Peyton Manning Will Have To Wait Until Next Season
Arizona Cardinals @ New Orleans Saints
The Saints are trying to become the first team ever to win a Super Bowl after losing their final three regular season games. The Cardinals are coming off an overtime victory that saw a combined 96 points fly up on the scoreboard.
What To Watch From The Saints
New Orleans last three games were so unimpressive, and they played so uninspired, running back Duece McAllister was recently signed. Though much cannot be expected from the Saints all-time leading rusher on the gridiron, he was brought in to show leadership and as a token of respect for a man who gave everything he is to the team.
Though the Saints have a reliable Pro Bowl quarterback in Drew Brees, it would behoove them to hand to ball off to their running backs. Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell need to be effective enough to be able to handle that ball over 25 times, and Reggie Bush should get a few carries as well. Though Bell has been the short yardage back all season, it will be interesting to see if McAllister gets a few touches.
New Orleans in hurting along their defensive line. They have lost both defensive end Charles Grant and defensive tackle Rodney Leisle for the season recently. Though Leisle was a deep reserve, Grant was a starter and was second on the team in sacks and also in tackles made by a defensive lineman. Veterans Bobby McCray and Paul Spicer need to step up their games to make Grant's absence seem less noticeable.
The kicking game has been mostly untested since Garrett Hartley returned from a suspension that began at the start of the season. He has attempted just one of his 11 attempts beyond 40 yards, which was missed. The question will be if the young kicker can handle a long distance attempt, or if the team will even have enough faith to let him try.
What To Watch From The Cardinals
Arizona is an exciting team to watch on offense, but their defense showed last week it is inconsistent. Kurt Warner is a quarterback who has a wide range of options at his dispense every time he calls for the ball to be hiked. New Orleans may have to blitz more because of their losing Grant. This could lead to big plays for the Cardinals, especially if star wide receiver Anquan Boldin is healthy enough to play effectively.
The play of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Darnell Dockett could hold the key to the game. The teams sack leader should be greeted often by the Saints Pro Bowl guard Jahari Evans. Calais Campbell, who shares the teams sack lead with Dockett, also needs to be effective. If they are slowed down, the Cardinals might be forced to blitz more. This will leave them with less pass defenders, which is something Brees would prefer.
The Cardinals defensive backs head into their second straight game against a high powered passing attack, but are dealing with more injuries in the unit. Cornerback Dominique Rogers-Cromartie played last week with a bad knee, now he is dealing with an injured toe as well. Bryant McFadden is the other starting cornerback, and he hurt his chest during last weeks game. Their main backup, rookie Greg Toler, came up with a career best six tackles filling in last week despite injuring his elbow. Factor in starting free safety Antrel Rolle's thigh injury, and it is evident to see that the focus will be on whether or not this unit can keep up with the Saints receivers the entire game. Considering the performances they turned in last week versus Green Bay, one cannot help but being skeptical.
Quarterback : Even
Running Back : Even
Receivers : Even
Offensive Line : Edge Saints
Defensive Line : Even
Linebacker : Slight Edge Saints
Secondary : Slight Edge Cardinals
Special Teams : Definite Edge Cardinals
Coaching : Slight Edge Cardinals
Though most will look at both teams excellent passing attacks as a primary focus, this is a game that should be won by the team with the better ground game. Expect both teams to feature multiple wide receiver sets often, even when they decide to run the ball. Both quarterbacks are excellent leaders who know how to carve up opposing defenses. The outcome could be decided by a field goal in the waning moments of the game.
Saints 37 Cardinals 35
Baltimore Ravens @ Indianapolis Colts
This is the battle of the old Baltimore team versus the new team that now represents Charm City. The Colts won three NFL Championships and one Super Bowl in their 31 years in Baltimore before the infamous midnight move that brought them to Indianapolis after the 1983 season completed. They have won one Super Bowl, in 2006, since then.
