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15th January 2010

NFL Talkboard: Divisional play-offs

Have your say on all the week’s upcoming games and post your predictions for the second round of the play-offs below the line

Welcome back to the NFL talkboard. For those of you who have stumbled upon it for the first time, this is the dedicated place on the sportblog where people can talk about American football.

During the regular season we had our weekly Pick Six competition, but now we’re into the postseason it’s Pick the Play-offs time. Every week I’ll post my predictions and invite you to post your own. The blog stays open over the weekend, allowing everyone – myself included – to keep chatting about the games as they happen, and afterwards on Sunday and Monday.

TheDailyChe takes the Wildcard Weekend plaudits, being the only person to nail all four picks. I won’t include the overall top 10 on here this week since there are a whole host of people grouped together with three correct picks, but RobbyBobson has posted the comprehensive table in the comments section of last week’s blog if you want to have a look. Now, on to the games …

Arizona Cardinals @ New Orleans Saints

On paper, clearly, this should be a wild one. Last week the Cardinals played in the highest-scoring play-off game of all time as they beat the Green Bay Packers 51-45, and this time out they’re up against a Saints team that boasted the league’s top-ranked offence during the regular season, but also the 25th-ranked defence. That said I still can’t imagine things getting quite as far out of hand as they did last week.

For Arizona the challenge will be raising themselves for another battle on a short week (they played late into Sunday night and are first up this Saturday), while New Orleans need to shake themselves out of the funk that saw them lose their final three regular-season games. The bye has helped New Orleans to get healthy again on defence and the returns of Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter, in particular, come as a huge boost against this potent Arizona passing game. This is the toughest game of the week to call for me, but I’ll say …

Cardinals to win

Baltimore Ravens @ Indianapolis Colts

There wasn’t much between these two teams when they met in week 11, Indianapolis securing a 17-15 win only after Joe Flacco was intercepted on the Colts’ 13-yard line with less than three minutes remaining. Indianapolis did an unusually good job on defence that day, too, restricting the Baltimore running back Ray Rice to 71 yards on 20 carries. If he has a better day here this one could be very close indeed.

Outside of the running game, though, it’s hard to see where the Ravens have an advantage – Flacco’s confidence seems to have deserted him in the second half of the season; their receivers drop far too many balls; and a number of Baltimore’s big names on defence have had, by their standards, disappointing years. However, Peyton Manning is yet to win a play-off game with the Colts in a season when they received a bye. Don’t be surprised if the decision to shut things down during the last two regular season games comes back to haunt Indianapolis.

Colts to win

Dallas Cowboys @ Minnesota Vikings

Despite a 44-7 rout of the New York Giants in week 17, there is no hiding the fact Minnesota ended the season looking a lot more fragile than anyone expected. After winning 10 of their first 11 games, the Vikes won two of their final five. Running back Adrian Peterson hasn’t gone over 100 yards rushing since week 10 (though in fairness he has had a greater involvement in the passing game), while Brett Favre posted sub-80 passer ratings for three consecutive games before looking better in the final two.

Line play could define this game as I believe both quarterbacks are capable of suffering a meltdown – for different reasons – if things start going against them early. The Vikings led the league with 48 regular-season sacks but it should be noted that 31 of those came in the first eight games of the season (indeed, 14 came in the two games against the Packers). More than two per game is still a pretty solid return during that second half of the season, but a significant chunk of the Cowboys’ own 42 sacks were backloaded towards the end of the year and if you include last week’s Wildcard game they’ve got to the quarterback four times in each of their past four games.

Cowboys to win

New York Jets @ San Diego Chargers

Rex Ryan said before the Jets’ win over the Cincinnati Bengals last week that he believes his team should be favourites to win the Super Bowl. Rex Ryan is wrong. Yes, New York have a very tidy defence, yes, Mark Sanchez showed he is capable of managing a game last week and yes, they even managed to run the ball well against Cincinnati despite their No1 rusher, Thomas Jones, making 34 yards off 15 carries. But no, they aren’t going to beat the Chargers.

New York matched up very well against Cincinnati (though it didn’t hurt that Carson Palmer was below par and the Bengals’ receivers did a heroic job of dropping a number of catchable balls), but the Chargers have too many weapons. Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis is a stud and can slow Vincent Jackson right down, but even if he does Philip Rivers will just share the ball out between Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd and his backs. This is the pick I feel most confident about, which almost certainly means it won’t come through.

Chargers to win © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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