So I was 2-2 in last week’s predictions. The Cardinals vs. Packers game I didn’t feel that badly about since it went into overtime, and was kind of a fluky win for the Cards. As for the Cowboys vs. Eagles…well, I said that I might have been making my pick as a homer. And I was. The Cowboys were much better than the Eagles. Oh well.
As for this week’s games:
Cardinals (+7) at Saints
For the first half of the season, the Saints looked like the best team in football. They were undefeated, and their offense, led by QB Drew Brees looked unstoppable. But as the season progressed, they hung onto their undefeated record by pure luck almost, getting fluky wins over the Redskins and Bucs – two of the lesser teams in the league. The inevitable finally happened, and they lost to the Cowboys. Despite the loss, they had locked up the #1 seed in the NFC, and proceeded to liberally rest players for the remaining two games, which they also lost.
So despite looking like the conference’s best team for most of the season, they come into their first playoff game ice cold. Does that mean anything? Past history of playoff teams shows that it might…or might not. Really, the breakdowns of success rate among teams that coasted into the playoffs show that some teams go right back to their winning ways, and other teams seem unable to pick it back up.
Momentum isn’t really the Saints’ biggest problem. Their bigger problem is that their defense isn’t that great. Early in the season, they looked better because the offense was getting out to huge leads, and forcing opponents to play catch up. Once their offense cooled down from their incredibly hot start, the defense was forced to play things more straight, and their performance suffered. Having a poor defense against a very good Cardinals offense is not a good thing. Kurt Warner continues to prove to be an exceptional postseason QB, and the combination of him throwing to Larry Fitzgerald is deadly. Will the Saints defense be able to shut them down? Or more to the point, can their offense manage more points than their defense will inevitably give up?
As for the Cardinals, they’re dealing with some defensive problems of their own. Their victory over the Packers last week was largely fueled by their offense. The defense spent most of the game getting torched by the Packers’ offense. However, the defense did ultimately step up and win the game for them in overtime, forcing a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. Is it possible that they might use that play as a rallying point?
One thing working in the Saints favor is homefield advantage. If it’s a close game, the Superdome will definitely be rocking, and might give them the extra lift that they need. Still, I’m guessing that it might take a little while for the offense to get going, and by that point, I think it will be too late. The Cardinals win in another shootout.
Final Score: Cardinals 35, Saints 33
Cowboys (+3) at Vikings
Over the past month, the Cowboys have looked like the best team in football. They are coming off two convincing wins over the Eagles, and their inability to win a playoff game since 1998 is now a thing of the past. They seem to be clicking on all cylinders, with their defense playing tough, and QB Tony Romo actually looking like a QB who could lead his team to a title.
On the other hand, after a hot start to the season, the Vikings haven’t looked especially good recently. There has been some tension between QB Brett Favre and head coach Brad Childress, and the team suffered losses in two of their last three games, with the only victory coming over the Giants who had pretty much given up at that point.
The Vikings don’t look like a team that will make a deep run in the playoffs. Childress is a weakness, and I can almost guarantee he will make a big mistake at some point along the line. And while they seem like they’d be a strong running team with RB Adrian Peterson, they’ve shifted to more of a passing offense under Favre. And we all know that sometimes in big games, Favre will go into “gunslinger” mode and play recklessly. A few years ago, people picked up on what I had been saying about Favre since about 2000. The guy has mostly been lousy in big games throughout his career. It’s amazing how winning one Super Bowl on a stacked team early in his career has completely altered the way people look at him.
All the evidence points to a Cowboys win. I’m sure just about everyone will predict a Cowboys win. I will not. Maybe this is an anti-Cowboys bias, but I don’t think they’re quite as good as they’ve looked recently. For one reason or another, they match up exceptionally well against the Eagles this season. And now that they’ve gotten over the “can’t win a playoff game” hurdle, there’s always the threat of a letdown. Plus, I still think Wade Phillips will make a huge coaching mistake somewhere along the line. In addition, I think people are sleeping on the Vikings a little. Despite his flaws, Favre can still make some big plays. And any team with Peterson is going to be dangerous.
Final Score: Vikings 24, Cowboys 16
Jets (+8) at Chargers
Now that the Jets pulled off upset over the Bengals, people (such as their outspoken coach Rex Ryan) are starting to affix the “team of destiny” label to them. They need to slow down a bit. Beating a callow Bengals team isn’t the same as going to San Diego and beating the Chargers.
I’m not sure why the Chargers have been so good in December over the past few years. Teams that play in warn weather or domes usually struggle in December, because they’re often forced to play in colder conditions that they aren’t used to. Yet, somehow, the Chargers always rack up impressive December records. And it’s even more impressive since their coach is Norv Turner. Turner is a great offensive coach, but he’s never proven to be a good head coach. Here’s another guy who is bound to make a boneheaded decision that will cost his team.
Regardless, the Chargers are very talented. QB Philip Rivers has become a star, and although they’re mostly a passing team, the RB tandem of LaDanian Tomlinson (although a bit washed up) and Darren Sproles should still concern defenses.
The Jets had a nice run, but I don’t see QB Mark Sanchez up to the task of pulling an upset.
Final Score: Chargers 28, Jets 6
Ravens (+7) at Colts
As I predicted last week, the Ravens used some big plays on defense to top the Patriots, despite a horrible statistical day from QB Joe Flacco. As I mentioned, Flacco tends to play poorly when matched against elite QBs. Unfortunately for him, he’s facing the Colts this week, who have a decent QB on their team.
Peyton Manning hasn’t been the greatest postseason QB in history, as in his one Super Bowl run, he played just well enough not to lose. But he’s the most talented guy out there, and he’s played as well as he ever has this season. Of course, the Colts had a bit of controversy this season, since they pulled their starters in the second half of a game while they were still undefeated. Many people claimed that by not going for the undefeated season, it sent the wrong message to the players. Personally, while I think they should have gone for the undefeated season, I don’t think that the players will be negatively affected. First, they don’t have to deal with the pressures of trying to be the first 19-0 team. And secondly, it sent the message that the most important goal for the team is winning the Super Bowl, and nothing else matters as much.
The Ravens will once again try to win using a strong running game and get some big plays out of their defense. However, I don’t think that’s enough to beat the Colts. The Ravens only hope is if it’s a low scoring game, but the Colts have looked too strong on offense this season, and I’m not sure the Ravens will be able to slow them down enough.
Final Score: Colts 30, Ravens 10