The Ravens were previously known as the Cleveland Browns until they dealt The Forest City a hard blow by moving to Baltimore just before the 1996 season. Though most residents of Baltimore still are angry over the Colts departure, they are happy the Ravens were able to secure a Super Bowl victory in the 2000 season.
What To Watch From The Ravens
The Ravens play the type of football that is conducive for the playoffs. They enjoy trying to run the ball down opponents throats all day, while relying on their experienced defense to set them up with excellent field position by shutting the oppositions offense down. Expect a heavy dose of handoffs to running backs Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and Le'Ron McClain if they have not fallen too far behind Indianapolis.
One extra big reason the Ravens need to be successful running the ball this week is because of the health of their quarterback Joe Flacco. Because of his hip injury, the Ravens asked him to pass just 10 times last week. The Ravens won handily, despite the fact Flacco accrued just 34 yards through the air. It is doubtful they can win again with that lack of production from him, but it remains to be seen exactly how healthy he is now.
If the Ravens have on defensive weakness, it is their secondary. Free safety Ed Reed looked good returning from injury last week, and he was part of the reason Baltimore shut down the Patriots aerial attack. The unit will tested again by another team with a prolific quarterback known just as much for his leadership as he is throwing the ball. Baltimore needs a repeat performance if they want a chance at victory.
If the secondary can hold up, Baltimore can again use exotic blitz packages. It was very effective against the Patriots Tom Brady last week, causing the Canton bound quarterback to cough up three interceptions and a fumble. The Colts also have a quarterback whose Canton bust has already been made. Rattling him with the same impact could carry the Ravens a long way towards victory.
What To Watch From The Colts
The Colts need to run the ball. Their offensive line has been better on pass plays this year, but the unit needs to make sure the Colts ground out respectable results. The rushing attack has been mostly average all season for Indianapolis, even in spite of having a special passing attack to make their jobs easier. Another mediocre showing could spell doom to championship hopes.
Tight end Dallas Clark is a Pro Bowl player and one of the Colts primary weapons. He will matched up against Ravens strong safety Dawan Landry, who has played mostly excellent all season. The Colts like to line up Clark all over the line of scrimmage, so it is possible Pro Bowl safety free safety Ed Reed will also be used in coverage schemes against him. If Clark is ineffective, it takes away a huge chunk of the Colts offensive attack.
Indianapolis has a pair of Pro Bowl defensive ends in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. They are undersized players who rely on speed and quickness off the edge. The Ravens have two mammoth offensive tackles in Jared Gaither and rookie Michael Oher. The Colts have dealt with injuries to their defensive secondary superbly all of this season, and much of that success came from the chaos created by Freeney and Mathis.
The Colts are carrying two excellent placekickers on their playoffs roster this year. One of them, Adam Vinatieri, has been dealing with a bad knee most of this year. He was shut down and replaced by Matt Stover, who kicked for the Browns/ Ravens from 1991 until he retired at the end of 2008. Stover was lured out of retirement after their sixth game, and has missed just two field goal attempts all year. He now is a symbol of both teams ties to Baltimore.
The Colts are trying to become just the second team, and the first since 1967, to win a Super Bowl after ending a regular season with two straight losses.
Quarterback : Definite Edge Colts
Running Back : Definite Edge Ravens
Receivers : Definite Edge Colts
Offensive Line : Definite Edge Ravens
Defensive Line : Even
Linebacker : Definite Edge Ravens
Secondary : Even
Special Teams : Even
Coaching : Slight Edge Ravens
If the Ravens get off to a hot start anything like last weeks win over New England, the Colts could be in trouble. If Baltimore can shut the Colts down on the ground, Manning will be the only target for the Ravens to focus on. The Ravens offensive line needs to dominate again to give them a chance at victory. Ravens 27 Colts 24
Dallas Cowboys @ Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings have yet to reach a Super Bowl since they became a dome team in 1982, after reaching four from 1969 to 1976. They plan to move into a new stadium in 2012, but unfortunately will have a retractable roof. The Vikings of old gained an edge using the harsh Minnesota winters as an allie.. The Cowboys are a week removed from their first playoff win since 1996. That win was against the Vikings.
