Sunday's football was, to me, rather boring, so rather than write about it I'll jump right ahead and write my divisional round preview. You can see my thoughts on Saturday's games if you're interested and you can see my Wild Card preview to decide if my predictions are worth the time.
On to next weekend's games, where all that's left is the eight division winners.
Colts at Ravens
The Ravens, a team built around a dominant, smothering defense that's capable of scoring TDs and led by a decent veteran QB, seem like a popular choice to win it all this year. I barely feel qualified to comment, as I've only seen very little of two Raven games this season. But I follow the league closely enought to know what they're about. The Ravens, as usual, have a great defense that is capable of winning some games on its own. Now they have a competent offense to compliment that defense (with a great defense, competent offense can be enough). But Jamal Lewis is not what he once was--he's averaging 3.6 yards per attempt. Does the Indianapolis defensive performance against Larry Johnson and the Chiefs signify a seismic shift in their defensive performance? I don't know, but it might not matter, because Jamal Lewis is not a dynamically skilled running back that can make the Colts pay. And I'm not sure Steve McNair is a great enough QB anymore to do so, either.
Special teams could play a factor. The Colts don't have very good special teams; the Ravens usually do. The game could be determined by starting field position or one or two great returns for the Ravens.
But we know where the real drama will lie: Peyton Manning and the Colt offense against Ray Lewis and the Raven defense. And I think Peyton Manning will win.
Manning will have to play a very good game against the Ravens. He'll have to avoid turnovers and sacks, read the defense and make the correct changes at the line of scrimmage, and complete a lot of passes down the field. He's going to have to be excellent on 3rd down.
And I think he'll do all of those things. I'm ready to see a stellar performance from Manning as the Colts go into Baltimore and control the game enough to win.
Colts 23, Ravens 17.
Eagles at Saints
This is a rematch of a regular season matchup: can we learn anything from their week six meeting, when the Saints won 27-24, holding the ball for the last 8:26 of the fourth quarter to set up a game winning FG? Maybe we can.
In the first matchup, Reggie Bush was contained and Joe Horn had 110 yards and 2 TDs. But Reggie Bush has improved in the second half of the season and can change this game, while Marques Colston and Devery Henderson are the WRs that are dangerous for the Saints.
Obviously Jeff Garcia replaces Donovan McNabb, but there shouldn't be a major change in QB productivity. Brian Westbrook had only 75 total yards in this game, and he's the real key. Westbrook had 152 total yards against the Giants Sunday, and he was key in the game-winning drive.
Let's be simplistic and say it's going to come down to how each defense is able to contain the opposing RBs. Can the Saints have another successful day holding Westbrook down? Can the Eagles handle covering Deuce McAllister AND Reggie Bush? I figure the Eagles will have more commitment to getting Westbrook the ball than they did in week 6, and if the Saints can contain him, they'll win. The Eagles are capable, but I don't think they'll contain both Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush. And if it comes down to it, Drew Brees is going to be a far more difficult QB to stop than Eli Manning.
Saints 30, Eagles 24
Seahawks at Bears
It's a fascinating scenario: the Bears are 13-3, three games better than any other NFC team, yet nobody thinks they're going to the Super Bowl. But tell me this: did the Seahawks do anything against the Cowboys that tells you they can move the ball on the Bears? The Bears whipped the Seahawks in week 4, back when Shaun Alexander was out and Rex Grossman looked like a real NFL quarterback.
I don't think the Seahawks have what it takes to beat the Bears at Soldier Field. They let Miles Austin return a kick for a touchdown, and now they get to face Devin Hester. The field position will be enough to let the Bears keep control of the game, and the Seahawk offense will have to be sharper than it's shown capable of being in recent weeks to have a chance. I'm rooting for Seattle, but I'll take the Bears
Bears 20, Seahawks 9
Patriots at Chargers
Wow, this one will be fun. The Patriot defense seemed to be the hardest-hitting unit in Wild Card weekend--they were all over the place and really punishing the guy with the ball. And offensively, clearly Brady knows what he's doing and can move the ball against any defense.
But I think the Charger front seven can get to Brady. He'll face a strong pass rush all game and it will severely hinder the Patriot offense. And the Chargers have the highest scoring offense in the league--despite the absense of great wide receivers, Philip Rivers getting the ball to Ladanian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates is next to unstoppable. In fact, I believe only one man can stop it: Marty Schottenheimer.
Let's assume the Chargers play as they have all season, and OC Cam Cameron controls the offensive gameplan. That might be a big assumption.
I can see the Patriots winning this game, and would love to see the Colts host the Patriots in the AFC championship game.
But the San Diego front seven is too strong, and their offense features the best RB and best TE in football. Tomlinson should continue his dominance.
San Diego 34, New England 24