The NFL playoffs move on to the divisional round this weekend. After a weekend of upsets and heartbreak, the pretenders move over for the contenders. The number one seeds return from a week off with renewed energy, maximum intensity, and a ton of pressure. How much of an advantage does the number one seed have in the NFL playoffs? Only one top seed has won the Super Bowl in the last ten years.
The number two seed in the AFC, the San Diego Chargers kick off the weekend hosting the New York Jets. The Jets will get a break from two weeks of chilly conditions by heading to the beautiful sun of San Diego. The Chargers come off of a week of rest and hope to have their future Hall of Fame running back start and finish a playoff game for the first time since the 2007 Wild Card round.
The Jets have proven me and just about everyone else wrong with their win last week. The Jets would not have made the playoffs if not for that charade in Indianapolis by the Colts. Yet the Jets came up huge two weeks straight against the Cincinnati Bengals, who are no pushovers. The Jets were able to hold off the relentless rushing attack of the Bengals last week and shutdown any hopes that the Bengals had at getting it done in the air. The New York Jets haven’t looked this great since they rolled off three wins in a row to start the season.
The Jets are playing with house money. The Jets weren’t supposed to be here. Nobody expected the Jets to make the playoffs this year without Leon Washington, Laverneus Coles, and Brett Favre to get to the divisional round with Shonn Greene, Braylon Edwards, and Mark Sanchez. As great as Rex Ryan’s defenses have been in Baltimore, even the biggest Jet fans expected a transition period. By all accounts, this is a team that should have been an 8-8 team in transition. Heck, the coach didn’t even know the team was still eligible for the playoffs three weeks ago and was begging Peyton Manning to sit! This is a pretty special team playing way over their heads at the right time of the year.
This is a fairly simple game to break down. Can the Jets rushing attack hang with the aerial attack of the Chargers? The last two weeks of Jets football have been practically flawless, so I say yes. As a matter of a fact, this is probably the worst matchup that the Chargers can get through the AFC playoffs. The only glaring weakness that I believe the Chargers have is against a power running team. A power running team like the Jets is exactly the kind of team that can beat the Chargers.
Darrelle Revis has also become an X, Y, and Z factor all season. At this point, you may as well count on nothing from Vincent Jackson. The Jets will also blitz Philip Rivers all day and he hasn’t seen anything like the Jets defense this season. The gamble here for the Jets is that they get to Rivers. If they don’t, he will make them pay dearly with short passes to L.T. and Darren Sproles who will turn those short catches into big gains. In my mind, that is the best game plan the Chargers have going into Saturday afternoon’s game.
I am going to lean towards San Diego here. For one thing, number two seeds have had great success in the NFL playoffs. Another thing here that makes me lean towards the Chargers is their quarterback. As unlikeable as Rivers can be at times, he has looked brilliant this year. Not only has he played well, has taken the Chargers back from deficits, and stayed cool under pressure. Eventually the Jets are going to have to cover the flats, leaving someone open wide for Rivers. I like the Chargers to win here and move on to the AFC title game.
The New Orleans Saints host the Arizona Cardinals this weekend in what looks to be the most entertaining game of the post season. These are two teams that can put up 21 points each without even blinking. Kurt Warner and the Cardinals’ offense looked unbeatable last week. As great as his performance was last week, Warner has been money in the playoffs for most of his career. Kurt Warner is 9-3 in the post season with three Super Bowl appearances. The pressure of going into a hostile situation is nothing new for this future Hall of Fame quarterback.
For thirteen weeks it looked as if the Super Bowl was all but a formality for the New Orleans Saints. Whether it was the first quarter or down by 21 to the Dolphins, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints offense looked unstoppable. The breaks always seemed to go the Saints way such as the win in Washington with the kicker missing a field goal that would have ended the Saints undefeated season. As impressive as their offense was, their defense came up huge several times throughout the season. Overall, this team looked like the total package until the Dallas Cowboys came in and rocked their world.
