Posts Tagged ‘Joe Flacco’

This almost had to happen didn’t it?  The Ravens and Steelers battered and bruised their way to identical 12-4 records.  They split their two meetings, with each team winning on the road.  And before, during and after the season many folks had Baltimore and Pittsburgh identified as NFL championship contenders.  On Saturday, they’ll meet one more time to settle the AFC North score for the 2010 season.

Joe Flacco

Joe Flacco's poise under pressure will be a key to the Ravens beating the Steelers on Saturday.

Baltimore comes into the game after an impressive Wild Card win in Kansas City.  The Ravens dominated the time of possession, held the Chiefs to just 161 total yards and forced five turnovers.

Pittsburgh had a bye last week by virtue of winning the AFC North and clinching the two seed in the AFC.  The key to the Steelers success throughout the season was their stellar defense, which was second in the NFL in allowing only 276.8 yards per game. 

The Ravens win if: Joe Flacco makes quick reads and finds the open man.  Flacco showed great poise in the pocket against the Chiefs and had the patience to let the underneath routes develop.  Obviously pass protection will be key as well.

The Steelers win if: The offensive line wins their individual battles.  To stop the Ravens from teeing off on Ben Roethlisberger Pittsburgh will have to mix the run and pass with success.  The Steelers line will have to drive the Ravens front seven off the line of scrimmage while giving Roethlisberger the time to look for Mike Wallace.

Who do I like: Ravens 14-13

Why: I think you can throw the fact that the Steelers have won the last six matchups against the Ravens with Roethlisberger in the lineup out the window.  What I think this game will come down to is emotion and motivation.  I think the Ravens will rally around the grief that Ed Reed is experiencing right now and be absolutely determined to win this game for him.  I think the game will come down to a last minute defensive stop by the Ravens after they get Ray Rice involved early.

How do you see this brutal battle playing out?  Let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Photo source: swiecicki


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Week 12 in the NFL was highlighted by two huge matchups of NFC contenders.  In week 13 it’s the AFC’s turn.  In divisional rematches from earlier in the season the Steelers invade Baltimore to take on the Ravens and the Jets will battle the Patriots in New England.

Pittsburgh Steelers Gnome

Expect the Steeler Gnome to be partying again on Sunday night

It was back in week four when the Steelers and Ravens first met and Baltimore handed Pittsburgh their first loss of the season.  That was of course while Ben Roethlisberger was suspended.  But since Roethlisberger joined the team the Steelers have not exactly been the juggernaut many expected them to be.  They lost to their two toughest opponents (New Orleans and New England) and they barely beat Miami and Buffalo.

The Ravens had their own close affair with the Bills.  Like Pittsburgh, Baltimore needed overtime to beat Buffalo.  The Ravens have not been the dynamic offensive team I expected them to be in 2010.  They currently rank just 16th in the NFL in passing and 14th in rushing.

The Steelers win if: They can use the short pass to set up the long pass.  Even though the stats say the Ravens have the eighth best pass defense in the NFL there are still many doubts about the quality of their secondary.  Roethlisberger needs to hit the short routes first to get the safeties to creep up and then go deep with Mike Wallace.

The Ravens win if: They give Joe Flacco time in the pocket.  That will not be an easy task.  While Baltimore has done a fair job of protecting the passer, Pittsburgh is tied for the second most sacks in the NFL.  I’ve seen Michael Oher play quite a bit this season and I am not at all confident in his ability to lock down the left side.

Who do I like: Steelers 23-20

Why: In the Steelers’ two losses since the first meeting with the Ravens, both teams have thrown the ball for more than 300 yards, protected their quarterback and gotten to Roethlisberger.  I don’t see Flacco throwing the ball for 300 yards in this game.  He has not taken quite the leap I expected him to so far this season.  I think the Steelers linebackers will be able to hit Flacco early and often.  And rushing the passer is not a strength for the Ravens.  They are currently ranked 26th in the NFL with just 19 sacks.  Knowing they need the win, I expect the Steelers to be supremely motivated and run onto enemy turf to score a victory.

Who do you like in this AFC heavyweight battle?  Post your thoughts in the comments section below.

