So it’s been a while since I’ve updated here, and I figured that was something I should change. And what better way to kick off the new year than by talking about football?
The playoffs begin this weekend. The AFC is in a strange position, with the only teams I feel really in contention being Indianapolis or San Diego; Cincinnati could be in that list if they played more consistently, but recently it seems like they’ve lacked the passion and stamina that is needed to beat a team like Indy if Payton Manning is at his best. NY and Baltimore are both good teams who haven’t shown enough to make me think they can get all the way (though I have a soft spot for the Ravens, so I can hope) and the Patriots will struggle to find any offensive rhythm without Wes Welker.
As for the NFC, we have a strange and wonderful scenario in which there is simply no clear favorite after the last few weeks of regular season play; the Saints have lost three in a row, with Drew Brees looking like he’s forgotten how to communicate with his receivers – Minnesota has showing glaring weaknesses, the biggest of which is revealed if they allow an opponent to gain an early lead – Brett Favre can’t handle being behind. It’s how Arizona beat them so handily in week 13, by pressuring him into making risky choices and careless mistakes.
The first round, in many ways, is the most interesting for me: Philly at Dallas should be a great game. After this weekend’s trouncing, a lot of the sportswriters are already writing off the Eagles as doomed, laying a lot of blame (as usual) at McNabb’s feet. Additionally, the Eagles are 0-4 against potential playoff opponents during the regular season, which makes many wonder if they are able to play consistently at a high caliber. I think they do. The Eagles have always been a scary team to play, even while being inconsistent, in many of the same ways Arizona has been the last two years: when they play well, they play amazingly well. Additionally, the games they lost don’t necessarily reflect the current situation; they lost to the Saints when the Saints were on fire – but New Orleans now looks like they’re running out of steam. They were barely beaten by the Cowboys back in week 9, although they were pounded last week by a relentless Dallas defense. Andy Reid learns from his mistakes, though, and I expect the Eagles will put up a tough fight and catch fire right when they need to. As for Dallas, I still have trouble believing the hype. The numbers look good and the defense looks phenomenal, but their offense still feels off-kilter to me. Maybe it’s personal bias against a rival team, or just a dislike of Tony Romo, but I’m hoping Philly keeps the Cowboys from posting their first playoff win since the 90s.
Now for my Cardinals. I can’t really look at last week as an indication of how we’ll do, as the game was mostly played by Green Bay starters against an Arizona second string, however, Green Bay looked really good – as they have for most of the season. And while we rested some of our starters, we didn’t rest all of them, and both Anquan Boldin and Calais Campbell are now questionable for Arizona’s first playoff game after sustaining injuries during Sunday’s game. The loss of either player would be a huge blow to the team, and while we’ve recovered from worse, it puts us in a very tough spot against a very formidable. At least DRC appears to be ready to play after his injury – although who knows if he’ll be at 100%. But even a wobbly DRC is a vast improvement over Michael Adams, as we saw quite clearly in the last regular season game.
The key will be to rush Aaron Rogers mercilessly, as we did with Favre. Green Bay’s offensive line is terrible, and Rogers has taken a brutal beating whenever teams press the blitz, which we didn’t even try on Sunday. After a few come-to-Jesus talks with the turf courtesy of Darnell Docket or Adrian Wilson, Rogers and the Green Bay offense should have a much harder time picking on our secondary. Combine that with a good outing from Kurt Warner and we can win the game easily – but if we don’t bring the full package, we will risk being humiliated at home.
Assuming we beat Green Bay we’d have a rematch with the Vikings in Minnesota. The weather will be a factor here, as Warner isn’t quite as used to the cold these days, and Favre always is just a bit sloppier when the ball is hard. If we can keep up the defensive pressure we did in week 13 while maintaining a steady offense, then we can easily beat them again, even on the road. They are a very tough team, but we know their game. We just need to get through the Packers first.