Now featuring photographs on the right side of the post, here's our preview of Sunday's playoff match-ups. I recently canceled my cable subscription and I'm curious about the hype leading up to this weekend. Has the Brett Favre storyline become as nauseating as I imagine? Please give your opinion about these games in the comments below.
Dallas comes into this game as one of the hottest teams in the league, having won each of the last three weeks including a 34-14 pounding of the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card round. Things have been clicking on both sides of the ball for the Cowboys. Felix Jones rushed for 148 yards against the Eagles defense (the most ever for a Dallas running back in his first postseason game), and their defense has shutout the opposing offense in two of their last three games.
Despite their recent success, the Cowboys come into this game as the underdog. Minnesota is unbeaten at home this season, and they have one of the most experienced quarterbacks in football at the helm. Brett Favre ranks second in NFL postseason history with 438 completions, 721 attempts, 5,311 yards and 39 touchdowns. He is surrounded by a talented cast of playmakers including Adrian Peterson, Offensive Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin, and wide receiver Sidney Rice.
While their offense remains potent, Minnesota's defense has struggled at times. They are ranked first in Run Defense DVOA, but are only 22nd against the pass. The Vikings' secondary seems to be especially vulnerable when they are not able to get pressure on the quarterback with their four down linemen. If the Dallas offensive line can give Tony Romo time to throw, the Minnesota defensive backs will have a hard time slowing down Austin Miles and Tony Witten.
Read the rest of this preview after the jump...
On paper it looks like the Cowboys should have a slight advantage on both offense and defense, but the Vikings have an definite edge when it comes to special teams. Percy Harvin has been electrifying in the return game, piling up 1,136 kick return yards and 2 touchdowns. Overall, Minnesota is ranked 3rd in Special Teams DVOA. With two teams as evenly matched as Dallas and Minnesota are, the third phase of the game is often the difference maker.
Prediction: Dallas Cowboys 21 Minnesota Vikings 24
The San Diego Chargers come into this matchup having won their last 11 games. They have been led by quarterback Phillip Rivers and the leagues' number one passing attack according to DVOA. Rivers passed for 4,254 yards during the regular season and his two favorite targets, Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates, became the second pair of receivers in team history to record at least 1,150 receiving yards each in a single season.
This is a classic matchup of strength on strength as the New York Jets' defense is ranked first in Pass Defense DVOA. Led by Darelle Revis, the unit has excelled under first year Head Coach Rex Ryan. Don't expect the Chargers to run against New York's front seven, but the Jets could have trouble slowing down all of their playmakers in the passing game.
New York's offense can help their defense by continuing to run the football well. They rank 11th in Rush Offense DVOA. In addition to starter Thomas Jones, the Jets have also come to rely on rookie running back Shonne Green. Against the Bengals he rushed for 135 yards; the most by a rookie in a playoff game since 1999 (Fred Taylor). New York should be able to run the ball at will against San Diego, and they will most likely rely on their ground game until the Chargers force them to try something else.
Last week Mark Sanchez posted a 139.4 passer rating, the highest ever by a rookie in a playoff game (minimum 14 attempts). He completed 12 of 15 passes for 182 yards and 1 touchdown, but most importantly he did not turn the ball over. If the Jets can limit his attempts in this game as well, they should be in a good position to pull off an upset. However, if they fall behind and are forced to throw the football I do not like their chances in this game.
Prediction: New York Jets 17 San Diego Chargers 27