Coaches always say the fear of losing is a greater motivator than the joy of winning. I think this applies to what makes sports dramatic as well. Losing the Super Bowl isn't nearly as heart-wrenching as losing your first playoff game in the divisional round. The 2007 Patriots, while losing the Super Bowl in about as gut wrenching fashion as possible, still won the AFC title that season. On the other hand, the Kansas City Chiefs went 13-3 and had a first round bye in the playoffs twice in the nineties under Marty Schottenheimer, and twice they lost. Ask their fans if they would trade both those seasons for just one loss in the Super Bowl and I think it'd be a no-brainer. Alot of things just went right for your team to get eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, maybe even fifteen and sixteen wins, and to waste that by not even winning one home playoff game is about as depressing as sports fandom gets.
So, now that the stakes are set, lets look at the games.
Arizona Cardinals at New Orleans Saints 4:30 Saturday FOX
So Arizona saw their twenty-one point fourth quarter lead evaporate to the Green Bay Packers, yet they still sneaked by the Green Bay Packers on a blown call in overtime, in the meantime giving up forty-five points, thirty five of them while protecting a lead in the second half. Now this week they face virtually the same offense, only more varied with more weapons in the New Orleans, and do I think the Cardinals will win? No, I don't think the Cardinals will win.
Its been the opinion of many a football pundit, that perhaps because the Saints were up so much during the year, their defense could take more chances, play downhill, and thats why they had the success they did. Maybe so, but if Arizona plays defense like they did last sunday against a better offense, I don't think it will matter. I like New Orleans.
Baltimore Ravens at Indianapolis Colts 8:00 Saturday CBS
Apparently, the New England Patriots are the new "Sick man of Europe". 'They rolled over and died last sunday', 'they should've kept at least one veteran on that defense among the departures of Vrabel, Bruschi, Harrison and Seymour', 'Tom Brady just didn't look right'. Maybe these are all true, but give John Harbaugh and the Ravens some credit. They've done something nobody else has ever done: They were the first ever team to defeat the Patriots in their first playoff game under Belichick and Brady.
A couple of weeks ago, I wondered to myself as the Ravens were struggling to get past the Oakland Raider and clinch the playoff berth if maybe the Ravens aren't as good as they think they are. Last week, I didn't see the team thats tripped over itself for much of this season, I saw the team that went into Nashville last year and defeated the 13-3 Tennessee Titans.
One thing I'm sure of however, is that this years Indianapolis Colts are better than last year's Tennessee Titans. Not by alot, but it is a more daunting task for the Ravens this year to go into the dome in Indy and win than it was to go to Nashville last year and win.
If theres something Baltimore can rally around, its the fact that Peyton Manning is 0-3 when his Colts have a first round bye. Think about that, Peyton Manning has wasted three great years from the Colts by not even winning one playoff game. 'Course, theres that whole resting starters controversy the Colts have to answer to as well. And then theres the fact that the last playoff game we saw the Colts in at home, they got thoroughly whipped by the Chargers minus Rivers, LT and Antonio Gates, plus plenty of generous calls from the refs, and the Colts still couldn't pull the game out in the end.
Just thinking about it, this may be the most important game in Manning's career since the Super Bowl. With that, I still like Indy, by a hair, if that much.
Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings 1:00 Sunday FOX
Forget Romo, forget Favre, forget Witten. Virtually every one on one matchup is a wash for these two teams, except for one, actually two. How about the Cowboys Outside linebacking pair of Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer going against the Vikings tackles of Bryant Mckinnie on the left side and Phil Loadholt on the right side.
Both Mckinnie and Loadholt are big and powerful human beings, and sometimes they sacrifice technique for power. I asked my buddy, a former college football lineman to take a look at Phil Loadholt when he was at Oklahoma at last year. One thing stood out to him: He's powerful, but he relies on his upper body too much, and doesn't fully utilize his entire body. I'm sure Loadholt will face both Ware and Spencer at times on sunday, and if he hasn't corrected some of his technique problems, he'll have a very long day. As for McKinnie, his play has been so poor the last couple of weeks, I'll be the first one to call Bryant Mckinnie out as somebody who made the Pro Bowl on reputation alone.
To me the discrepancy in talent between Spencer and Ware against Mckinnie and Loadholt is too hard for me to overlook. I like Dallas.
New York Jets at San Diego Chargers 4:30 Sunday CBS
Last year, during the Baltimore Ravens playoff run, I couldn't get over just how well Safety Jim Leonhard was playing. He seemed to know where every play was going, and he used his above average speed to make those plays. All the while, being the steady, reliable player that allowed Ed Reed to freelance, and be, well, Ed Reed. Well, when his defensive coordinator in Baltimore, Rex Ryan, became the head coach of the New York Jets, one of the free agents Ryan insisted the Jets open their wallets for was Leonhard. So far the move has paid off, the Jets had the best defense in football, and CB's Darelle Revis and Lito Shephard, and Safeties Kerry Rhoades and Jim Leonhard make up one of the best secondaries in the league.
I don't know how, I don't know where, I don't know when, but Jim Leonhard will make a big impactful play during this football game.
Now that I got that out of my system, Norv Turner has won three playoff games in the two previous seasons as head coach of the Chargers. I expect after sunday, for that number to jump to four playoff wins the past three seasons. Even with a spirited effort from the Jets defense, I expect the Chargers to still put up points that the run-heavy Jets offense won't be able to much. I like the Chargers, and probably like them to come out of the AFC.