NFL Divisional Playoff Picks
I sort of punked out on making strong picks last week. What can I say–it was Wild Card weekend. Unpredictability is expected. That said, my vague allusions to who would be victorious would sort of make me two-for-four, as I leaned toward Dallas and B-more winning, but was hoping for Cincy to knock off the Jets and thought the Packers would edge the Cardinals. This week, things get real, as teams can start truly sniffing a potential Super Bowl bid, so now is not the time to get timid. Here’s the rundown…
New Orleans Saints vs. Arizona Cardinals
A lot of people seem to be giving the Cardinals a good chance at upsetting the Saints and when you look at their offensive firepower it’s somewhat understandable. Kurt Warner is ageless, Larry Fitzgerald seems be rolling into playoff form, guys like Early Doucet and Steve Breaston are proving more than adequate replacements for Anquan Boldin, and Beanie Wells is showing us that he could be a premier back in the League if they called his number more often.
That said… people… this defense gave up 45 points last week. They looked like an Arena League defense. Crazy as it sounds, you could argue that they were worse than the Packers defense, given that 21 of the 51 points the Pack gave up were due to the offense turning the ball over. Green Bay also had to deal with Larry Fitzgerald getting away with more pushing than dealers in The Wire working in the “free zone.”
You think Arizona’s going to get the benefit of non-calls and two first-quarter turnovers while not turning the ball over themselves in the Superdome? You think Drew Brees isn’t eager to carve the birds up beyond recognition? Think the refs will let Adams get away with a facemask/Rock Bottom on the game’s deciding play again?
I know it’s cute to think of them as being on their 2nd Annual Magical Mystery Tour where they come up with improbable wins and you can never count them out of a game and that whole jazz, and as a Cowboys fan I’m actually rooting for the Cardinals to win so Dallas can host the NFC Championship, but to all things there is an ending, and this is the end for the Cards.
Saints 38, Cardinals 21
Indianapolis Colts vs. Baltimore Ravens
Ray Lewis might be the most violent thanker-of-God since the Crusaders sacked Jerusalem. It’s one thing when a genteel fellow like Kurt Warner immediately goes into Kirk Cameron mode in the post-game interview, but when Ray’s spent a whole game striking opponents with the head-crushing force of a medieval mace it makes you wonder what god he’s actually thanking.
"All praise due to Kratos, slayer of Ares!"
He’s in top form, and with Ed Reed at safety as one of the most dynamic, underrated and ball-hawking defenders of all time Baltimore is a very dangerous team. I said last week that they’re better than the 9-7 record and the way they completely dismantled the Patriots proved it.
The questions in this game are whether or not 4-time MVP Peyton Manning, who hasn’t played a full game since December 17th, can protect the ball and can the Colts defense force Baltimore into passing situations. The Colts were pretty lousy against the run this year, and the one thing Baltimore’s offense can do is run. If the Colts can somehow force “Jersey” Joe Flacco to beat them instead of letting his running backs put in work then it’s going to be troublesome for the Ravens. This will be a tough game, and I have the least confidence in this pick, but I’m going with Indy.
Colts 17, Baltimore 13
Dallas Cowboys vs. Minnesota Vikings
There has been an exorbitant amount of “demons exorcised” talk since Dallas finished the season on a 3-0 run and then won their first playoff game since ’96 in dominant fashion over the Eagles. There’s also been a lot of “hottest team in the league” talk from some of the same talking heads and brilliant analysts who were saying this same team was more “style than substance” in mid-December because Roy Williams flashes the hook-’em horns when he scores and Marion Barber gets excited for first downs.
On the other end, the stormy, steamy, disgusting love affair the analysts have with Brett Favre is turning once again. He went from allegedly fracturing the team in pre-season, to being an MVP in mid-season, to once again being a divisive figure as the season came to a close. It must be odd hating the same guy whose knob you were polishing like Oxiclean a month ago.
Beneath the headlines and skill-position stars this game will most likely come down to who plays better on the line of scrimmage. If Minnesota can protect Favre from the Dallas four-man pass rush and force the Cowboys to blitz, the Vikings have the weapons to punish the Cowboys secondary. Likewise, running Adrian Peterson effectively early to force the Cowboys to bring in more extra men than the Konami Code will open up passing options down the field. But if Dallas can get to Favre consistently Minnesota could get stomped. Conversely, Minnesota needs to pressure the all-new mistake-free Tony Romo and stifle the Cowboys running game as best as they can without having to resort to blitzing and pulling guys out of coverage.
The x-factor in all of this… penalties. Dallas is one of the most penalized teams in the game and has been for some years now. The Cowboys offense in particular is prone to drive-killing, score-erasing penalties, and the noise in the Metrodome won’t help.
Still, of course, I’m going with the ‘Boys to beat the blouses.
Cowboys 28, Vikings 20
San Diego Chargers vs. New York Jets
I think the Chargers and Colts are on a collision course, but can no longer discount the Jets. I didn’t think they deserved to be in the playoffs given that they were gifted a bid in the tournament courtesy of Indy all but forfeiting to them in Week 16, but here they are. Running well, playing solid defense, and getting the “they matchup well with San Diego” treatment.
Do they? Do they really? The much-lauded Darelle Revis is indeed a true badass in the secondary, but as many others have pointed out before me, he can’t cover every Chargers receiver at once. Phillip Rivers has proven himself to be a gutsy, clutch quarterback and it’s doubtful he’ll have a meltdown this game. On the other side, however, the possibility of Mark Sanchez going Chernobyl on the Jets is always a concern. He played well and protected the ball against the Bengals last week, but you can expect San Diego to throw far more pressure at him and force more than one turnover.
The Jets also have to be somewhat wary about kick coverage. They’ve been suspect on special teams defense through the year–notably giving up two kick returns to the Dolphins Ted Ginn Jr. in the same game. Their punter, Weatherford, has been cleared for this game while he had to sit out against Cincy due to a rapid heartbeat, so that’s a plus, but they still have to deal with running down the field and tackling and not letting a quick little guy like Darren Sproles house them.
Meet the new highlight, same as the old highlights....
I think the Jets will hang tough, and they’ve shown they belong in postseason, but the poised, experienced Chargers will make the key plays that are the difference between winning and losing.
Chargers 20, Jets 10