The Rest of the NFL Playoffs
#3 Dallas (12-5) at #2 Minnesota (12-4)
Minnesota faltered down the stretch until the waxed the mail-it-in Giants on the last day of the season. Brett Favre avoided the late-season swoon that doomed him and the Jets last season, and is still playing at a very high level. Who would have thought that this team, which so prominently featured Adrian Peterson last year, would so quickly become all about Favre? Oh right, everybody.
Dallas comes into this game hotter than perhaps anybody else in the NFC crapshoot. A defense that’s peaking at the right time and an offense that is extremely balanced and talented in both running and passing the ball. The offense moves the chains and eat the clock, but with Miles Austin, Tony Romo and Felix Jones, there’s always the possibility of a big play.
While Minnesota’s offense has continued to play well, the defense has slipped since a fast start. COWBOYS 28, VIKINGS 24
#5 Green Bay (12-5) at #1 New Orleans (13-3)
Like Minnesota, the Saints also tore out of the opening gate before taking it easy late in the season with home-field advantage secured. For the first thirteen games, New Orleans was unstoppable – thirteen wins and only a couple of them were even close. But they lost their last three games and haven’t had a convincing win since November. A defense that seemed to score every week has lost that big play ability.
Meanwhile, a 4-4 Green Bay team ended the season on a 7-1 tear and then beat Arizona in the Wild Card Round. Unfortunately for them Drew Brees has had quite a while to prepare for them and Charles Woodson can’t shutdown everybody. Expect a big game from Brees & Co. to outgun Aaron Rodgers and the Pack. SAINTS 41, PACKERS 30
#3 New England (11-6) at #2 San Diego (13-3)
A beat-up Tom Brady without Wes Welker was enough to get by the Ravens at home, but Philip Rivers and the Chargers a different beast entirely. San Diego opens their postseason having won eleven games in a row and will be at optimum health following a bye week.
San Diego’s big receivers match up well against a middling New England secondary, so expect the Chargers to continue their pass heavy offensive scheme. The Patriots should be able to put up some points too, as San Diego has had trouble rushing quarterbacks this year and New England’s offensive line is still a strength.
Ultimately, San Diego’s superior talent on offense will carry the Chargers. CHARGERS 34, PATRIOTS 24
#5 New York (10-7) at #1 Indianapolis (14-2)
Don’t expect the Colts to be so accommodating in this rematch from Week 16, when the pulled their starters about midway through the third quarter. Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark will play the entire game. People may be thrown off by the Colts’ last two games, but their first fourteen are far more indicative of their true talent level. They will not roll into this game unprepared.
Call me a Jets fan, but the Jets led the Colts 10-9 in the second half before Jim Caldwell pulled the starters and have the defense and run game to hang with the Colts. If the Jets can force a few turnovers, avoid any of their own and not settle for field goals, they’ll have a fighting chance against what is sure to be a heavily and rightfully favored Indianapolis team. The key for the Jets is going to be setting the tone offensively early. When Mark Sanchez attempts fewer than twenty passes, the Jets are 5-0. When he attempts more than twenty, they’re 3-7.
The Colts are the number one seed for a reason and Peyton Manning is an MVP and Super Bowl champion while his counterparts’ biggest accomplishment is not turning the ball over in the past two weeks. COLTS 21, JETS 20
#3 Dallas (13-5) at #1 New Orleans (14-3)
Look at it this way – these two teams met a month ago, when Dallas was slugging their way through questions about their mental fortitude this time of year and New Orleans was 13-0 and headed for a perfect season. Dallas shut them down in a very convincing manner that night and has really come into it’s own over the past four weeks.
Both teams have high-octane passing attacks with solid, but unspectacular ground games. Tony Romo’s looking to exorcise some sizable playoff demons and Drew Brees is looking to prove he’s not just a numbers-accumulating thrower.
The difference in this game is the direction the defenses have gone over the past month and a half. Dallas ended the regular season with back-to-back shutouts while New Orleans has seemingly lost the knack for the big play that they had going for them early in the season. COWBOYS 33, SAINTS 30
#2 San Diego (14-3) at #1 Indianapolis (15-2)
Might as well have skipped the first two rounds of the AFC playoffs as the top two seeds have clearly distinguished themselves from the rest of the AFC pack. Whereas the NFC conference seems largely up for grabs, the AFC has two top dogs this year, and they’ll meet here in the conference championship game.
The Colts haven’t had a player rush for more than 79 yards in a single game yet this season, but with the sure-to-be-MVP behind center, they don’t really need anything much better than that. The Chargers are in pretty much the same boat with Philip Rivers. The Chargers didn’t have a player break 100 yards rushing all season either, but Philip Rivers had an MVP-type season as well, leading San Diego to eleven straight wins to close out the season.
I started writing this post with every intention of picking San Diego as my pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl – but I’ve changed my mind. I think this game will come down to which team can pressure the quarterback more and I like Indy’s chances with Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney over San Diego’s weaker pass-rushing core. COLTS 38, CHARGERS 34
#3 Dallas (14-5) at #1 Indianapolis (16-2)
Here’s where I think Dallas’ gravy train runs out. Maybe Indy’s had some brutal one-and-dones in the past several years, including the year after their Super Bowl win, but Peyton Manning makes this offense nearly unstoppable. Peyton Manning has simply have too many weapons at his disposal for Dallas to hope to shut down.
Dallas will try to eat clock with Barber and Jones while Romo throws up some huge throws in Miami. COLTS 27, DALLAS 20