Divide & Conquer

The divisional round of the NFL playoffs is almost upon us, and I’m looking forward to a much more entertaining slate of games than last weekend. Fans should look forward to a shootout in the South, endless quarterback talk in the North, and a blowout in the West. Without further delay, here’s my take on the matchups.

ARIZONA @ NEW ORLEANS, Saturday, 4:30 pm

This one should be fun. Watching Arizona’s offence last week was a delight for any fan of the game, and New Orleans isn’t too bad at racking up points themselves. I don’t expect Kurt Warner to be as good as last week (more touchdowns than incompletions), but if the retirement talk is true, look for Kurt to have another strong game. I’m curious to see what kind of defensive intensity the Cardinals come out with, and they’ll attempt to bring pressure early at Drew Brees.

On the Saints’ side, they used the bye week to rest up, most notably Jeremy Shockey and their two starting cornerbacks, Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter. The latter’s a huge get for the Saints, especially with a potent arial attack like Arizona coming into the Superdome. The loss of defensive end Charles Grant will really hurt this team, especially in the pass rush. While the Saints will be able to put up points, I just can’t shake the fact that this team hasn’t won a game since December 13.

PAUL’S PICK: Arizona

BALTIMORE @ INDIANAPOLIS, Saturday, 8:15 pm

Baltimore racked up 234 yards on the ground against New England, and now they go up against the league’s 24th ranked rush defence. That’s got to be music to the ears of Ravens fans. Last week Baltimore got monster performances from Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and the entire defence, but this week the game will hinge on Joe Flacco. He went just 4 of 10 for 34 yards and an interception last week, and those numbers will clearly need to improve. There are reports that Flacco has a hip injury, but he still needs to make better decisions in the pocket when going up a much tougher pass rush this week. Even worse for the Ravens was that left tackle Jared Gaither missed practice Thursday. If he can’t play, rookie Michael Oher will step over to the blindside. That’s not the problem. Oniel Cousins, a second year player from Texas-El Paso, would have to take over on the right side… against Dwight Freeney.

Freeney and the Colts are looked at by some as underdogs this weekend because they haven’t played a meaningful game since December 17, but this is what the Colts are built for. Anytime you have Peyton Manning and a mainly healthy team, look out. They haven’t won a playoff game since winning the Superbowl in 2006, but they also didn’t look as dominant as they did this season. Baltimore’s secondary has been riddled by injuries at the cornerback position, and Manning has a few more weapons than Tom Brady does. This one should be close, and it’ll come down to the quarterbacking.

PAUL’S PICK: Indianapolis

DALLAS @ MINNESOTA, Sunday, 1:00 pm

I don’t think anyone can consider what Dallas had last week was a game – more like a scrimmage. With the playoff monkey of their shoulders, Tony Romo & Co. head into Minnesota to tangle with Brett Favre. With the Williams Wall anchoring the middle of the Vikings defence, it’s going to be tough for Dallas to establish a running game. It could get even harder with Marion Barber missing some practice with his sore hamstring (he did return to action Thursday). I mentioned earlier in the week how impressive Felix Jones has been, and Dallas will need him to step up. Also, cue Roy Williams. I said it before, and I’ll say it again, he’s going to have a big game soon.

Minnesota has transitioned to more of a passing attack this season, but that may have to change this week. Dallas has racked up at least four sacks in four straight games, and will be dialing up pressure from different angles at Favre. The key for Minnesota will be getting Adrian Peterson going early, and hanging onto the ball. His six fumbles are a cause for concern, but with all respect to Chris Johnson, AP is the best running back in football. If he can consistently break down the Dallas D, Minnesota can win the game.

PAUL’S PICK: Dallas

NY JETS @ SAN DIEGO, Sunday, 4:40 pm

I still can’t believe the Jets are in the postseason, let alone in the divisional round. But with the number one ranked rushing game and defence, it’s hard not to give them respect. Much like last week’s game, I feel this one comes down to Mark Sanchez. He completed 80% of his passes last week, but against the Chargers’ 3-4 defence he’s sure to see a lot more blitz schemes and zone coverages. Darrelle Revis should be able to occupy Vincent Jackson well, but if the Jets want to isolate Lito Sheppard or Dwight Lowery on the 6’5″ Malcolm Floyd, have fun.

The Chargers haven’t lost a football game since October 19, and they just seem to be firing on all cylinders. Philip Rivers has an underrated receiving core in Jackson, Floyd, Legedu Naanee, and then there’s some guy named Antonio Gates as well. Add in Darren Sproles and LaDainian Tomlison, and they’ve got more than enough firepower to topple the Jets’ number one ranked D. But Chargers fans shouldn’t book their ticket for the next round just yet. The team ranks 20th in the NFL at stopping the run, and they now get the number one ranked rushing attack of Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene. As long as they can slow down the New York ground attack, the Chargers stand a very good chance to move on – and quite easily at that.

PAUL’S PICK: San Diego

TWO POINT CONVERSION

– I wonder if Todd Haley realizes what’s happening in Kansas City. With so many ex-Patriots around, one screw up and he’s out the door

– Jerome Bettis says Bill Cowher wants to coach the New York Giants. Have fun with that Tom Coughlin

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