With the divisional round of the playoffs approaching, I wanted to share some thoughts with you on the four matchups this weekend.
Cardinals at Saints
The Cardinals offense, led by a red-hot Kurt Warner, will need to continue its productive streak against a rested, but banged-up Saints defense. While Warner attacks the secondary, RB Chris Wells could serve as the ultimate hammer to soften up the Saints defensive front. If WR Anquan Boldin is unable to play, the Cardinals remain confident backups Steve Breaston and Early Doucet. The Cardinals defense is far better than its showing last week against the Green Bay Packers when they allowed Aaron Rodgers to pass for 422 yards.
Saints QB Drew Brees will look to prove otherwise by launching an attack designed to get his team an early lead. Brees must prove his team is more rested than rusty. After losing their final three regular season games, an early home loss in the playoffs would bring a dreadful end to what had seemed to be the Saints’ best season in franchise history.
Ravens at Colts
The Colts gave up on what could have been a perfect season in exchange for a healthy and rested team in the postseason. Peyton Manning and the Colts offense must cash in against a Ravens defense that is very capable of ending their season for good. Indy will be at full strength with RBs Joseph Addai and Donald Brown ready to go. Protection has to be the top priority for the Colts offensive line. The Ravens harassed Patriots QB Tom Brady for three sacks, three interceptions and a fumble, so there could be more of the same in store for Manning.
Ravens QB Joe Flacco is banged up, but offensive coordinator Cam Cameron says there will be no holding him back — Flacco will be expected to lead the offense to points, in an effort to match the production of the Colts offense. After running the ball 52 times for 234 yards and four TDs against the Patriots, the Ravens will use the RB trio of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain to hammer away at the undersized Colts defense. After going one-and-done in three of their last four playoff appearances, the Colts will have a sense of urgency which could yield feast or famine results.
Cowboys at Vikings
Vikings QB Brett Favre has never defeated the Cowboys in three postseason matchups, but he’s hoping to stay on his feet long enough to beat a defense that has four sacks or more during its last four games. Farve must also protect the ball against a team that isn’t committing turnovers — the Cowboys have one turnover or less in their last seven games. Clearly, the Vikings will expect Farve to outplay Tony Romo, who has thrown 13 TDs and only two interceptions in his last seven games.
Romo’s mobility will need to serve him well against DE Jared Allen and the rest of the Vikings sack-happy defense. A vulnerable Vikings secondary will need a consistent pass rush to help defend Miles Austin and Jason Witten. Cowboys RB’s Marion Barber and Felix Jones are a perfect 1-2 punch who are capable of killing you slowly with a game closing drive, or killing you quickly with an explosive big play run.
Either way, the Vikings may need RB Adrian Peterson to a greater degree from what we’ve seen in the past.
Jets at Chargers
This game presents the Jets’ perennial No.1 defense against the high-powered offense of the Chargers. The Jets will simply have to pick their poison, because QB Philip Rivers has too many weapons to choose from. If CB Darrelle Revis decides to take away WR Vincent Jackson, TE Antonio Gates will shred the defense. The Chargers have struggled to run the ball and will continue to do so against the Jets’ dominating defense.
Jets rookie QB Mark Sanchez must avoid turning the ball over and allow and RBs Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene to fuel the offense and eat time off the clock. In the air, WR Braylon Edwards will have to be more consistent catching the ball or Sanchez may be forced to rely solely on WR Jerricho Cotchery and TE Dustin Keller.
The Jets are both confident and physical, but are going west against a Chargers team that has won 11 straight games. So hot, in fact, the Jets may want to pack a water hose.