The Saints have not been the same football team since losing to the Cowboys. The Saints finished the season 0-3 losing to the Cowboys, Bucs and Panthers. Even though many starters sat for the Panthers game, there were no excuses for the Bucs and Cowboys games. Tony Romo and the Cowboys seemed to expose some glaring holes in both the New Orleans Saints offense and defense. This is a team that hasn’t won a football game in over a month!
The Cardinals are just an unbelievable offensive team to watch. They are a very similar team to last year’s team. Remember the NFC title game when they just went back and forth with the Eagles? The Cards may get Anquan Boldin back this week which would only improve their passing attack. On defense, they are very suspect and could be in for a long day against the Saints. The Cards finished the season overall 23rd against the pass on defense. That is not going to get it done against the Saints who had the best passing attack in the NFL.
The biggest problem the Saints may have on Saturday is named Darnell Dockett. Dockett is a heck of an athlete and has wrecked havoc on offenses all season. The problem the Saints had with the Cowboys was pressure. Dockett presents a similar problem and could make it a very long day for Drew Brees. The Arizona linebackers can also turn Drew Brees into an average quarterback with the way they swarm around. With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie expected to play, Brees may have a lot of trouble finding open receivers against the Cards.
In the end, I tend to lean a little more towards the Saints. I almost think that Arizona blew their load last week. Yes, the Cardinals pulled out one of the great overtime wins in NFL postseason history. However, the Cards also let up on a healthy lead and couldn’t stop Aaron Rodgers once he got into his zone. Drew Brees will make them pay dearly for sleeping on him for five minutes, more or less a whole second-half of a game. I look for the Saints to win this one, and win it by a healthy margin.
The most intriguing game takes place on Sunday afternoon when the Baltimore Ravens travel to Indianapolis to take on the Colts. Like the Saints, the Colts will be stumbling into the playoffs after losing a couple of games. It will be exactly one month since the last time the Colts won, when they host the Ravens on Sunday. On the flip side, the Ravens are red hot coming off of a lopsided smack down of the New England Patriots on the road.
Like the Jets, the Ravens have the edge in this game due to their rushing attack. The three-headed monster presents runners of different shapes, sizes, and attributes which makes them an almost impossible team to game plan against. If there is any weakness on the Colts, it is their rushing defense. Ray Rice is arguably the most dangerous running back in the NFL with the way he can turn a 0-yard screen into a 60-yard touchdown. This is a team that is not to be taken lightly and a team that I feel is not a one-week fluke.
Obviously the Indianapolis Colts are all about Peyton Manning. As Peyton goes, the Colts go. The Ravens are a lot like the Dolphins. A team built around a great rushing attack with a weak secondary. Peyton Manning dismantled the Dolphins earlier this season. The best way to beat the Ravens is to get up on them early. An early lead takes away the Ravens’ running game and makes them rely on Joe Flacco. This is something that the Colts were able to do to run-heavy teams all season.
There is a better chance than not, that there will be a huge upset this weekend. Number one seeds have been jinxed over the last decade in the playoffs. This reminds me a lot of the story from two years ago. The Colts roll through the regular season, rest players towards the end of the season, have a week off, and get shocked by the San Diego Chargers at home. The Ravens are also a lot like that 2006-07 Chargers team as well and the matchup is very similar. I am picking the Ravens in an upset special this week to shock the world, the Colts, and make San Diego Chargers fans very happy.
Finally, the most competitive game is saved for last. The Dallas Cowboys will travel to Minnesota to take on the second seeded Minnesota Vikings. Tony Romo vs. Brett Favre will be the storyline of the day. This was a matchup that most of us expected in the NFC title game two years ago. Unfortunately for Cowboys fans’, the New York Giants had other plans in mind and wound up upsetting the Cowboys that year and taking the trip to Lambeau Field, thus stealing hopes of a marquee Romo vs. Favre postseason showdown. Two years later, we finally get the matchup and it couldn’t be better.
