NFL Divisional Playoff Preview: Saturday

Arizona Cardinals at New Orleans Saints
4:30 pm ET

If last week’s wild card game between Arizona and Green Bay is any indication, the Cardinals are having a difficult time stopping the opposition. And when the opposition is the New Orleans Saints, who boast the top offense in the NFL, you have to believe this game today could get ugly. Pair that with the fact that the Cardinals racked up 51 points last Sunday against the NFL’s second ranked defense, and that New Orleans is 25th overall in team defense (26th against the pass), and there is more fuel to the shootout theory here. Of course, the game plan for each team should be to try and run the ball to control the clock, and if that’s the case, the Saints have a decided edge with their sixth ranked rushing attack. Remember, though, the key word in “game plan” is “plan,” because it’s not likely the Packers or Cards expected to play an arena league game last week. In other words, you can bet Kurt Warner and Drew Brees will wind up airing it out in this one, with those speedy receivers on both sides reducing the game to a track meet. And really, that’s how this game should be. As for the outcome, we’ll give the rested home team a slight edge. THE PICK: SAINTS 52, CARDINALS 49

Baltimore Ravens at Indianapolis Colts
8:15 pm ET

Speaking of rested players, there is going to be a mutiny in Indianapolis tonight if the Colts lose this game. Head coach Jim Caldwell and owner Bill Polian have been adamant about their belief that resting Peyton Manning and other regulars during most of the final two games, instead of pursuing a perfect 16-0 record, was the prudent thing to do. And while playing those guys would have been a huge risk (see Welker, Wes), you have to believe it was even riskier to not play them. Meanwhile, the Ravens, who come in with a solid ground game that is ranked fifth in the league, are just the kind of team that can give the Colts and their 24th ranked run defense fits anyway. John Harbaugh wants to run Ray Rice all day long and keep it away from Mr. Manning as much as possible, and he’d love to run the ball 52 times like he did against New England. When the Colts do have the ball, they are ranked dead last in rushing offense but second in passing. So guess what they’re gonna do? But the Ravens were in Tom Brady’s face all game last week, and you can expect Ray Lewis and company to try and do the same to Manning, who also has to worry about ball-hawking safety Ed Reed, voted Safety of the Decade earlier this week by USA Today. The Colts are extremely talented and didn’t win 14 games by accident, but that resting players thing is going to bite Caldwell and Polian in the butt. THE PICK: RAVENS 23, COLTS 20

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