Here are my predictions and analysis for this weekend's NFL Playoff games (2-2 in week 1 picks against the spread):
Arizona (+7) 38, New Orleans 31
The Cardinals come into the game after a great offensive performance last week at home against Green Bay. The key to this game is going to be which team can mix their underrated running attacks in with the potent passing games. Both teams should be able to find a way to get over 100 yards on the ground but the Saints do not have the gamebreaker that Arizona has. Beanie Wells is peaking at the right time of the year and has been running well for weeks. He compliments the Arizona passing game by giving them a nice average and hitting an occasional 20-30 yard run. Tim Hightower is a guy who gets goal line carries, catches short passes & most importantly picks up blitzers to help Warner stay clean. Warner vs Brees is pretty even while the Cardinals may have the better receiving core. With Early Doucet stepping up last week, Arizona has another weapon they can use downfield or in the slot. Anquan Boldin is still questionable and his addition to the Cardinals passing game could be the difference. If he plays, they can move him into the slot and keep Steve Breaston as the #2 WR opposite Fitzgerald. The Saints passing defense has struggled over the past few weeks but a week off could help them big time. I see a high scoring contest similar to last week with Arizona having enough to win it.
Baltimore (+7) 24, Indianapolis 21
I may be picking the Ravens to win this game but a 45-10 Colts win would be the other way to go. The Colts could exploit a bad secondary all day but with Ed Reed back there now, making game changing plays as usual....I see the Ravens keeping it close and winning it. Both of these teams changed kickers during the year (Cundiff for Bal & Stover for Ind.), leading me to think that this one could come down to the kickers. These teams played a close, low scoring regular season game a few weeks back in Baltimore that Indianapolis won 17-15. The Ravens proved last week as well as last year that they are undaunted about going on the road as the #6 seed. Ray Rice (spelled by McGahee) should be able to keep the ball in the Ravens hands while also forcing Manning to stay on the sidelines. If this game comes down to Joe Flacco & his WR's making a big play, I wouldn't count on it. The Colts are at home but haven't played a meaningful game in weeks. Early rust along with a quick score by the Ravens could be just what the doctor ordered. Turnovers are always a key in playoff games and no team seems to get bigger ones than the Ravens. I see the Ravens intercepting Manning on the last drive of the game to pull the upset.
Vikings (-3) 31, Cowboys 14
This game is one that seems to have the Dallas bandwagon chugging along for most people. I don't see them going into the Metrodome and winning. Minnesota played as well as anybody in the league for a long stretch of this season. They were 8-0 at home. They have a RB that can't be matched in the league. Dallas mastered the Eagles & Redskins over the course of the last few weeks. Congratulations. Brett Favre has a tendency to lose close games in the playoffs so if this game stays close, Dallas' talented secondary could make a play to change the complexion of the game. Sidney Rice had a very underrated year as Favre's #1 target. Dallas' defense has been flying around and getting to the QB a lot the past few weeks. This will be the recipe for the upset but I believe Minnesota's offensive line is sick of hearing how badly they've played lately. They have talent (Hutchinson, Loadholt, McKinnie are all great players) and will prove it this week. The Vikings defense doesn't get much credit around the league but there are times when Jared Allen becomes unblockable. This week could be one of those games. Dallas looked all too comfortable at home last week but will be affected by the crowd noise in Minnesota. My sleeper player to have a big game is Bernard Berrian. He could catch a deep ball or two against this secondary and help the Vikings move on.
Chargers (-7.5) 34, Jets 21
Another close game that the experts seem to think the Jets can/will win. I don't. Phillip Rivers has played as well as anyone in the league this year. The Chargers are hot coming in and have played well at home. There's no real reason to think Mark Sanchez can ride in with 2 good RB's and a stout defense & walk out with the win. I see this game being a 2 TD game late with the Jets scoring one late to cut the lead for a backside cover (depending on how many points your getting....line was as high as 9 earlier this week). Thomas Jones is banged up a bit so we should see plenty of Shonn Greene, who played well last week. The Chargers defense gets criticized a lot but playing with an offense that gets you big leads early forces teams to throw the ball more often then you'd want. If the Jets can employ a similar strategy as the Ravens, keeping control of the clock with a good running game while keeping the Chargers off the scoreboard, they will have a chance to steal this one. I don't see it happening. "Revis Island" will get exploited for the first time this year with Vincent Jackson getting over 60 yards receiving. The Chargers seem destined to do it this year and should be ready for New York. Don't be surprised if they get a big lead to see this game end something like 41-21.
So my picks are Cards (+7), Ravens (+7), Vikings (-3) & Chargers (-7.5).