As hot as the Chargers are in the AFC, the Dallas Cowboys enter this game as the hottest team in the NFC. No longer can Cowboy haters like me call Tony Romo a choke artist in December and January. The Cowboys did something last week that they haven’t been able to do in over ten years, which is win a playoff game. All of the stats about Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys futility in the playoffs are moot at this stage of the game.
The Vikings looked like the most complete team in the NFC for most of the season. Their defense was vicious, their offense looked unstoppable, and even their special teams play was second to none in the NFC. Then came the Sunday night game and the loss in Arizona. The Vikings were dominated for the first time all season. Brett Favre seemed to revert back to Brett Favre-New York Jet. Brad Childress forgot how to coach, and the offensive line looked like they were on bye week. Finally, the Vikings looked human.
If there is one thing consistent about the Vikings this season it was home play. The Vikings are undefeated at home this season. That fact and the fact that they play in a dome gives them a huge advantage over the Cowboys. I don’t think you win eight games by accident by home. All of the critics who said Brett Favre would not be able to make it through a full season were proven wrong. Favre has a week off and looked reborn in the second half of the Monday Night Football season finale against Chicago. Favre closed out the season looking better than ever against the Giants. This is a very dangerous team.
The Cowboys are coming off two back-to-back romps over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Cowboys defense has been simply lights out over the last two weeks. The Cowboys have only allowed 14 points in twelve quarters of play against two division rivals. It doesn’t get much better than that in the NFL. On offense, Romo has looked just as sharp as the elite crowd of Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. The Cowboys rushing attack has seen new life with Marion Barber running over Eagles’ linebackers the last two weeks like they were made of cardboard. As complete as the Vikings were all season, the Cowboys have been the most complete team over the last several weeks.
There is one thing different about the Vikings as opposed to anyone else they have played in eight weeks. The Vikings can and will stop the run. The Vikings boast the number two defense in the entire NFL against the run. The Cowboys haven’t played a team this good against the run since Week 10 when they played the Green Bay Packers. The Cowboys were held to just 61 yards on the ground. Romo was held to just one touchdown, and made one turnover. The lack of a run game frustrated the Cowboys all game and they wound up losing in a miserable 7-17 effort.
The Vikings are also the most two-dimensional offense that the Cowboys will have seen arguably all season. Personally, I think one of the reasons that the Cowboys dominated the birds so easily was the one-dimensional attack of the Eagles offense. The Cowboys concentrated on a heavy pass rush which frustrated Donovan McNabb all day. The Eagles barely have a rushing attack, so the threat just wasn’t there. Brett Favre and the Vikings will make the Cowboys pay all night long if they play that same kind of a game. Adrian Peterson is no joke and the Cowboys linebackers may be too undersized to stop him.
I think this will be a tight game and maybe the most exciting of the weekend in terms of close finishes. I just love the Vikings in this spot. I won’t say the Cowboys are all smoke and mirrors, but other than the New Orleans win, their wins come against the Giants, Raiders, Eagles, and Redskins. These aren’t exactly impressive wins. Looking at the Dallas Cowboys schedule, their toughest opponents all season were the Packers, Saints, and Chargers and they managed to go 1-2 against those teams. The Vikings have played and beaten better teams than the Cowboys. Jared Allen has the potential to turn Flozell Adams’ postseason dreams into a long nightmare. I love the Vikings and Brett Favre to move on to New Orleans in the championship round.
NFL Divisional Playoff Round Picks!
I had my worst week of the season going 0-4 with my NFL playoff picks. I am turning into the Tony Romo of NFL playoff picks. Let’s see if I can turn this around and play more like Tony Romo 2010 than Romo 2006-2009. Now for the NFL Divisional Playoff Picks (Picks in BOLD) –
New York at San Diego
Arizona at New Orleans
Dallas at Minnesota
Baltimore at Indianapolis
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