Arizona Cardinals-New Orleans Saints
This should be a fun game. You have two of the league's best passing offenses.
For the Cardinals to have a chance to win this game, they are going to have to find a way to control Drew Brees. There's little chance that they will be able to stop him, but they have to limit the big play element to the Saints' offense.
The Cardinals have problems in their secondary, specifically in nickel situations. Nickel DB Mike Adams struggled last week against the Green Bay Packers, so look for the Saints to use a lot of their nickel offense in this game. Adams is a major liability in coverage.
New Orleans doesn't possess a good run defense, so it will be interesting to see how much balance we see from the Cardinals on offense. Rookie RB Chris "Beanie" Wells could be a factor in this game.
It will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Gregg Williams decides to handle attacking the Cardinals' offense. Williams likes to dial up blitzes, but Kurt Warner is one of the best in the NFL against the blitz. The good thing for Williams is his secondary is finally relatively healthy.
For the Saints to win, they have to keep on schedule with their passing game. To do that, LT Jermon Bushrod can't be a liability as he has been for several games.
With this game being played indoors, weather obviously will not be a factor, so look for at least 35-40 passes from each offense in this game.
Prediction: New Orleans 34, Arizona 27.
Baltimore Ravens-Indianapolis Colts
Baltimore really surprised many last week with their fine performance on defense. They were able to break down New England's offensive line protections throughout the game and were able to make Tom Brady uncomfortable.
While the Colts don't have a great offensive line, Peyton Manning gets rid of the ball quickly, and that negates the pass rush of the opponent most weeks. Somehow, Baltimore must be able to disrupt Manning's timing. To do that, they should get physical with his receivers. If they don't, it could be a long day for the Baltimore defense. They simply don't have good enough depth at cornerback to handle the Indianapolis passing game.
The Ravens must be able to run the ball effectively if they want to have a shot at winning this game. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has gone back to power rushing, the bread and butter of his scheme. If Ray Rice has another big game like he did last week, they could have a shot to win the game in the fourth quarter. If Joe Flacco has to throw the ball 35-40 times, they're in trouble. They simply don't have the talent at receiver to handle throwing the ball that much.
Prediction: Indianapolis 24, Baltimore 17.
Dallas Cowboys-Minnesota Vikings
This has the makings of probably the most intriguing game of the four.
How will Minnesota choose to play offense this week? Will they put the ball in Brett Favre's hands to win the game? Or will they come out and have a balanced attack with Adrian Peterson leading the way? My guess is they will do what they've been doing for most of the season, putting the ball in Favre's hands. This would mean he'll probably throw the ball at least 30-35 times on Sunday.
Dallas' secondary and defense has improved greatly during the second half of the regular season. It's not a coincidence that OLB Anthony Spencer's improved play has helped the secondary. It's taken him a while, but Spencer is finally showing the coaching staff why they thought he could capably replace veteran OLB Greg Ellis.
Where the Vikings may have an advantage is with rookie WR Percy Harvin in their nickel package. Dallas lacks quality depth at cornerback, and that's where Harvin can exploit them.
Dallas has to keep the balance up on offense if they are to win this game. The worst thing that could happen is for Tony Romo to have to play from behind. The formula of mixing the run and passing games has worked quite well for several weeks. They must protect Romo well and keep Jared Allen off his back. If they can do that reasonably well, they'll have a chance to win in the fourth quarter. Look for them to challenge struggling veteran CB Antoine Winfield in this game. He still is struggling with change of direction.
This should be a close game.
Prediction: Minnesota 24, Dallas 20.
New York Jets-San Diego Chargers
This is an interesting game. On one hand, you have the Chargers who have a fast-paced passing attack. The Jets want to slow things down with their running game.
The key for the Jets in this game is for Mark Sanchez to not have to throw the ball more than 25 times. Last week, he only had to throw it 15 times. If that happens again, they'll probably win this game. At worst, it would be a close game in the fourth quarter. They must stay on schedule with their excellent running game.
The Chargers don't run the ball well at all, so the expectation is that Philip Rivers will be throwing the ball at least 35 times in this game. And that's not a problem. They are perfectly happy throwing the ball quite a bit. Expect them to attack veteran CB Lito Sheppard in this game. He'll likely draw WR Malcom Floyd. TE Antonio Gates should also be a factor. The Jets simply don't have anyone who can cover him.
This could be a very close game if the Jets can keep the score low.
Prediction: San Diego 20, New York 13.
Divisional Round Insider Preview
Arizona Cardinals-New Orleans Saints