Photo source: daveynin

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Since it took me a while to put together my NFL quarterback production ratings I’ll be previewing just the top three most important games of week nine.  At number three I’ve got:

Miami Dolphins at Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, 1:00 pm

One of the more interesting teams in the NFL this year, the Dolphins are 4-3 having won all four games on the road and lost all three games at home.  They’ve done most everything good but nothing great and are coming off a win at Cincinnati, a place where the Ravens lost earlier this season.

Ravens vs. Bills October 24, 2010

More of Ray Rice may be just what the doctor ordered for the Ravens

Baltimore is coming off their bye week.  They started the season 5-2 but their last win was a nail biter at home over Buffalo.  The Ravens pass defense has been better than expected, ranking ninth in the NFL.  That’s especially impressive because unlike most Baltimore teams this group’s pass rush has been poor.  They only have 12 sacks, putting them 24th overall in the NFL.

The Dolphins win if:  They get more than 100 yards on the ground.  In their four wins they’ve beat that number.  In their three losses they’ve run for fewer than 100.

The Ravens win if:  Joe Flacco can distribute the ball to Baltimore’s many weapons through the air.  Miami can get a good push on the pass rush so the Ravens will have to mix short, medium and long routes.

Who do I like:  Ravens 20-13

Why: With Haloti Ngata in the middle Baltimore should be able to slow down the Miami running game.  I think the Ravens went in to the game against the Bills just thinking they could go through the motions, get a win and have a week off.  After barely pulling it out I think they’ve been stewing on the memory of that game and will come out ready to make a statement.  They should also be helped by a more healthy Ray Rice who’s been battling injuries most of the season.

Do you think the Ravens will break the Dolphins road winning streak?  Let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Photo source: lswiecicki

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The NFL is a quarterback-driven league.  Most often, the teams with the best quarterbacks are the teams that have the best records.  This is especially true in today’s pass happy NFL.  In the past couple of decades it has been a very rare occasion that a team without a star quarterback has won the Super Bowl.

Lombardi Trophies

You need a great QB to win one of these

So at the halfway point of the 2010 NFL season what teams have gotten the most out of the quarterback position?

