They call this "the best weekend of the year" for Pro-Football fans. Usually, it doesn't live up to the hype (I'm looking at you 2008), but this year, at least on paper, we're in for a treat.
Arizona Cardinals @ New Orleans Saints - For casual football fans, this will probably be most hyped game of the week, not because of star power, but because of the visions of one-hundred points being scored.
The Cardinals regained their swagger by beating the Packers, and that match up won't be all that different than playing the Saints. Defensively both teams are in trouble, so obviously it's going to come down to which defense can make the plays necessary to give their offense an opportunity to blow the game open.
The Cardinals are going to be playing without Anquan Boldin and that gives the Saints a huge advantage. I know the Saints are coming into the playoffs cold as ice, but Cardinals aren't exactly "the team they didn't want to face."
I'm taking the Saints at Home.
Baltimore Ravens @ Indianapolis Colts - A rematch of the 2006 divisional playoffs where Peyton struggled but the Colts D out-defensed the Ravens. That game was played in Baltimore in the rain. This time it's in Indianapolis, in a dome.
The Ravens beat the Patriots last week by running the ball and forcing turnovers. If they can do the same they'll beat Indianapolis, but the Colts offense is also more potent than the Patriots, and the Colts defense, believe it or not, is better than the Patriots defense.
In order for the Colts to win, they're going to have to come out sharp. In 2005 when they rested their starters they lost because they gave the Steelers a two-quarter handicap. That being said, you can't compare the focus of the 2009 team to the 2005 team; a team that was lead by a head coach whose son committed suicide a month before the game.
Much like the 2006 team, all reports point to the 2009 Colts being focused. The 2009 Ravens are a good team, but the Colts are mismatch for them. The Ravens may have "momentum," but the Colts need this win a lot more.
I'm taking the Colts at Home.
Dallas Cowboys @ Minnesota Vikings - This is a battle between two teams whose playoff woes in the past are well documented. The Vikings have notriously blown chances to go the the Super Bowl, while the Cowboys got their first playoff win in a generation last week. Not to mention Brett Favre hasn't exactly been a Hall of Fame callibur quarterback come January this decade.
These teams match up really well. Both have great running games, good passing games, and aggressive defenses. Both teams weaknesses are their offensive lines (though somehow both have flooded the Pro Bowl rosters). This game isn't going to be decided by AP, Brett, Romo, or Felix Jones, rather it will be decided on the defensive line.
Outside of beating up on a weak Packers offensive line, the Vikings defensive line hasn't been as impressive as people would want you to believe. Dallas on the other hand have been consistent all season. If the Vikings want to beat the Cowboys, they're going to have to take a page out of the Chargers handbook and rush the passer, and pull off a lot of screens.
Unfortunately for the purple and yellow, their quarterback doesn't know what it means to play conservatively in the playoffs.
I'm taking the Cowboys on the Road.
New York Jets @ San Diego Chargers - Take a second to think about this one. Now that the Cardinals are no longer a joke, outside of the Lions these may be the two most belittled franchises in the NFL. The Chargers have been a media afterthought their entire existance, even now as a top tier NFL team, they get little national coverage. The Jets may have a Super Bowl in their history, but Joe Namath's guarantee is starting to become more of a franchise curse.
These two fan bases couldn't be more different. San Diego fans are notoriously hopelessly-optimistic. Jets fans are notoriously hopeless-pessimistic.
This time their fans will be spot on. The Jets defense did a tremendous job getting to the Bengals, but the Bengals aren't the Chargers. I think the game will be close, but at the end of the day the Jets won't be able to generate the offense to keep up with the Chargers; a team good for at least 21. The Jets only hope is getting to Rivers early and forcing a few timely turnovers. If the Jets can eliminate the Chargers run game (or scare them into passing more than they should) they'll have the Chargers right where they want him.
Believe it or not, the Jets may be the one team in the NFL who wants to put the ball in Rivers' hands.
I'm taking the Chargers at Home.