NFL Divisional Round Preview: Part I

Before beginning my Divisional Round Preview(Saturday games), I just want to say one thing:

Since I started blogging, my life has been devoid of free-time and sleep. This is extremely problematic because I am on break from school until January 25th. My classes begin at 7:00 am in the morning, which is going to destroy my sleeping schedule. Here is a short list of the great things I am missing out on in order to keep this blog relatively fresh(and when I say “fresh” I mean new, not “fresh” as in the Prince of Bel Air, which is probably synonymous with “hip”):

  1. Sleep
  2. Over-sleeping
  3. Madden ’10
  4. Favorite non-sports TV shows
  5. Basketball(which is reduced now to once a week)
  6. Football(which was recently played for the first time in a month and a half)
  7. Family time
  8. Recreational internet use
  9. Movie-watching(the last time I went to the movies I re-watched the last movie I saw before that)
  10. Modern Warfare 2
  11. Playing Left 4 Dead 2, which I have only played twice since buying it November 17th
  12. Time with friends
  13. Both random errands that pop-up and long overdue errands
  14. Responding to a letter written to me on 12-20-2009
  15. 60% of the things recorded onto my DVR, including 6 movies, about 30 episodes of random shows I watch, and 3 missed Laker games
  16. Girls, girls, girls, girls, girl I do adore!

Sleep never looked so good, you lucky bastard!

Once again: if I didn’t love this, I wouldn’t do it.

Let’s go.

Arizona Cardinals @ New Orleans Saints

I will try to keep the Saturday previews short and concise, because I am writing this only hours before this game will air. I am conflicted on the scheduling of this round. This is clearly going to be the most exciting game. Easily. Entering the playoffs, it was clear by the teams that qualified that this is a quarterback driven league. This game epitomizes that montra more than any other.

Cardinal Kurt Warner will waltz into the Superdome  Saturday afternoon unscathed by anything the city of New Orleans will attempt to throw at him. The man has God on his side, in case you haven’t heard. Besides the big guy up stairs, he also has a pretty good receiver in Early Doucet. Oh, and that other guy with the dreads, #11. He’s kind of good. Sometimes…err, most of the time. Okay, all the damn time. Larry Fitzgerald tore up DPOY Charles Woodson in the Wild Card Round en route to a 51-45 overtime win against the Big Cheese(no, not the first villain from Resident Evil 4). Cardinal Kurt and his Arizonians are a battle-tested group, having won all their road games in last season’s playoffs. They were also 6-2 on the road this season, which was markedly better than their home efforts, much to the dismay of the fans.

Needless to say, I am a believer in Arizona. They made me look like a fool in my pre-season predictions, where I chose them to go 4-12. When I picked the Packers over them last week, I was not confident in my decision. I knew the Cardinals would come out hot, but the entire time the Packers were coming back I never thought they would tie it. I thought it would be a futile run that resulted in them losing a close but hard-fought battle. Well, that’s exactly what happened, but they lost this game after going into overtime poised to win thanks to a Field Goal shank and a lucky tails call on the coin flip. The Cardinals are for real. They can get hot at any moment, and they have mastered the proverbial “light-switch mentality.” If any team ever embodied this more, I have not seen it. And I’m a Laker fan, able to trace this way of thinking all the way back to the Lakers’ three-peat days.

The Cardinals are good. They’re really good. What they did to Green Bay was make them play Cardinal style football. Green Bay was great statistically on the defensive end. During the regular season, they boasted ranks of 7th in points allowed per game(18.6), 2nd in yards allowed(284.4), 5th in passing yards allowed(201.1), and 1st in rushing yards allowed(83.3). Arizona demolished their top-ranked defense. Most of the damage was done via air strikes, but they did indulge in the occasional ground war.

Drew Brees is one guy in the NFL I'd listen to if he said "You don't want it with me!"