  1. Indianapolis Colts – Peyton Manning
    Without much run support and with an average offensive line at best, Manning has led the Colts to a 5-2 record while throwing 15 touchdowns and only two interceptions.  He’s also made the most of an injury-plagued receiving corps.  Even though he may have lost a tick he’s still the elite quarterback in the NFL.
  2. San Diego Chargers – Philip Rivers
    Although he’s not one of my favorites, Rivers deserves his props.  While his team has struggled to a 3-5 start he’s been steady, leading the NFL with an average of 331 yards passing per game.  Like Manning, he’s had to deal with a receiving corps that’s been decimated by injury.  Still, he’s put up the third best quarterback rating (98.9) in the NFL through the first eight weeks.
  3. Denver Broncos – Kyle Orton
    Orton’s been nothing less than spectacular for the Broncos.  He’s second to Rivers in averaging 314 yards per game.  He’s thrown 12 touchdowns with only five interceptions against defenses that have not had to respect the Denver running game at all.
  4. New England Patriots – Tom Brady
    Efficiency is the key for Brady.  He’s completed 65% of his passes.  He’s thrown 12 touchdowns with only four interceptions.  But, he’s averaging only 229 yards passing per game.  Maybe most importantly though he’s led New England to the best record in the NFL.
  5. New Orleans Saints – Drew Brees
    He’s thrown a frightening 11 interceptions but Brees has also completed 71% of his passes and has thrown a league leading 16 touchdowns while trying to make up for the loss of the Saints top two running backs.
  6. Atlanta Falcons – Matt Ryan
    Ryan’s quiet consistency has been a key to Atlanta’s 5-2 start.  He’s thrown 12 touchdowns and five interceptions while completing 62% of his passes for an average of 245 yards per game.
  7. Philadelphia Eagles – Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb
    Combined Vick and Kolb have thrown for 12 touchdowns with only four interceptions.  They’ve completed nearly 63% of their passes.  Two of the Eagles three losses have come when one of the quarterbacks were knocked out of the game.  With two quarterbacks with such differing skill sets as Vick and Kolb it is hard to adjust the game plan on the fly if one has to substitute for the other.
  8. Tennessee Titans – Vince Young and Kerry Collins
    The Titans have not exactly been racking up the yards through the air.  They rank 24th in the NFL at 187.6 yards passing per game.  But Young and Collins have combined for 14 touchdowns and five interceptions while helping Tennessee start the season at 5-3.
  9. Houston Texans – Matt Schaub
    Schaub has been steady but not spectacular and has not matched up to his 2009 season.  He’s completing 63% of his passes but only has 10 touchdowns compared to six interceptions.
  10. Baltimore Ravens – Joe Flacco
    Playing against top competition gets Flacco the benefit of the doubt.  His numbers are just okay – 59% completion percentage, 10 touchdowns, six interceptions and 236 yards passing per game.
  11. New York Giants – Eli Manning
    His 11 interceptions send off sirens, but in fairness to Manning many of them went through his receivers hands or were tipped.  Otherwise, he’s completing an excellent 66% of his passes while throwing 14 touchdowns and averaging 255 yards per game.
  12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson
    Freeman has a very impressive six 4th quarter comebacks in just 16 starts, including two in a row.  He’s only thrown three interceptions to eight touchdowns while leading the Bucs to a 5-2 record.
  13. Kansas City Chiefs – Matt Cassel
    He hasn’t lost games for the Chiefs but he really hasn’t won games for them either.  He does have a respectable 10 touchdowns and three interceptions.  He’s only completing 59% of his passes though while throwing for 171 yards per game.
  14. Detroit Lions – Shaun Hill, Matthew Stafford and Drew Stanton
    The trio has combined for 14 touchdowns and an average of more than 250 yards per game.  To the negative they’ve thrown nine interceptions.
  15. Green Bay Packers – Aaron Rodgers
    It’s hard to believe that Rodgers could be this low but he’s thrown nine interceptions to only 12 touchdowns while completing 61% of his passes for an average of 251 yards per game.
  16. Cincinnati Bengals – Carson Palmer
    He was pretty atrocious early on but Palmer has rallied some through the middle of the season.  He has 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
  17. Pittsburgh Steelers – Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon
    Roethlisberger’s four game suspension necessitated the starts for Batch and Dixon.  Roethlisberger has played quite well but their production at the position in the first four games was putrid.
  18. Jacksonville Jaguars – David Garrard, Todd Bouman, Trent Edwards and Luke McCown
    This foursome has thrown 15 touchdowns while completing nearly 64% of their passes.  The key contributor of course has been Garrard who has completed 68% of his passes for 13 touchdowns.  But his interceptions are high (7) and his yards per game are low (157).
  19. Miami Dolphins – Chad Henne
    As he continues to find his rhythm with Brandon Marshall, Henne is developing into a solid NFL quarterback.  He’s completed 63% of his passes for an average of 238 yards per game.  Interceptions have been his achilles heel.  He has seven, compared to eight touchdowns.
  20. New York Jets – Mark Sanchez
    He’s a polarizing figure among NFL talking heads and Sanchez has probably seen more ups and downs than any other quarterback in the league.  His nine touchdowns to four interceptions ratio is good but he’s only completed 53% of his throws for an average of 194 yards per game.
  21. St. Louis Rams – Sam Bradford
    As I’ve written before, one thing is for sure, when he actually has some weapons Bradford is going to be nasty.  The fact that he’s led the Rams to four wins in eight games counts for a lot.  He’s already thrown 11 touchdowns.  His eight interceptions are not good nor is his 59% completion percentage.  However, much of that can be put on that receiving corps.
  22. Buffalo Bills – Ryan Fitzpatrick and Trent Edwards
    There’s a lot to like about Fitzpatrick.  He’s thrown 12 touchdowns to just five interceptions.  He’s completed 60% of his passes for 240 yards per game.  But the outings of Edwards have to count here and so does the Bills 0-7 record.
  23. Dallas Cowboys – Tony Romo and Jon Kitna
    Maybe this isn’t fair to Romo.  After all he did complete nearly 70% of his passes, threw 11 touchdowns and had numerous drops by receivers.  But Romo also threw some critical interceptions, Kitna has been less than mediocre and the Cowboys are 1-6.
  24. Oakland Raiders – Jason Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski
    Campbell and Gradkowski have combined to throw 10 touchdowns and average 197.5 passing yards per game.  Their interceptions are high (8) and their completion percentage is low (54.8) but they have led the Raiders to four wins.
  25. Washington Redskins – Donovan McNabb
    It pains me to put McNabb this low but the stats are the stats.  He’s only completing 57% of his passes and has thrown eight interception to seven touchdowns.
  26. San Francisco 49ers – Alex Smith, Troy Smith and David Carr
    Across the pond the 49ers got a good performance from Troy Smith.  Alex Smith has been mediocre at best, completing 59% of his throws for nine touchdowns and nine interceptions.  Carr was predictably awful in a short relief stint.
  27. Seattle Seahawks – Matt Hasselbeck
    The Seahawks are 4-3 but Hasselbeck has played predominantly poorly.  He’s completed only 57% of his passes.  He also has seven interceptions to just six touchdowns.
  28. Minnesota Vikings – Brett Favre and Tavaris Jackson
    It’s hard to believe Favre is the same guy who threw 33 touchdowns and only seven interceptions last season.  He’s already thrown 11 interceptions through seven games with only seven touchdowns.
  29. Cleveland Browns – Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace and Jake Delhomme
    I’ve been saying this for years – Delhomme is just plain awful.  Wallace has been decent and McCoy has been okay in managing games.
  30. Chicago Bears – Jay Cutler and Todd Collins
    Collins set quarterback play back centuries in just one game.  Cutler has been brutalized but is completing 61% of his passes and averaging 247 yards through the air per game.  He’s evened up at seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.
  31. Arizona Cardinals – Derek Anderson and Max Hall
    These two have been atrocious.  They’ve combined to complete less than 53% of their passes and have thrown 12 interceptions with five touchdowns.
  32. Carolina Panthers – Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen
    After the past few years Panthers fans are used to poor performances at quarterback.  This season they are at an all time low though.  Moore and Clausen have thrown a league-worst 13 interceptions and have completed 52.2% of their passes, also worst in the NFL. 

