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While America flips out about Lane Kiffin & Mark McGwire, its time to look forward towards Saturday action in the NFL playoffs. Chris Berman calls it the best weekend of football in the NFL and he is spot on. The pair of NFC games feature two Super Bowl tested veterans (Warner/Favre) and a pair of wannabe Super Bowl QB’s (Brees/Romo). Thus, we have the potential for a pair of “passing of the torch” games.
Saturday, January 16 @ 4:30pm – #4 Arizona Cardinals at #1 New Orleans Saints
The Rundown: Much like last year, everyone had Arizona’s first round opponent automatically into the second round due to Arizona’s lack of passion on both sides of the ball. However, aiding the amazing Kurt Warner was Karlos Dansby, who quieted the naysayers by recovering an Aaron Rodgers fumble and returning it to the house during overtime in the highest scoring playoff game in NFL history. By the way, GB fans…I don’t want to hear about the Michael Adams facemask. Rodgers missed on the potential game-winning throw to Greg Jennings moments earlier.
‘Zona takes on New Orleans, last thought to have played a good game back in early December. If last week is any indication, trouble looms for the Saints. The Patriots, Bengals, and Eagles all limped into the playoffs after bad Week 17 losses and a week later, they are all gone. New Orleans rides a three game losing streak into this game and have not won in a month.
Arizona X-Factor: Kurt Warner vs. Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Warner has enjoyed mixed results versus Williams’ defenses over the years:
’99 Reg Season: 29 of 46 328 yards 3 TDs 0 INT
Super Bowl XXXIV: 24 of 45 415 yards 2 TDs 0 INT
’04 Reg Season: 22 of 33 232 yards 1 TD 0 INT
’05 Reg Season: 25 of 41 255 1 TD 1 INT
’07 Reg Season: 27 of 41 282 2 TD 2 INTs
He’s 2-3 against a Williams D during his career but if Warner plays with his usual postseason verve, the Saints are in trouble. How he deals with the blitzing and other schemes versus a quite pedestrian Saints secondary will tell the story of this game.
New Orleans X-Factor: How will the Saints respond to rust and adversity? No team has ever won the Super Bowl after losing its last three regular season games. The Saints have been in backpedal mode since their blowout win over New England back on November 30. Their last two wins were by three points each and perhaps most importantly, their aura of invincibility at the Superdome has been shattered. Sean Payton’s task is to get them back on track against the defending NFC champions. Motivation should be the least of his worries. Honorable mention goes to the New Orleans running game. They have to run the ball effectively to keep Warner and friends off the field.
Random Thought: Beginning with his days as a Ram quarterback, Warner is now 8-1 in the NFC playoffs. His lone loss? You’d have to go back to the 2000 NFC Wild Card round versus New Orleans in the Superdome.
Synopsis: One thing is for sure. These defenses are probably in store for a beatdown. Regardless of the circumstances, can you really trust a team that blew a 17 point lead at home to Josh Freeman a few weeks ago? However, the immediate counterargument is simple. Can you really trust a team that allowed 45 points at home in a playoff game last week? That same D features Cardinals cornerback Antrel Rolle who stated this week that he’d rather see Drew Brees over Aaron Rodgers any day of the week. Well, he might be right one day but not on Saturday. The Cards have a chance to win this game but Arizona’s defense has those lapses during games where they get torched. I think the jig is up for Operation Who Dat next week but I like them on Saturday…barely.
PREDICTION: NEW ORLEANS 35, ARIZONA 31
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Sunday, January 17 @ 1pm – #3 Dallas Cowboys at #2 Minnesota Vikings
The Rundown: The Dallas Cowboys enter the Metrodome as the league’s newest uncrowned Super Bowl contestant after thumping the Eagles in back to back games with a balanced offense and Doomsday-ish pass rush. However, the hype maybe justified. After silencing an explosive Philadelphia offense, Dallas faces a more stationary target in Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings.
After suffering through late-season controversy with Brett Favre and Brad Childress, the Vikes blasted the Giants back to the Meadowlands with a 44-7 whitewashing. Is all right in the land of Chilly now?
Minnesota X-Factor: Tackles Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadholt vs. Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. This is one of the most pivotal matchups during the entire divisional weekend. If McKinnie and Loadholt can’t keep the Dallas defensive line off of Favre, then we are going to get a repeat of the Minny performances versus Arizona, Carolina, and Chicago. McKinnie got abused Julius Peppers a few weeks ago and Ware is not likely going to be a better matchup for the now-struggling McKinnie. Loadholt is likely to be busy with Spencer on the other side, which could lead to headaches as well. Pass protection is the key for Minny’s offense on Sunday besides getting Adrian Peterson going on the ground.
Dallas X-Factor: Tackle Flozell Adams vs. officials. The Vikings did not lose a game in the Metrodome during the ’09 season. One big factor is the loudness. The other big factor could be Minny DE Jared Allen. Adams is one of the most penalized offensive linemen in the NFL. Allen had 14.5 sacks this season. What’s the over/under for number of penalties against Flozell for holding or a false start on Sunday? Four? He could be a Dallas drive killer.
Random Thought: Two quick defensive notes. The NFC Divisionals include the 19th (‘Sota), 20th (‘Boys), 23rd (‘Zona) and 26th (N.O.) pass defenses in the NFL. Someone run the ball effectively this round. Please? The running game needs to be reintroduced.
Random Thought II: Adrian Peterson only had three 100 yard rushing days in ’09, with the last coming in Week 9. Wasn’t Favre supposed to get a reprieve thanks to AP? Sunday would be a good time to reintroduce AP to the country.
Synopsis: I don’t like this matchup for Minnesota. Dallas has multiple ways to run the ball without having to go through Minnesota’s Williams Wall. They can also move it through the air with Romo/Austin/Witten/Crayton which is where the Achilles heel lies for Minnesota’s defense. Favre is not going to down without a fight but that Dallas pass rush could prove troublesome. Favre’s dream of a Super Bowl ends here I do believe.
PREDICTION: DALLAS 30, MINNESOTA 23