After a disappointing first weekend in which most of the games were blowouts, we now come to the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. I've included a preview and my predictions for the two Saturday games in this post, and I will have another post up tomorrow for the Sunday games. Be sure to let us know in the comments section how you see these games playing out.
Arizona Cardinals (11-6) at New Orleans Saints (13-3)
If you enjoyed last week's shootout between the Cardinals and Packers, this game should be to your liking as well. New Orleans scored a total of 510 points during the regular season, and Arizona is coming off a 51 point performance against Green Bay in the first round of the playoffs. Needless to say there should be no shortage of scoring in this matchup, especially on the Superdome's fast track.
Check out the rest of the Division Round preview after the jump...
After throwing more touchdowns than incompletions last week, Kurt Warner will attempt to keep the defending NFC champions on course for a second consecutive Super Bowl appearance. Warner has a 104.6 career postseason quarterback rating, second all-time to Bart Starr (104.8). Having thrown for 379 yards last Sunday, he is also tied with Peyton Manning and Joe Montana for the most 300 yard passing games in playoff history with six.
While Warner has placed himself among the all-time greats, New Orleans finished the regular season ranked 9th in Pass Defense DVOA so they have as good a chance as anybody to slow down the Cardinals' passing attack. However, it's looking more and more like the only person capable of stopping Kurt Warner is Warner himself. We have all seen those games where he implodes and throws 3-4 inexplicable interceptions, and that may be the Saints only hope of keeping Arizona's red hot offense in check.
Whether or not New Orleans is able to have success on the defensive side of the ball, they should be able to rely on Drew Brees and their offense to carry the day. Brees was remarkable in 2009, leading the league in both completion percentage (70.2) and passer rating (109.6). He will need to be remarkable again on Saturday or run the risk of an early playoff exit.
Prediction: Arizona Cardinals 28 New Orleans Saints 35
Baltimore Ravens (10-7) at Indianapolis Colts (14-2)
Last week, the Ravens knocked off the New England Patriots with a stellar performance. Baltimore rushed for 234 yards and four touchdowns on their way to a 33-14 victory. They will need a similar performance if they want to pull off a second consecutive upset. While they may not be able to replicate their performance of a week ago, I expect that they will have success running against a Colts defense ranked 20th in Run Defense DVOA. Look for them to rely on their ground game early and often to keep Peyton Manning on the sidelines.
The Ravens defense is also peaking at the right time. Despite getting off to a rocky start, the unit has righted itself and now ranks 5th in Weighted Defense DVOA. Against New England they were able to intercept Tom Brady three times, and a similar performance this week could land them in the AFC Championship Game.
While it is true that Baltimore is one of the hottest teams in the league right now, Indianapolis has dominated their recent meetings winning the last six in a row. Their run of success against the Ravens could lead you to believe that the Colts already have this game in the bag, but that's simply not true. Head Coach Jerry Caldwell said it best, "Everything that's happened previously, you can throw out the window. Those records don't matter. All that matters is what happens from here on, and we know that we're facing a solid team."
This week Indianapolis is going up against the league's top team according to Total DVOA, so they will need their best effort if they want to keep their goal of winning the Super Bowl alive.
Still you can never count out a team that's led by Peyton Manning. Manning racked up 4,500 yards passing and 33 touchdowns en route to another MVP Award, and he is more than capable of carrying his team to victory. When these two teams played earlier in the season, the Colts were able to pull out a tough 17-15 victory on the road. They have the home field advantage this time, but I expect this game to be close until the very end.
Prediction: Baltimore Ravens 21 Indianapolis Colts 20