What do you think of my list?  Who would you rank higher and who would you rank lower?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Photo source: daveynin

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While there were still some surprising results, this Sunday was nothing like the muddled mess of last Sunday in the NFL.  I’m not sure there will be a point at all this season where we will be able to say that we understand the true NFL pecking order, at least not with real confidence or without having to eat those words a week or two later. 

As the Colts and Redskins are playing, here are the Average Guy’s NFL Week Six Awards:

Most Impressive Win

Philadelphia Eagles – 31-17 over the Atlanta Falcons

Philadelphia Eagles slogan

Today was a great day for Eagles fans.

Most Important Win

Minnesota Vikings – 24-21 besting the Dallas Cowboys

Worst Loss

Chicago Bears – 20-23 at home to the Seattle Seahawks

Biggest Surprise

St. Louis Rams

Biggest Disappointment

Dallas Cowboys

They Are Who We Thought They Were

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Offensive MVP

Kevin Kolb, Philadelphia Eagles – 23 completions 29 attempts 326 yards 3 TDs 1 interception 133.6 QB rating

Defensive MVP

Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins – 3 sacks 6 QB hits

Special Teams MVP

Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings – 95-yard kickoff return for a TD

Most Surprising Performance

Deion Branch, New England Patriots – 9 receptions 98 yards 1 TD

Most Disappointing Performance

Atlanta Falcons defense – 474 total yards 320 passing yards 154 rushing yards 1 sack

Offensive Rookie

Chris Ivory, New Orleans Saints – 15 carries 158 yards 1 reception 17 yards

Defensive Rookie

Jermaine Cunningham, New England Patriots – 1 sack 6 tackles

Most Impressive Performance in a Loss

Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens – 27 completions 35 attempts 285 yards 2 TDs 119.3 QB rating