What To Watch From The Cowboys
Dallas has been on fire defensively lately. Outside linebacker Anthony Spencer has been coming into his own, showing why Dallas drafted him in the first round in 2007. He had two sacks in last weeks win over the Philadelphia Eagles. His emergence allowed Pro Bowl outside linebacker Demarcus Ware get two sacks of his own as well. This duo poses a huge threat to the Vikings huge but lumbering offensive tackles.
Inside linebackers Keith Brooking and Bradie James are veterans who piled up 219 tackles combined this year. Their leadership is just as important as their production. If Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff can keep Minnesota's Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson occupied, then Dallas can use Brooking and James in exotic blitz packages to get to Favre as well as attempt to shut down the Vikings run game.
One thing the Vikings do know is Dallas will use their three excellent running backs often, but the key to this game may rest on the Cowboys passing attack. That part of their game hasn't always been consistent, but quarterback Tony Romo may be coming off his best season ever. He will need his Pro Bowlers, tight end Jason Witten and wide receiver Miles Austin, to be big this week, and wide receiver Roy Williams could be a x-factor.
What To Watch From The Vikings
The Vikings come at opposing defenses with a balanced offensive attack that features a powerful running game. Adrian Peterson is a Pro Bowler and their best weapon. Veteran Chester Taylor is an excellent running back who once gained 1,000 yards in a season. The offensive line is built for the power game, which usually leads to post season success.
Bret Favre holds a lot of NFL records right now, and he may have just had the most efficient season of his illustrious career. The Canton bound Favre made the Pro Bowl because he became a huge weapon in just his first season in Minnesota. Throwing to a tall wide receiver Sidney Rice, along with speedy receivers Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin, Favre has helped make them better players. He must curtail his penchant for turnovers if the Vikings want to get the first Super Bowl win in franchise history.
Harvin poses a double threat to Dallas. Not only is he to be accounted for on offense, but he is a dangerous return specialist. Dallas has had good special teams play for the most part this year, despite the fact they had woes at the placekicker position, but facing Harvin is a whole new animal. The 2009 Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowler could provide the Vikings an extra weapon this game that has the opportunity to lead them to victory.
Minnesota takes pride in their play along the line of scrimmage, especially along the defensive line. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams and Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen lead the way. Veteran defensive tackle Pat Williams is dinged up with an elbow injury right now, and his backup, veteran Jimmy Kennedy, is dealing with a thumb injury. If these men can not play up to their expected level, it could be a long day trying to stop the Cowboys vaunted running game.
Quarterback : Edge Vikings
Running Back : Even
Receivers : Even
Offensive Line : Slight Edge Cowboys
Defensive Line : Slight Edge Vikings
Linebacker : Definite Edge Cowboys
Secondary : Edge Cowboys
Special Teams : Definite Edge Vikings
Coaching : Slight Edge Vikings
The run game will be king for both teams. Both teams have inconsistent offensive lines and fairly stout defensive lines. Whatever success had through the passing game will be built from a solid rushing attack. The team that has to rely on the passing game most could have their season end earlier than they expected.
Vikings 30 Cowboys 24
New York Jets @ San Diego Chargers
The Chargers have had some excellent teams the past six years, and have won their division five times. Yet none of the previous teams won a title, and time may be running out on these types of opportunities for awhile. Key players appear to be nearing the end of their careers, so it is now or never for the Bolts.
The Jets are as confident of a victory here as they were in last weeks win over the Cincinnati Bengals. They feature an excellent running game and a trio of cornerbacks who can shut many opposing wide receivers down an entire game. This Jets team has an excellent chance at upsetting the Chargers.
