The NFL Divisional Playoffs begin today. We're bound to see another shootout in the first game, followed by the Ravens hoping their defense comes through again against the Colts in the night-cap. If you would like to comment on either of the games, whether it be before, during, or after the game(s), please do so here. The brief previews are after the jump.
It's hard to imagine how the New Orleans Saints could go to chasing perfection to having such a poor ending to the season, but it happened. After averaging nearly 30-40 points each game for their first 13 contests, the Saints' highest point total over the next three games was just 17. They lost all three of them (although they conceded the last game since they had clinched home-field advantage).
With that said, it's hard to imagine that Drew Brees and company will struggle against the Cardinals, who are coming off a game in which they seemed to have no idea how to stop the Green Bay Packers offense. They will get TE Jeremy Shockey back from injury, and although he didn't have the biggest receiving year of his career, he draws attention away from the other targets Brees likes to find. The Saints have also signed RB Deuce McAllister to their roster. He won't play, but he'll serve as an honorary captain.
On the other side of the field is Kurt Warner and the Cardinals. It would have been a real shame if Arizona had lost last week due to Neil Rackers missed chip-shot at the end of the fourth quarter, because Warner basically played a picture-perfect game. When he's on, there's no stopping him -- it's almost as fun to watch as Peyton Manning moving the ball down the field. WR Anquan Boldin likely won't play again, but Steve Breston and Early Doucett had no problems filling his shoes against the Packers.
The Saints have the players to employ a lot of creativity, and they are going to need it against the high-powered offense of the Cardinals. I don't see either defense being able to stop the other, although both defenses have been known to come up with turnovers at the right time. Brees will be good, but the Cardinals didn't have to rest and can ride on the momentum they've already built up. Cardinals win by 4.
With the Colts being my second-favorite team, I will be absolutely sick if the Ravens were to pull an upset on them. If a team like the Patriots or Chargers beat Indianapolis, I would be crushed but live with it. The thought of the Ravens doing it just presents a double-downer since I hate their team.
The Colts came under much criticism for resting their starters over the final two weeks instead of chasing perfection. It was Jim Caldwell's decision to make, and while I disagreed with it, the decision should not affect whether they win or lose tonight's game.
Both of these teams met in an extremely well-played defensive game by the Ravens in the 2007 playoffs, in Baltimore. Manning didn't light up the score board, but when the plays needed to be made, he made them. The Colts won 15-6. This time, the game is in Indianapolis. Although what the Ravens did last week to the Patriots early on was very impressive, I still don't believe this is the same Ravens defense of old. The secondary is not strong beyond Ed Reed, and Manning should be able to exploit that.
Ray Rice has been magnificent for Baltimore, but will Joe Flacco come through with the clutch throws if Manning builds an early lead for the Colts? Maybe a few, but not enough for a victory. It'll be a one possession game, but in favor of the Colts. Colts win by 7.
Feel free to share your own predictions on today's games in this thread as well.