Welcome Back Mike Williams

Mike Williams, Seattle Seahawks – 10 receptions 123 yards

Quick Takes

  • I watched almost all of the Ravens-Patriots game.  I was impressed with the Ravens early and the Patriots late.  In the second half the Pats had their offense running on all cylinders.  I think they take pride in having a bunch of “no-names” tearing up defenses, so the trade of Randy Moss puts them in that situation.  NFL defenses better look out.
  • It’s abundantly clear that New England also has a lot of young talent on defense.  They essentially started four 2010 draft picks today.  They are going to experience growing pains this season, but if they can mature by the playoffs the rest of the NFL is really going to be in trouble.
  • The Bears took a bad loss at home against the Seahawks.  Their 0-12 performance on third downs had a lot to do with it.
  • There’s been a lot of talk this week about concerns with the Packers because of their long injury list.  They really missed their sack machine Clay Mathews today.  Green Bay had zero sacks against Miami.
  • I am shocked, okay make it incredibly shocked, that the Rams had seven sacks today.  After laying a colossal egg at Detroit last week I’m really impressed with the way they came back against the Chargers.
  • A very productive running game was a huge asset today for the Saints.  They gouged Tampa Bay for 212 yards on 32 carries.  New Orleans also converted nine of 12 third downs.
  • If you told me that the Vikings defense would not get a single sack today I would have told you that there’s no way they could win the game.  Yet, they didn’t, and they did.

One BIG Question

Are the Cowboys done?  They are 1-4 overall, 0-2 in their division, two and a half games behind the Giants and Eagles, and have a huge problem with penalties and turnovers.  In their next four games they play the Giants twice and go to Green Bay.

What are your thoughts on week six?  Who impressed or disappointed you?  Let me know by posting a comment below.

Photo source: mel_rowling

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Last year the AFC North was truly a battle of elite defenses.  With three of the top five ranked defensive units in the NFL it was not easy to generate yardage against the Bengals, Steelers or Ravens.  The battle for the top of the division in 2010 will be no less bloody.

Division Winner

Baltimore Ravens

There is concern about the Ravens defensive backfield, and rightfully so.  Already a thin unit, they’ve lost Domonique Foxworth for the season and leader Ed Reed for an undetermined amount of time.  The key to success for the Baltimore defense will be their ability to generate a pass rush and protect the d-backs.  After losing 25 pounds in the offseason, I think Terrell Suggs will be back in that speed rushing role that will lead to much more pressure on the quarterback.  I really like the Ravens offense.  With wide receivers who can actually catch the ball, I think Joe Flacco takes a step toward elite status.

Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens

Is this the NFC North MVP?

Most Valuable Player

Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens

After that last sentence it should be no surprise that I’m choosing Flacco for MVP.  The addition of Anquan Boldin will be a huge asset for him.  I watched the Ravens play a fair amount last year and one of my lasting memories of those games is that their receivers always seemed to drop the ball.  By bringing in Boldin, Donte’ Stallworth and two rookie tight ends that specialize in catching the ball Baltimore has really enhanced the potential of their passing game.

Most Important Player

Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh Steelers

This division has two of the best safeties in the NFL and quite possibly two of the best to ever play the game.  Polamalu’s leadership and ball hawking ability were sorely missed during the 11 games he was out last year.  For the Steelers to contend for the division they are going to need their defense to be in the top two or three in the NFL.  The key to that happening is Polamalu being on the field.

Offensive Player of the Year

Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens

Another person who will benefit by the improved personnel in the Ravens passing game is Rice.  While his receiving numbers may go down slightly, his ability to find openings in opposing defenses should multiply now that they will have to give much more respect to the Ravens’ ability to move the ball through the air.

Defensive Player of the Year

LaMarr Woodley, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers

This one was a tough call.  I debated between picking Woodley or Suggs.  Ultimately I chose Woodley because I think Aaron Smith returning to health and the growth of Lawrence Timmons will lead to more opportunities for Woodley and James Harrison to disrupt offenses.  Over the last two seasons Woodley has 11.5 and 13.5 sacks.  I would not be surprised to see that number continue to grow along that trajectory.

Top Newcomer

Anquan Boldin, WR, Baltimore Ravens

Boldin is a huge addition to the Ravens’ offense.  In four of the last five seasons he has had at least 80 receptions and 1,000 yards.  He also has 35 touchdowns in that period of time.  Boldin adds a whole new dimension to the Baltimore passing game, a true go-to guy, and will be a big factor in the growth of Flacco.

