|Connelly’s Top Ten: Red Sox Need DeflateGate Back||Willie McGinest gets voted into the Patriots Hall of Fame||Houston Texans (And Some Former Patriots) to be Featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks||Regarding Paul Pierce’s (Potentially) Impending Free Agency|
Well, the Patriots might be out of the running for a Super Bowl appearance, but there are still eight other teams going strong. Four teams in each conference will be matched up this weekend to see if they have what it takes to get to their championship game. Expect everything, including the kitchen sink, being thrown around. It’s football at it’s best and beginning this Saturday, expect some classic NFL games.
New Orleans seemed to be the best team in the NFL. They rolled off 13 straight wins behind the best offense in football, led by Drew Brees, and a surprising defense, featuring Darren Sharper. They flirted with perfection until Week 15 when they lost to Dallas. Then, they dropped two games to non-playoff teams in Tampa Bay and Carolina. They are in the middle of a tailspin, but perhaps the week off will suit them well.
Arizona is coming off one of the greatest playoff performances of all time. In a Wild Card battle with Green Bay, The Cardinals went touchdown for touchdown, before a Karlos Dansby returned a fumble from Aaron Rogers in overtime to seal a 51-45 win. Kurt Warner has found the fountain of youth and, with Larry Fitzgerald at his side, will need to air it out if they want to outlast The Saints.
If Arizona thought last week was a touchdown bonanza, they haven’t seen anything yet. These two teams know how to hit the long ball and both have defenses that give up the big plays. The Warner-Brees battle could be one for the ages and this game might be seen next week on ESPN Classic. The real battle would be the wide receivers for each team. Will Fitgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breston be able to out-duel Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem and Jeremy Shockey? We will find out Saturday. New Orleans 42 – Arizona 39.
Minnesota brought in Brett Favre for one reason: to get the Vikings to the Super Bowl. The Vikings won ten of their first eleven games before a string of losses made them seem human. Adrian Peterson was over shadowed by his fellow running backs around the league (Chris Johnson), but his 1,383 yards and 18 touchdowns make him a threat on any day. Still, this team is not one-dimensional. Jared Allen and his 14.5 sacks on passing downs have allowed Minnesota to have the second best rushing defense in the league. Favre might have been the missing piece for the team, but he is not the only reason the Vikings are here.
Dallas is good. Scary good. Tony Romo has finally emerged as a top tier quarterback. Dallas has one of the best wide receiving tandems with Miles Austin and Jason Witten and two strong running backs with Marion Barber and Felix Jones. Their defense is getting better each week. Men like Keith Brooking, Ken Hamlin, Terence Newman, and of course, DeMarcus Ware have made the Cowboys the scariest team in the playoffs. They steamrolled over Philadelphia during the last two weeks and now they hope to put Brett Favre into another retirement.
As I said before, Dallas is scary good. As long as Tony Romo is playing at the top of his game, they are unstoppable. If Minnesota gets pressure on him right away, then Minnesota might have a chance. The match-up to watch will be big Flozell Adams versus Jared Allen. If Flozell can potect Romo like he has in the previous weeks, the the Vikings will have no chance. Dallas 24 – Minnesota 13
The Colts were so close to being the second team in the last three seasons to go perfect. No one expected that with a new head coach (Jim Caldwell) and the loss of a star wide receiver (Marvin Harrison) that the Colts would be making a push for history. Then something happened. They pulled Peyton Manning and other stars out of games early, and dopped two straight to end the season. We have seen this before. In 2005 and 2007, the Colts locked up homefield advantage early, took a break, then lost in the divisional round. Last year, they couldn’t catch Tennessee, slacked off, and lost in the Wild Card. They are hoping history doesn’t repeat itself, but those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
The Ravens were not on anyone’s radar this postseason. Then, Ray Rice went for 159 yards against New England as Baltimore coasted to a 33-14 win. Joe Flacco only threw for 34 yards, but the defense ensured a Ravens victory by hitting receivers hard and making any Brady error a costly interception. The Ravens are banged up. Joe Flacco has leg problems and the defense seems to be a hodgepodge of secondary players. Still, they seem to like being the underdog and would love to make the Colts understand that defense wins championships. Sorry Peyton.
This is the battle for Baltimore. For those who didn’t know, The Baltimore Colts were once an NFL powerhouse and played in one of the greatest games of all time, the 1958 NFL Championship. Then in March of 1984, the Colts packed everything up and in left for Indianapolis in the cover of night, like cowards. It was not until 1996 that the Ravens came and brought football back to Baltimore. Baltimore got the last laugh when they won Super Bowl XXXV, after only four years in operation. A statue of Colts legend Johnny Unitas is outside the Ravens stadium, remembering history. They could be the greatest rivalry in football that no one talks about. The fans are bitter towards each other and it will show Saturday. The Colts might have the pedigree, but the Ravens have a great defense and that should be what matters in the playoffs. Baltimore 27 – Indianapolis 10.
Is there any hotter team in the league, that gets hardly any coverage, then the San Diego Chargers? They are in the middle of an 11-game winning streak. They have one of the best quarterbacks in the league with Philip Rivers. LaDainian Tomlinson may not be the great runner he once was, but has done enough to keep the Chargers going with 12 touchdowns. San Diego’s defense has been a great team, not individual efforts. Eric Weddle and Quentin Jammer have given the Chargers a dangerous secondary. The Chargers know how to win and expect to keep going against the Jets.
New York was supposed to be out of this, well that was according to Rex Ryan after a Week 15 loss. Since then, they have rattled off three wins, including two straight against the Bengals to keep their Super Bowl dreams alive. After a midseason stumble, Mark Sanchez is looking to be mistake-free and help the Jets into the AFC Championship game. However, the Jets offense runs through Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene, who have combined for nearly 2,000 yards. On the other side of the ball, there is Darrelle Revis, Shaun Ellis, Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Kerry Rhodes and a slew of other defenders who have made the Jets the most feared defense in the playoffs. They are the sexy pick for football analysts and a win in San Diego will validate those thoughts.
The Jets seem capable of beating any team, anywhere. Their keys to victory will be to not let Mark Sanchez decide the game. Letting Thomas Jones carry the load might be the only offense the Jets need. However, the Chargers are getting no respect. They will come out guns blazing and make an impact this week. It’s a shame when a team has to be playing in the divisional round before others take notice. San Diego 30 – New York 17.