Cardinals (+7) at Saints: Given what the Cards did last week to one of the NFL’s top defenses, this game looks to be a shootout as well. The Saints ranked number one in total offense in the NFL during the regular season (4th in passing yards, 6th in rushing) and are coming into this game well rested. Naturally, both teams are going to play the “us against the world” card. Arizona, despite being the defending NFC champs, was a decided underdog last week against Green Bay. And some are beginning to doubt New Orleans, who stumbled to a 13-3 finish after starting 13-0. But the difference here will be the defensive line play. Arizona has to be pretty well wrung out after getting being torched by Aaron Rodgers & Co. in the wildcard round last week. I anticipate Saints QB Drew Brees may be a little rusty at the start but will eventually find his rhythm. The Cards will get theirs offensively but it won’t be enough.
Saints 38 Cardinals 28
Ravens (+7) at Colts: After forcing Patriots QB Tom Brady into four turnovers last week, the Ravens will need to do something similar to Colts quarterback Peyton Manning this week. Baltimore QB Joe Flacco will most assuredly need to complete more than four passes this game if his club is to continue another magical postseason run. And another 159 yard rushing performance from Ray Rice wouldn’t hurt either. Meanwhile, in the minds of the Colts fans, this season will be considered a miserable failure for Indianapolis if they don’t go all the way. With a third quarter lead in week 16 against the Jets, Colts head coach Jim Caldwell pulled many of his starters (including Manning) in the third quarter. The Jets would rally to beat the Colts backups and thus the dream of an undefeated season went by the boards. These two teams met in week 11 of the regular season with Indianapolis squeaking out a 17-15 win in Baltimore. I don’t anticipate this game being that close.
Colts 30 Ravens 21
Cowboys (+3) at Vikings: Dallas is the exact type of team which gives Minnesota matchup nightmares. The Cowboys have a big, physical offensive line that could wear down the leaner, quicker Vikings D-line. Vikes DE Jared Allen will absolutely have to win his battle against LT Flozell Adams. However, QB Tony Romo has a very quick release and takes a lot of three-step drops. On the other side of the equation, the Vikings O-line has been beat up lately when facing only three and four man rushes. If Dallas decides to blitz, it could be an especially long day. But Brett Favre should have some opportunities against the 20th ranked pass defense in the NFL. With RB Adrian Peterson having been a virtual non-factor for the past month, he has a chance to really step up against a defense allowing 4.0 yards per carry against the run. But if the Vikings fall behind quickly, AP may once again be insignificant. Home field, I believe, will be the Vikes’ saving grace, as they ran the table at home during the regular season.
Vikings 28 Cowboys 24
Jets (+8) at Chargers: Many consider San Diego the favorite to win the Super Bowl and with good reason. They won their last eleven games during the regular season and have clearly become QB Philip Rivers’ team. Rivers was third in the NFL in passer rating (behind only Brees and Favre), tied for sixth in TD passes and eighth in passing yardage. However, he will definitely be tested against the league’s top defense, who allowed only eight regular season TD passes. Combine that with the fact that the Jets running game (number one in the NFL in rushing offense) will be going against a Chargers’ defense which allowed 4.5 yards per carry, this game will be closer than many think. But even if Jets all pro CB Darrelle Revis is able to shut down the Chargers top WR Vincent Jackson, Rivers still has an embarrassment of offensive riches with top-tier TE Antonio Gates, WR Malcolm Floyd and RBs Darren Sproles and LaDainian Tomlinson.
Chargers 27 Jets 20
Straight up: 1-3
Against the spread: 1-3