Top Rookie

Montario Hardesty, RB, Cleveland Browns

At six feet tall and 225 pounds, Hardesty has a more traditional look of a running back than the projected starter for the Browns, Jerome Harrison.  The second round pick’s speed and size should give him a good chance to at least split duties with Harrison, if not get a majority of the carries.

Most Improved

Lawrence Timmons, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers have a long history of stellar linebackers and Timmons is positioned to take his place as the next one.  Ankle injuries slowed him down greatly last year, but his athleticism combined with the mentoring of James Farrior and Larry Foote should help him take a leap up in 2010.

Most Pressure

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

After a tumultous offseason, Roethlisberger goes into the season serving a suspension that is likely to be four games but could be as long as six.  The glow had already started to wear off of Big Ben during last season as information started coming out that he was not the best of teammates.  While the Rooneys quickly jettisoned Santonio Holmes for his indiscretions, they held on to Roethlisberger.  He has a lot to prove in 2010 after letting his teammates and the franchise down by already being suspended for at least a quarter of the season.  And he’ll have to do it with a weaker receiving corps.

Biggest Loss

Santonio Holmes, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Speaking of Santonio Holmes, I believe he’s the biggest loss in the division.  Last year was Holmes’ finest season as a pro.  He caught 79 passes for 1,248 yards and five touchdowns.  Those are tough numbers to replace.  You’ve got to figure age is going to catch up with Hines Ward and you have to wonder how much of the success Mike Wallace had last year was due to the presence of Holmes as a bigger threat.  Behind those two the Steelers have another aging veteran (Antwaan Randle El) and a bunch of unproven youngsters.

How do you think the NFC North will play out in 2010?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Photo source: jeffweese

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Well what can I say.  Going 0 for 4 is really quite special.  Last weekend did not go as I expected.  I give a lot of credit to the four winning teams.  The Jets offensive game plan worked perfectly.  The Cowboys looked especially tough on defense.  The Ravens started strong and never stopped.  The Cardinals showed a great deal of heart.  Will any of it translate into continued momentum?  Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Arizona Cardinals @ New Orleans Saints

After finishing off last weekend pulling out the most exciting wildcard matchup, the Cardinals will open up this weekend in what promises to be a highly entertaining game against the #1 seeded Saints.

Keys for the Cardinals
Arizona was an offensive juggernaut last week, rushing for 156 yards and passing for 379 against the #2 defense in the NFL.  The Cards are capable of getting hot on offense but I certainly did not think they would be able to do so against the Packers.  Kurt Warner is a master of taking advantage of the matchups.  If the Cardinals are going to win this week, Kurt will have to exploit the matchups and not lock onto any specific receiver.  He’ll have to take what the defense is willing to give and work the ball down the field.  Arizona’s defense is going to have to be much improved this week or they will not have a chance to win because they will not get a single stop against the high-powered Saints offense.  The Cardinals need to get pressure on Drew Brees with their front line guys like Bertrand Berry and Darnell Dockett.  Both will have to be disruptive forces.

Keys for the Saints
The Saints were cruising through the season undefeated until that ill-fated Saturday night game with Dallas in Week 15.  They lost that game and their last two.  If they can’t shake the rust off early Saturday afternoon they are going to find themselves down by a lot quickly.  Offensively they must get off to a quick start.  They must take advantage of a weak Arizona secondary and mix in the run.  Defensively they should be helped by some time to heal.  They need to be able to depend on their corners and nickel backs to free up Darren Sharper to play center field.  If the corners cannot cover, Sharper will have to resume more coverage responsibilities, greatly diminishing his effectiveness.

Saints 38-35.  Hard to pick against the Cardinals again, but I think the homefield advantage and one more defensive stop will give New Orleans the advantage.  I do think both teams will effectively mix in the run eating up more clock and keeping this game in the 30s, as opposed to an all out pass attack game in the 50s.

Baltimore Ravens @ Indianapolis Colts

The Ravens were very impressive last week in a win at New England.  Of all the games that one shocked me the most.  These teams did meet in Week 11, with the Colts pulling out a hard fought 17-15 victory in Baltimore.

