NFL Divisional Playoffs Preview and Free Picks

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NFL Divisional Playoffs Preview and Free Picks ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>

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An interesting note about the playoff schedule before we get to picks. The two teams that played last Saturday (Jets and Cowboys) will actually have an extra day to prepare, since they will play this coming Sunday, while the two teams that played last Sunday (Cardinals and Ravens) actually have a short week, with their Divisional Round games to be played this coming Saturday. Fair? Probably not, but such is life in the “TV-dictates-all” world of the NFL. And now, onto the picks.

Arizona Cardinals @ New Orleans Saints
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. (FOX)
Drew Brees and the rest of the Saints offense had to be watching last Sunday’s Packers-Cardinals game with the same look as an offensive lineman looks at the table before Thanksgiving dinner. The anticipation for New Orleans to play against either defense had to be incredible. This is a Saints offense that torched nearly everyone, good and bad defenses alike, in the regular season, and despite some setbacks in the final weeks, they are still extremely dangerous. Arizona will need to actually stop the Saints instead of relying on turnovers as they did against Green Bay, and after last week I’m not so sure they can do that.

On the flip side, not since Phil Simms in the first Giants’ Super Bowl win has a quarterback played such an impressive playoff game. Warner had more touchdowns (5) than incompletions (4) en route to spearheading an offense that put up 45 points in regulation. They capitalized on every opportunity Green Bay handed them in the opening quarter, and should have been able to lay claim to leading a game-winning field goal drive if not for Neil Rackers doing his best Scott Norwood impression. The end result of this game might be “first team to punt loses,” and if that’s the case, as good as Arizona’s offense is, I’ll take the Superdome and the Saints.
Prediction: New Orleans 44, Arizona 41

Baltimore Ravens @ Indianapolis Colts
Saturday, 8:00 p.m. (CBS)
In the game above, the quarterbacks might throw for more yards in the first quarter than Joe Flacco will the entire postseason. After all, he only has a 10 yard head start on them heading into the game against the Colts. Sure, the Ravens didn’t need a great performance from their QB to beat the Patriots – Ray Rice and the Baltimore defense handled that part. But if the Ravens want to visit San Diego or New York next weekend for their second straight AFC Championship Game appearance, they’re going to need more than 10 yards, and I’m not talking about 11 or 12.

Meanwhile Peyton Manning will take his first meaningful snap since the third quarter of the Jets game in Week 16. In a move that would be fitting only of the football gods, I could definitely see the Colts and Jets meeting in the AFC Championship Game next weekend and Manning and Co. watching as New York wins the game and earns a trip to the Super Bowl on their home turf, handing Jim Caldwell the world’s greatest dose of karma. After all, it’s never wise in professional sports to give a team life when they should instead be getting buried. The Colts let the Jets off the mat, and if both teams win this weekend, they could be in line for the ultimate payback. That said, the Colts have to beat a playoff-tested Ravens team first, and while the defense and running game are dangerous for Baltimore, there’s no excuse for Indianapolis to lose this game.
Prediction: Indianapolis 27, Baltimore 17

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Dallas Cowboys @ Minnesota Vikings
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
Brett Favre, meet the Dallas Cowboys. You might remember them as the team that used to kick your butt in the mid-90’s, prior to you winning your only Super Bowl. In fact, the last time prior to last week that they had even won a playoff game WAS the year you won the Super Bowl. But guess what, Brett – they’re back.

Sure, Dallas looked good in dismantling the Eagles in back-to-back weeks, but like I said in last week’s column, that was all about matchups. Now they face a Vikings team that can actually run the ball, and those are the teams against whom Dallas has struggled. If the Cowboys can make Brad Childress and the Vikings put the game on Brett Favre’s right arm, then there’s a good chance for a Cowboys victory, especially if the game goes to overtime (see: Packers-Eagles, 2004 NFC Divisional and Packers-Giants, 2008 NFC Champ). Adrian Peterson is the key to the entire game. Dallas will get their points, so the question becomes if Minnesota can match them in that department. For my money, I’m not buying into Tony Romo on the road in the playoffs until it happens.
Prediction: Minnesota 31, Dallas 28

New York Jets @ San Diego Chargers
Sunday, 4:30 p.m. (CBS)
All anyone wants to talk about this week is how good Darrelle Revis is. And don’t get me wrong, he’s likely the best cornerback in the game. Period. That said, he’ll have his hands full this week with the 6’5” Vincent Jackson, and what has impressed me about the Jets even more so than Revis and the defense has been how brilliantly the offensive line has played this season. In so many games they have simply dominated the opposing teams’ defensive front, opening holes so big that I could run through them untouched, and my 40-yard-dash time is usually measured with a sun dial. They demoralized Cincinnati two straight weeks, and now face a Chargers defense whose biggest weakness is stopping the run. Regardless of how well Philip Rivers plays, he doesn’t tackle running backs, so I don’t think I’m totally ridiculous to think that the Jets can win this game.

That said, Rivers CAN throw the ball, and throw it well. Add to that the combo of LaDanian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles in the backfield, and this is a potent offensive club. If the Chargers can get a lead and force Mark Sanchez to make plays to win the game, then San Diego is in good shape. If the game stays tight and the Jets can continue to pound the football, look for a repeat of the 2005 playoffs when the Jets went into SD on Wild Card weekend and knocked off the Chargers in overtime. Just don’t get me started on Doug Brien the next weekend in Pittsburgh….
Prediction: San Diego 24, New York 20

Last Week: 3-1 (I should have picked NFL games instead of NCAA games all year)
Championship Round
San Diego over Indianapolis
New Orleans over Minnesota

Super Bowl XLIV
San Diego over New Orleans

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