New Orleans finished the season losers of three straight after rattling off 13 in a row. That’s impressive, no matter how you look at it. So far, though, 13 has proven unlucky, as it is the number they’ve stalled on. They’re favored by 7 points in this contest, but that’s more like 2 points in any other game(this one figures to be another shootout). I’m excited to see Drew Brees square off against a play-making defense and a great quarterback counter-part. Brees showed us why he’s the third best quarterback in the league this season with what he did to this offense(if you don’t know by now, Brady and Manning are ranked 1st and 2nd in my book). The entire playbook is built around Brees. The quartet of explosive receivers, headed by the mismatch-in-the-making Marques Colston, have all seen their numbers rise dramatically thanks to Brees. The New Orleans running backs have benefitted the most from his play, as he has shouldered the pressure and made their job easier. Their solid trio has done a good job finding the holes, dashing off screens, and picking up blitzes. With Brees, this offense has been clicking on all cylinders for the better part of 17 weeks.

The thing about New Orleans is they are very beatable. They’re almost a one-trick pony in that their offense is what propels them. They kind of remind me of the Manning-led Colts of 2002-2004. They would pack on season wins like they were holiday pounds, only to lose the ones that really mattered right about this time in the playoffs. New Orleans is only ranked in the top 20(of 32 NFL teams) in one defensive category, and that’s points allowed(21.3). On top of that, they haven’t had a blowout win since they stomped on New England in week 12(which also happens to be the same time they peaked as a unit). I don’t want to draw another comparison and relate them to last week’s Cincinnati Bengals, who grinded out enough wins to end up with the AFC North title. The Saints had multiple blowouts this season. The only problem is they occurred in the first half of the season. That means they haven’t played their best football in the past two months.

One of the writers at Realgm.com made a great point about a month ago(for the life of me I can’t find the article in the archive). He argued that even though certain teams are and were undefeated, they managed to do so by over-achieving. He listed the 2007 Patriots, who had a few close-calls against Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York. I’ll draw the same parallel, but to New Orleans(this is now my third comparison, mind you, even after saying I didn’t want to do this). New Orleans played extremely well the first 8 weeks, phenomenal the next 3 weeks, and then all but fell apart the remaining weeks. Case-in-point: they over-achieved. This unit is not built to withstand the entire grind of the season+post-season. They are a pass-first offense with a very fast defense that only plays well when it’s ahead and protecting the lead.

Seriously, their defense is fast. They can make plays, but only seem to do so when there isn’t any pressure on them to make critical stops or cause a crucial turnover. In the first 8 weeks, that wasn’t true. The last 8 weeks, that’s entirely true. Against St. Louis, Washington, Carolina, and Atlanta(twice), they lucked out. The offense of the other team gave them the game. I watched this happen. It frustrated the hell out of me because they played them so well the entire time, only to lose because of a bad play-call or mismanaged clock. Against Dallas and Tampa Bay(their two legitimate losses), the defense failed to make the plays when they mattered, even though the opposing offenses almost gift-wrapped the game(Dallas missed a chipshot field goal that would’ve sealed it after driving all the way down the field in the final three minutes).

New Orleans has over-achieved this season, and this Saturday, it might become obvious to everyone not named Anthony Michael Burrola. With all that said, you might think I’m leaning toward Arizona. Most likely because I said I’m a believer. Well, here’s the kicker: the only reason those teams were able to slow stick with New Orleans is because they slowed the game down. Against New Orleans, the best defense is time of possession. Control the clock, and you will have put yourself in a position to steal one against them. All the teams that nearly upset them did so by running the football and converting key third downs. You cannot, I repeat, CANNOT get in a shootout with New Orleans and expect to come out victorious.

Their defense may be flawed, but their offense more than makes up for it. They rank 1st in points scored per game(31.9) and total yards per game(403.8). They also rank 4th in passing yards per game with 272.2 per game. Even the guys on the other side of the ball lean on Drew Brees when the going gets tough. He more often than not bails them out, and if Arizona thinks they can come into New Orleans and trade blows with the expectation of it amounting to a win, they have another thing coming. Here’s my advice to Arizona: use Beanie Wells’ physical running style. If you do that, you can put Cardinal Kurt in a great position to help you steal one on the road.

Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening. The way the Cardinals defense played last week, I have waning confidence in their group as a whole. And really, can you blame me? Look, I know Arizona thrives on the underdog role. I know that they, more than any other team, surprise everyone with upset after upset. But, at the end of the day, it either has to stop or it has to result in a championship. They are not winning a championship this year(I’ve decided. They just can’t.), and I’m picking New Orleans as the setting for their final bout. It will be a barn-burner, but they won’t come out on top.

New Orleans wins, 41-33

By the way, if Arizona wins, do not think I will at all be surprised. This is what they do. Feel free to rub it in my face afterward, too. And so much for keeping it short. 1,756 words already. Jesus Christ.

Baltimore Ravens @ Indianapolis Colts

The entertainment meter really takes a dive for the Saturday night game. We go from Warner-Brees to Flacco-Manning. Don’t get me wrong. I love me some Peyton Manning. I just don’t like him against the Baltimore Ravens defense. Against almost any other opponent, his numbers are amazing. Against the Ravens, not so much.

The one thing that cannot be ignored: in their last 7 matchups, Baltimore is 0-7. They play Manning, who is the heart of Indianapolis, better than any defense in the league. Ray Lewis swears he knows what Manning is calling at the line, and his guys believe (in) him. With defensive studs like Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata backing him up, Lewis feels confident to talk whatever mess he wants to. I would too, to be honest. That’s like the real-life equivalent of me posturing at a guy like The Rock with Floyd Mayweather Jr. and The Big Show standing right behind me. Can you blame me for feeling invincible, even against a man with his pedigree(no, not the lame onslaught of family movies he’s accumulated over the past three years)?

Even though these teams are not in the same division, they still know each other pretty well. Indianapolis always stiffens that upper lip when the Ravens come to town, knowing full-well what kind of physical battle they’re in for. You can bet this weekend will be no different. Baltimore hasn’t won against Indy since 2001. I know, we said the same thing about the Patriots, and the Ravens spanked ’em in Foxborough. I think this is a little bit different. The Colts aren’t the Patriots. They have more dimensions to their offense than throwing the ball 70% of the time, so the Ravens will be on their toes. Their secondary is uniquely susceptable to giving up the big play, and the Colts are uniquely adept at manufacturing a big play when their life is on the line. Consider that a bad omen for Baltimore, as if the Ravens weren’t already a team built on bad omens(they’re named after Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem, and we all know how long his life lasted. All of 40 years. I’ve known turtles that lived longer.).

The Colts’ defense is not as bad as I originally thought it was. They start two young cornerbacks, but their pass-rush is amongst the most feared in all of football. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis(whose names bear a striking resemblance to the Boy Meets World characters, Mr. Feeny and Cory Matthews) are almost guaranteed to make Joe Flacco’s life a living hell. They manipulate the spin-move better than any other defender in all the land. Err, league. If Flacco thinks he can go 4/10 for less than 100 yards and beat a 14-2 Colts team, he has another thing coming. His only hope lies within the 5’7″ Ray Rice from Rutgers, who singlehandedly dominated the Patriots last week. I don’t think he’s in for an encore performance, but he could have an impact in the yards-after-catch facet of the game. Look out for him as he figures to make some defenders miss on screen plays or checkdown routes.

Look for the Ravens and Colts’ defensive units to put their stamp on this game, which promises to be about as ugly as Nikki Hilton. The offenses of both teams will be stalling more often than me when I first attempted to learn how to drive stick. It will result in countless nostalgic moments for the adults watching the game as they’ll be taken back to their younger years of playing “Redlight-Greenlight”. This is a game I could just as easily enjoy not watching, as it figures to have about 5 turnovers, 7 field goal attempts, and 3 total touchdowns.

Slight edge given to Indianapolis, for all of the above reasons.

Indianapolis wins, 20-13

Till next time.

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2 Responses to “NFL Divisional Round Preview: Part I”

  1. auburntigersfootball Says:

    i like your picks, but as always they differ. i think cardinals will win, but like you said..it could go either way. i also think the colts WILL LOSE to the jets. surprise surprise lol. Good post…i liked the list, made me laugh

  2. Anthony Burrola Says:

    Will lose to the Jets in the AFC Championship game? I want that matchup to be honest.

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