Don’t expect blowouts to continue in NFL playoffs!

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The NFL Playoffs are very closely resembling what occurred at the start of this past regular season. Back in September there were more than the usual number of one sided blowouts perpetrated by what were considered the league’s elite teams over the league’s doormats. More than a quarter of the games played during the season’s first 3 weeks were decided by at least 17 points.

Last week saw two such games from the Wild Card round. On Saturday Dallas was just as dominant in defeating Philadelphia 34-14 as they had been in shutting out the Eagles a week earlier in the regular season finale.

Earlier in the day a week 17 victory by the Jets over Cincinnati was reprised, only this time in Cincinnati as the Jets won 24-14.

But the weekend was saved by one of the more entertaining games in NFL history as Arizona ousted Green Bay from the Playoffs in overtime. The two teams engaged in a 60 minute track meet that featured over 1,000 yards of total offense. Yet it was a defensive play that produced the 51-45 final as Arizona’s Karlos Dansby snatched the ball from Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers early in the extra session and scampered 17 yards into the end zone to propel the Cardinals to this Saturday’s rendezvous in New Orleans. And Dansby’s heroics were only possible after the usually reliable Arizona kicker, Neil Rackers, missed a 34 yard chippy at the end of regulation.

New Orleans, the NFC’s top seed, dropped their final 3 and have been out yarded in each of their last 4 games. And after starting the season 6-0 ATS, the Saints have gone just 2-8 ATS since, failing to cover any of their last 5 games.

The NFC’s second seed, Minnesota, is in only slightly better current form. The Vikes lost 3 of their final 5 games although each was on the road. Those road woes could be a problem if form holds and the Vikes must play in New Orleans in next week’s NFC Championship.

Here’s a look at the four Divisional contests to be played this weekend.

SATURDAY

Arizona (+7) at New Orleans (Over/Under 57): On the surface this matchup has all the ingredients for another track meet such as the one last week in which Arizona outlasted Green Bay. Before pulling the trigger on going OVER the Total be aware that prior to last week only 1 of Arizona’s 16 regular season games produced more than 56 total points. And at a Total of 56½ the Saints would have produced just 6 OVERs and 10 UNDERs. And overall, just 34 of the NFL’s 256 regular season games (13 percent) totaled more than 57 points. Both teams are led by outstanding quarterbacks. Arizona QB Kurt Warner should be a certain Hall of Famer and he only enhanced that opinion with his effort last week against Green Bay. His 29 of 33 performance last week against what was a highly ranked Green Bay defense was truly remarkable. It’s interesting to observe how perceptions change over the course of a few weeks. On Thanksgiving the Saints were the favorites to win the NFC with their dominating offense and unbeaten record. Now, after three straight losses, there are concerns as to whether New Orleans can regain their form. The Saints are the healthier team and playing at home in the Dome, on the fast track, is an edge that can’t be discounted. Arizona showed their mettle last season in the Playoffs following a similar late season swoon that saw them lose 2 of 3 and 4 of 6 to end the season after they had pretty much wrapped up their Division early. Expect the Saints to show why they were so dominant for much of the season as they catch what has to be a fatigued Cardinal team off a short week and still nursing some nagging injuries. And don’t be surprised if the defense comes up big by putting plenty of pressure on Warner that leads to turnovers. NEW ORLEANS.

Baltimore (+6½) at Indianapolis (44½): These teams met in mid season in Baltimore and the Colts won 17-15 in a game that closed Pick ’em. It was a defensive tussle as Indy led 14-12 at halftime and each team could only manage a FG after recess. Each team gained under 100 rushing yards and Indianapolis had the total yardage edge 375-354. One reason this may be true is that the survivors of the Wild Card round are often very good football teams and there is not all that much that may separate the top four rested teams and the teams that have already proven themselves to be Playoff worthy by winning a Wild Card game. An upset is not out of the question but look for the Ravens to be highly competitive throughout this contest. BALTIMORE.

SUNDAY

Dallas (+3) at Minnesota (44½): These teams last met in Dallas in 2007 when the Cowboys won 24-14 as nearly double digit favorites. Dallas has thus far answered its many critics by winning in December, winning a regular season finale and finally winning a Playoff game for the first time since 1996, ending a streak of 6 straight Playoff losses. Minnesota is in the Playoffs for just the third time in 8 seasons but QB Brett Favre has plenty of Playoff experience, including a Super Bowl win with Green Bay. Although QB Tony Romo and the offense have gotten most of the accolades, it’s been the Dallas defense that has come up huge. None of Dallas’ last 5 foes has run for more than 75 yards and 15 of their 17 opponents have scored 21 or fewer points. Over the second half of the season the Vikings played just 2 OVERs with 6 UNDERs. The defensive speed of both teams will frustrate both quarterbacks with penalties and turnovers likely impacting the result. Minnesota does have the edges in both of these areas but the edges are not dramatic. Dallas did play a far more difficult schedule than did the Vikes and clearly entered the Playoffs in much better current form. They again demonstrated that form with an all around solid effort last week in defeating Philadelphia for the third time this season. A scan of both teams’ efforts against the top teams in the league show Dallas outperformed the Vikings by considerable margins in most areas, especially on defense. This game should be played at a very high level. Will Minnesota’s edges of the home field and one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time be enough to overcome a Dallas team with a really good quarterback and a team functioning at their best level of the season in all phases of the game? Both teams have big play capability but the preference is to expect both defenses to come up huge. UNDER the Total.

N.Y. Jets (+8) at San Diego (42): It was in the 2004 Playoffs that the upstart Jets eliminated the Chargers from the Playoffs 20-17. Since then the teams have met twice and the Chargers won both games including a decisive 48-29 win here on a Monday night early last season. This is a radically different Jets team off of back-to-back solid wins over Cincinnati. Now they step up in class to face the NFL’s hottest team as the rested Chargers have won 11 straight games. As such, the points are worth taking in a game the Chargers may well win, but may be incapable of winning by a margin. N.Y. JETS.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Andy Iskoe

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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