teams play at their best level, this game will be an instant classic.

Although this game features marquee quarterbacks Brett Favre and Tony Romo, this battle will be won in the trenches. The Vikings' offensive line against the Cowboys’ defensive line should be epic.

Both Favre and Romo will throw a pair of interceptions, along with a couple of touchdowns. The losing quarterback predictably will be blamed for losing the game by their haters and mockers, ignoring the fact that football is a team sport.

The trendy pick is Dallas.  Almost the entire world predicts a Cowboys victory, noting how the Vikings “declined” towards the end of the season. 

This gives Minnesota an ax to grind and besides, the Vikings are undefeated at home this season. At the Metrodome, the Vikings have won by 17 points or more in each of their last five games.

Dallas dominated the Saints at the Superdome in New Orleans. However, these ain’t the Saints.  Minnesota has better defense and a better rushing attack.

The Vikings also have a better placekicker than the Cowboys.

Minnesota 26 Dallas 23

New York Jets at San Diego Chargers

Phillip Rivers is a very efficient passer and the Jets defense is strong at limiting the passing game. What will give?

On the other side of the ball, the Chargers defense will attempt to stuff the run and force rookie QB Mark Sanchez to throw in order to win the game. The Jets are confident and bold, and the Chargers have won only two of their last four home playoff games.

Will the Jets defense shut down the Chargers offense and control the game? San Diego has been one of the most impressive and consistent teams of the season.

But Head Coach Rex Ryan predicted a Super Bowl appearance for his New York Jets, almost a Joe Namath guarantee. Ryan makes football fun for his players, yet they keep command of detail and performance.  Norv Turner was hired to win playoff games.

I like Coach Ryan, but I also like Phillip Rivers. Quarterback play will be the story and theme of the NFL's elite eight weekend.

San Diego are on an 11-game winning streak and after this weekend, they'll make it 12.

Chargers 24, Jets 20