Before I get to today's game previews, there is awful news to pass along from the NFL community today as Chicago Bears DE Gaines Adams passed away at the age of 26. Adams was the fourth overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After seeing the Colts and the Saints, both No. 1 seeds, advance to conference championship matches yesterday, today it'll be time to find out who their opponents will be. 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.
NFC Divisional: Dallas Cowboys vs. Minnesota Vikings (1:00 PM, FOX) [See SB Nation Coverage Here]
This is why QB Brett Favre returned to the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings: he thought he could be the missing piece to their Super Bowl quest. Favre is still two games away from reaching the big game, but he has all of the tools around him. He's got a great running back in Adrian Peterson. He's got young receivers who have gotten accustomed to Favre's tendencies. And, he's got a defense that packs an intimidating line up front.
The Vikings might just have the most complete team across the board in the NFL. With that said, will they be able to execute? After getting off to a hot start, the Vikings lost three of their last five games. They nearly lost the first-round bye they had seemingly locked up earlier in the season. Peterson failed to rush for more than 100 yards in any of his final seven games, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry during that span. Peterson has also had problems holding onto the football, losing the ball six times this season.
The Cowboys are one of the league's hottest teams. Over the past two games, they knocked off what was the other hot team in the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles, with ease. Tony Romo is in sync with Miles Austin and Jason Witten. Hell, even Roy Williams got into the mix last week! Marion Barber might not be coming through on the ground, but that's not stopping Felix Jones. The defense is playing at a higher level as well -- Dallas' defense has the tools to beat the Saints if they do meet (the Cowboys handed the Saints their first loss of the season about a month ago).
What we've been missing in the postseason this year is a really good football game. So far, the top two contenders would be the Arizona/Green Bay first-round game, and yesterday's Colts/Ravens match. The first match listed was a shootout though with no defense, while the second game was still won by three possessions by the Colts. The Cowboys/Vikings match should offer a mix of high-octane offense with solid defense from both teams. I think the score will be tied late in the game, and Favre will lead the Vikings to a game-winning field goal try. Vikings win by 3.
AFC Divisional: New York Jets vs. San Diego Chargers (4:40 PM, CBS) [See SB Nation Coverage Here]
What the Jets did last week defensively to the Cincinnati Bengals was very impressive. I appreciate a coach who is willing and able to bring the types of blitzes that Rex Ryan has brought, and a great running game to go with that is the icing on top of the cake. With how hot the Chargers were to close out the season -- even being the only team to win with their backups in Week 17 -- this should not be a blowout game.
San Diego has some difficulty at stopping the run, and Mark Sanchez made the "smart" throws last week. Philip Rivers has been the league's "quiet" MVP, but will he be able to deploy his jump-ball passes throughout the game when Darrelle Revis is in coverage? Maybe not towards his direction, but who on the Jets is going to stop Antonio Gates?
This will come down to a tale of having to defend more threats than they had to last week. Palmer was off the past two weeks, and the Bengal receivers forgot how to catch the football. The Chargers have more weapons, each of whom has the height advantage, who will come through with enough catches to put a few scores on the board. Sanchez is going to need to have a big game again, but in his young career with a drop-friendly receiver always on the field, I don't see him having another perfect game. Chargers win by 7.
Chris' Playoff Record To Date: 2-4
Feel free to share your own predictions on today's games in this thread as well.