Keys for the Ravens
Scoring first may be the biggest key for Baltimore.  And with the Ravens that could mean on offense, defense or special teams.  They are not a team that is built for comebacks and have struggled all year when playing from behind.  They need to find success in the running game, whether it be with Ray Rice or Willis McGahee.  Supporting the run game with short, quick read passes should help limit the possessions and give the Ravens a chance to win.  On the defensive side of the ball the Ravens need to put the pressure on Peyton Manning.  If you give Peyton the time he will carve you up but if you can get to him early you can throw off the Colts’ rhythm.

Keys for the Colts
When the Colts have the ball they are going to have to spread the passing game around to different receivers.  Peyton helped develop some new weapons this year and he’ll have to use them for Indianapolis to win this game.  They need to beat the blitz early by dinking and dunking and then look downfield for the kill.  Defensively the Colts have to stop the Ravens’ running game on first and second down.  They need to put Joe Flacco in third down situations where he cannot rely on a run or the short pass, but must drop back and risk getting mowed over by Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. 

Colts 27-17.  I think the Colts will take advantage of a Ravens secondary that is depleted by injury.  The Ravens will be a popular pick, especially after the way they played against New England, but the Colts just have too many weapons.

Dallas Cowboys @ Minnesota Vikings

Of the four games this weekend this one is the most interesting to me.  The Cowboys are coming in hot while it is really hard to get a read on Minnesota after the last few weeks of the regular season.  These two teams have not met since October 2007.

Keys for the Cowboys
Offensively the Cowboys have to be able to run the football.  Minnesota has a dangerous pass rush that can make QBs pay for even thinking about passing.  The Dallas running game has been strong recently and they need to keep it going to win.  The Dallas defense has been even more impressive than the running game.  They absolutely dominated Philly two weeks in a row after shutting out the Redskins and holding New Orleans to 17 points in that critical Saturday night win.  This week the defense will have to stop the run.  Adrian Peterson is the best runner in the game and Dallas will have to focus on slowing him down.

Keys for the Vikings
Protecting the ball is the most critical area of concern for Minnesota.  Adrian Peterson must hold on to the ball and Brett Favre cannot force throws into coverage.  Like the Cowboys, the Vikings have to stop the run on defense.  Over the course of the season they were excellent at doing so, only allowing an average of 87.1 rushing yards per game.  However, in three late season losses they allowed more than 100 to the Cardinals, Panthers and Bears.

Cowboys 24-21.  All of the Vikings’ ills will catch up with them in this game.  As it was in the last part of the regular season, the loss of E.J. Henderson will really be felt in this game as Dallas will be able to move the ball and score touchdowns.  A couple of Vikings turnovers will make the difference.

New York Jets @ San Diego Chargers

The Jets are coming off an impressive performance against the Bengals while the Chargers are the hottest team in the NFL, having won 11 straight to close out the regular season.

Keys for the Jets
Just like last week the Jets must get good yardage on first and second down to enable Mark Sanchez to have manageable distances to attain on third down.  The Jets coaching staff executed an excellent offensive game plan last week that set Sanchez up for success.  The two-headed monster of Thomas Jones and rookie Shonn Greene carved up the yardage against the Bengals, that will need to continue in this game for the Jets to have a chance to win.   On defense they must mix up their coverages and blitzes to slow the dynamic Chargers passing game.  They must make Philip Rivers think an additional second or two, giving the pass rushers enough time to make him uncomfortable.

Keys for the Chargers
Getting the ball to Antonio Gates, and a variety of screens and draws to the running backs, will be the keys to the Chargers offensive success.  Darrelle Revis is going to shut down Vincent Jackson but the Jets blitzes should allow windows for throws to Gates, Darren Sproles and LaDainian Tomlinson.  Also, the Bengals were very succesful in draw-type runs.  Defensively it will be all about stopping the run for the Chargers.  Utilizing a variety of run blitzes in their 3-4 scheme should help keep the Jets running game off balance.

Chargers 26-17.  I like the heart and intensity of the Jets but I think their season will end in San Diego.  The Chargers have a playoff savvy team with a lot of confidence and an excellent offense…too much for New York to overcome.

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