Saturday playoff game scouts

Saturday could be a day for physical defense in the two NFL playoff games. Get the keys to the games, fast facts and personnel news as you preview for a playoff weekend without the Vikings.

Baltimore Ravens (12-5) at Tennessee Titans (13-3)

KICKOFF: Saturday, 4:30 ET
GAMEDATE: 1/10/09
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS (Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf)

SERIES

19th meeting. The series is tied 8-8 in the regular season, plus 1-1 in the postseason. Saturday's matchup is eerily similar to the 2000 playoffs when Tennessee had the No. 1 seed in the AFC, only to falter to the Ravens, who came in and took a 24-10 victory and went on to win Super Bowl XXXV.

KEYS TO THE GAME

The Titans will see a different Joe Flacco than the version they pressured into a pair of interceptions three months ago. Flacco is doing more than just managing the game these days, and coach John Harbaugh proved last week he isn't afraid to let his strong-armed rookie take a few deep shots in the playoffs. But Tennessee's defensive line can absolutely control a game and set up the opportunistic secondary. So Baltimore will attempt to establish RB Le'Ron McLain early and see just how healthy Titans DT Albert Haynesworth and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch are.

The Titans know they can't afford to fall behind - not against the Ravens pass rush and not with Reed so dangerous when he's able to hone in and break on passes in front of him. Tennessee must run the ball behind RBs Chris Johnson and LenDale White, control the clock and keep QB Kerry Collins from being backed into long passing situations. The biggest obstacle could be the likelihood of Leroy Harris starting in place of C Kevin Mawae. Mawae is the lynchpin to the line who calls out blocking assignments, and he's one of the few centers adept at getting out to pull on running plays.

FAST FACTS

The Ravens have allowed an opening-drive touchdown just once in their past 20 games.

Collins is 3-0 in his career as a starter at home in the postseason.

PERSONNEL NEWS

Ravens:

  • TE Todd Heap has been held out of practice all week with a back injury, but expects to play. "I'll be ready," he said Thursday.

  • FS Ed Reed has been held out of practice but he will start. He was listed with an illness Thursday.

  • K Matt Stover did not kick Thursday because of a sore right ankle. But he will play. "If it hurts, it hurts," Stover said.

  • CB Fabian Washington was added to the injury Thursday with a neck injury. He was limited in practice but he is expected to play.

  • WR Derrick Mason was limited in practice for a second day Thursday with a shoulder injury but he expects to start. He has dealt with the injury for the past month.

    Titans:

  • C Kevin Mawae won't play against the Ravens after not practicing all week. The Titans continue to say Mawae is "day-to-day," but it is apparent that second-year man Leroy Harris will get the start.

  • DE Kyle Vanden Bosch is excited about returning. The high-motor defensive end said he is "as close to 100 percent" as he is going to be after undergoing groin surgery on Dec. 16 and making his way back on the field this week.

  • DT Albert Haynesworth worked fully for a second straight day Thursday and will be a go, saying his sprained left knee feels good as he sports a brace to protect and support it.

  • DE Dave Ball is out of the game on Saturday because of a disc problem with his back. It remains to be seen whether or not Ball would be available next week should the Titans advance to the AFC Championship Game.

  • LB David Thornton was rested on Thursday because of a hip problem, but is expected to start and play fully on Saturday against the Ravens. The Titans have given Thornton several practices off over the past few weeks to rest.


    Arizona Cardinals (10-7) at Carolina Panthers (12-4)


    KICKOFF: Saturday, 8:15 ET
    GAMEDATE: 1/10/09
    SURFACE: Grass
    TV: FOX (Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa)

    SERIES

    9th meeting. Panthers lead series 6-2. The Panthers have won five straight against Arizona under coach John Fox, including a 27-23 win on Oct. 26. In that game, Steve Smith caught five passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns, while DeAngelo Williams ran for 108 yards and one score as the Panthers overcame a 17-3 second-half deficit. This is the first postseason meeting between the two teams.

    KEYS TO THE GAME

    The Cardinals have done a better job of incorporating the ground game the past two weeks with RB Edgerrin James showing fresh legs. They need to sustain drives knowing the Panthers have a run-based offense, but the Cardinals still don't give James consistent carries. Arizona's chances hinge on its ability to protect QB Kurt Warner. Carolina has given up 178 first downs through the air and 19 passing touchdowns, and Warner threw for 381 yards in the first meeting. However, Warner's downfield arsenal would take a significant hit if WR Anquan Boldin is unable to play.

    The Cardinals' front seven limited Falcons RB Michael Turner to 42 rushing yards last weekend by using the home-field advantage to fly off the ball. Arizona has to find a way to generate a similar push on the road against RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Panthers QB Jake Delhomme is generally considered streaky, but his 95.0 career postseason passer rating ranks third all-time behind only Bart Starr and Joe Montana among players with at least 150 attempts. Arizona will need to use eight men against the run, leaving CBs Rod Hood and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to hold their own in a lot of man coverage.

    FAST FACTS

    Arizona was 0-5 in the Eastern time zone in the regular season, losing by a combined 99 points.

    Warner is 37-11 lifetime as a start indoors compared to 21-33 outside.

    PERSONNEL NEWS

    Cardinals:

  • QB Kurt Warner has managed the past two games well, as the offense has shifted away from the passing game a bit. Warner has benefited from the improved running game, and has been productive with play-action. That was a key to the Cardinals' last success last week against the Falcons.

  • RB Edgerrin James has gained 173 yards on 30 carries in the past two games as the team's featured back. James has looked fresh and quick and has been breaking tackles in the secondary, something he didn't do earlier this season.

  • WR Anquan Boldin likely will be questionable for Sunday's game with a hamstring injury. Boldin didn't practice all week, and might be limited to a situational role if he does play. He will be a game-time decision.

  • DE Travis LaBoy practiced all week after missing the past three games with an ankle injury. LaBoy is expected to play.

  • CB Ralph Brown, the team's nickel corner, has intercepted passes in the first quarters of the past two games. Brown has done a nice job of playing the slot receiver, and his work in the film has paid off with forced turnovers.

  • TE Ben Patrick aggravated a knee injury last week and probably won't play in Carolina. Leonard Pope and Stephen Spach are healthy and should be the two active tight ends.

    Panthers:

  • RT Jeff Otah (ankle) will start for the Panthers after participating full in practice the last two days.

  • RG Geoff Hangartner (ankle) was the only player on the team who didn't practice Thursday full. He was limited.

  • WR Steve Smith has five touchdowns in the past three games vs. Arizona.

  • QB Jake Delhomme has the highest yards per pass attempt (8.55 yards) in the postseason of any quarterback in NFL history.

  • RG Jeremy Bridges will probably end up starting for the Panthers over Geoff Hangartner.



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