What To Watch From The Jets
Thomas Jones is a running back that leads the charge in the team's offensive game plan. He has carried the team much of the season, since their passing game has mostly been impotent. The ten year veteran has averaged a steady 4.2 yards per carry on a career high 331 attempts. His 1,402 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground are also career high marks.
Rookie Shonn Greene spells Jones, and has been very impressive. He played 14 regular season games, but has been used in just five games with frequency. He has still piled up 540 yards at a average of five yards per carry. He hasn't been used in the passing game at all, but he helps keep the Jets churning forward.
The Jets rank first in the NFL in rushing first downs, total rushing plays and yardage. This speaks very highly of their offensive line. The unit is strongest on their left side behind guard Alan Faneca and center Nick Mangold, and left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. All are Pro Bowl players.
Darrelle Revis is a shutdown cornerback, and veteran Lito Sheppard bookends the Pro Bowler. Dwight Lowery is one of the top third cornerbacks in the league. This is the group who will have to carry the team again like they did last week against Cincinnati. They allow Ryan to use the front seven in with his blitz schemes.
The Jets have a pair of average safeties, and San Diego should target Pro Bowl Antonio Gates all day. This is a mismatch that could make the difference. New York prefers to use their outside linebackers as pass rushers, since both starters are converted defensive ends. If Gates is allowed to dominate, his reception total could reach double digits in this game.
What To Watch From The Chargers
The Chargers have one of the better passing games in the NFL. Philip Rivers is the Pro Bowl quarterback who gets the team going by spreading the ball all over the field. Though Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates is often thrown to, the Chargers also have a duo of tall wide receivers with excellent speed. Vincent Jackson was so spectacular this year, many pundits felt the wide receiver should have made the Pro Bowl as well. The Jets have excellent cornerbacks, but none are as tall as Jackson or Malcom Floyd. Legedu Naanee is their third receiver. If he can be productive against Lowery, the Chargers chances for victory increase.
All good things must come to an end, and we may be witnessing the last games of running back LaDainian Tomlinson. Though Tomlinson did score 12 times this year, he failed to rush for over 1,000 yards for the first time in his nine year career. He gained his 730 yards at a career low clip of 3.3 yards per carry. Nine years is an extraordinarily long career for an NFL running back, especially one that has carried the ball as often as Tomlinson. San Diego hopes he has something special left in his tank for the post season, which may be his last, but it is a nearly empty tank they are trying to squeeze juice from.
Darren Sproles provides San Diego with a variety of weapons. He backs up Tomlinson, and he was also able to catch 45 passes this year at an impressive 11 yards a reception. He also is a dangerous return specialist who is a threat to score whenever he touches the ball. Expect San Diego to try to get the ball in his hands often, especially since they have not had an effective ground game all season.
The key for San Diego this game will be the play of their defensive line. The Chargers have five Pro Bowl players this year, but none play defense. Though the secondary has been the best part of the unit, the front seven has been up and down all year. If the defensive line plays another game where they appear invisible, the Jets will just pound Jones and Greene all day and increase their chances of victory.
Quarterback : Definite Edge Chargers
Running Back : Edge Jets
Receivers : Definite Edge Chargers
Offensive Line : Slight Edge Jets
Defensive Line : Even
Linebacker : Even
Secondary : Slight Edge Jets
Special Teams : Slight Edge Chargers
Coaching : Slight Edge Jets
The Jets could come away with a win if they can run the ball all day to control the clock and keep the Chargers offense off of the field. The amount of third down conversions they accumulate will be critical, as will be the distance to the first down marker. They do not want to put the balance of their season in the hands of the rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez at this juncture.
San Diego should exploit the fact no one can cover Gates on the Jets, and even get some production from their other tight ends. Some production out of the ground game is also a big need. This game might depend on the amount of time Rivers has to find his plethora of targets. Chargers 37 Jets 16