Arizona Cardinals (+7) @ New Orleans Saints - The Saints come into this game entirely healthy and well rested. The Cardinals come into this game on a short week and off of a very emotional overtime win against Green Bay in the wild card round last week. I do not expect Arizona to look sluggish or tired in this game, but I think the health and energy of the Saints will be much more than that of Arizona's. The Saints are coming off three straight losses, and that is not how Super Bowl teams end their regular season. But, the Saints were banged up and rested their players the last two games of the season in order to be in a good situation for today. Drew Brees has a very favorable matchup against the Cardinals secondary that got absolutely torched last week by Aaron Rodgers. Kurt Warner also has a favorable matchup against the Saints secondary as they were ranked 25th against the pass this season. In order for the Cardinals to win this game they have to put constant pressure on Drew Brees so that he is never comfortable in the pocket, they have to hit the Saints receivers at the line of scrimmage to force Brees to hold the ball longer than he would like, and they have to limit the success of the Saints running game. I am anticipating that the Saints will force the issue of running the ball in order to keep the Cardinals offense off the field. That being said, if the Cardinals can force the Saints into 3rd and 7 and 3rd and 9, I think the Cardinals have a great opportunity to give the Saints a scare. In order for the Saints to win they need to do three things; run the ball effectively, protect Brees in the pocket, and FORCE turnovers from Kurt Warner. I really think the Saints will come out flying and put some points up in their first drive. I like the home team in this matchup, in a close game.
PREDICTION: SAINTS 34 - CARDINALS 31
Baltimore Ravens (+7) @ Indianapolis Colts - Joe Flacco is banged up and with Freeney and Mathis coming after him all game, things won't get any easier for him. The Colts will stack with box all game to prevent the Ravens from having the success they had against New England. This will be a low scoring game as the Ravens defense will be all over the field and putting constant pressure on Peyton Manning. But, Peyton Manning will be behind center this week and I do not foresee the Ravens shutting down the two best quarterbacks of the decade in back to back playoff games. Manning is too good and too smart to be beaten at home with an extra week to prepare for this game. The Colts will have to run the ball in this game, they cannot pass it 50 times an expect the win. I think the Ravens will control the time of possession, but ultimately Flacco will have to come up with big 3rd down plays and I don't think his receivers are going to come through for him. I expect both teams to play physical, hard-nosed football and the Colts ground game to be the X-factor for Indy. If their ground game can gain positive yards and keep the defense aware of both the run and pass, Peyton Manning will have a huge edge in this matchup. I think Flacco will play better than last week, but one miss-fire will be the difference.
PREDICTION: COLTS 20 - RAVENS 16
Dallas Cowboys @ Minnesota Vikings (-3) - The Cowboys have everything going for them right now; Romo is on fire, Felix Jones is running better than ever, Miles "Awesome" is playing awesome, and the defense has been suffocating the past 4 games. That being said, they now come into Minnesota and have to face one of the best offenses in the NFL. The Vikings are just as good with the pass as they are with the run thanks to the breakout potential of Adrian Peterson. Peterson is due for a monster game as he sputtered the last half of the regular season. I expect the Vikings to use a heavy dosage of a well rested AP against the Cowboys defense in the attempt to make their pass plays more affective. Farve will utilize Peterson's rushing attack to keep the Cowboys D on an even keel in order to allow himself to have time to drop back and pass the ball without much pressure in his face. On the other side of things, the Cowboys have to be able to gain some yards with their run game. The Vikings are a phenomenal run defense but the Cowboys think they can run on them. So, unless Tony Romo wants to be seeing a lot of Jared Allen, expect the Cowboys to force the issue with the run. I really think we will be in store for a good game as both these teams are very physical and have offenses that are explosive. I expect the home field advantage to come into affect, the Vikings fans have been tremendous all season long.
PREDICTION: Minnesota 24 - Dallas 20
New York Jets (+8) @ San Diego Chargers - The best defense in the NFL takes on the best offense in the AFC when the Jets travel to San Diego this weekend. The Jets will have to literally SHUT DOWN the Chargers in order to keep this game within reach. I think the Chargers are too explosive and have too much of an edge in special teams to not win this game. That being said, the Chargers defense can be run on and if the Jets are able to have success, like they have all year, expect the Chargers offense to be off the field during the Jets long drives. Mark Sanchez will be a non-factor in this game as New York will run, run, and run some more. The Chargers will have to prevent the Jets from getting touchdowns in the red zone as well as taking advantage of Sanchez anytime he drops back to pass. Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates should fare well against the Jets as I expect Gates to be lined up against a linebacker or a nickle back all throughout the game. The Chargers are the hottest team in the NFL, and their defense has been consistently getting better during this long win streak. I don't think the Jets have enough offense to win this game.
PREDICTIONS: San Diego 20 - Jets 13