NFL DIVISIONAL CAPSULES

Last week: 2-2 vs. spread; 2-2 straight up

Season: 122-130-8 vs. spread; 156-104 straight up

TODAY

 

ARIZONA (11-6) AT NEW ORLEANS (13-3)

TIME: 1:30 p.m. LINE: Saints -7 TOTAL: 57

FACTS: Arizona QB Kurt Warner is 9-3 in postseason starts but 0-2 in the Superdome. In the 2000 postseason, his Rams were 31-28 losers to the Saints in the wild-card round despite being six-point favorites. The next season, St. Louis lost as a 14-point choice against New England 20-17 in the Super Bowl. … The Saints are the only team to go from worst to first in their division this season. In fact, they are the only last-place team from 2008 to even escape the cellar in 2009. … Had the Cardinals lost last week’s wild-card game to visiting Green Bay after blowing that 21-point second-half lead, it would have matched the biggest collapse by any team the past two years. Arizona also squandered an 18-point home advantage against Philadelphia in last year’s NFC title game but rallied to win. … Conversely, New Orleans has won three times this season after trailing by double digits, tied for most in the league, including a comeback from 21 down in Miami. … The Saints have lost three straight games entering the postseason, but that’s nothing. The wild-card Jets of 1986 lost their final five en route to a 10-6 record. New York promptly won its first playoff game, 35-15 over Kansas City. … The only time Arizona "stopped" Green Bay on five first-and-goal possessions last week was when the Packers faced a first-and-goal from the 2 at the end of the first half but with only four seconds on the clock. Green Bay opted for a field goal. … The Cardinals have gone 6-2 on the road this season, ending a league-record 26-season drought without a winning away mark. The Saints, meanwhile, inexplicably have one of the league’s worst home/road win differentials. In eight of the past 10 seasons, including this year, they have had more road triumphs than victories in home games. … When these teams met in Arizona’s Sun Devil Stadium in October 2004, a sun-seared gathering of 28,109 attended the Cardinals’ 34-10 rout. There’s been no smaller crowd in a league game since.

ANALYSIS: One of the telling comments emanating from the Cardinals locker room after last week’s overtime victory was S Antrel Rolle talking about how "gassed" his team was and that he was grateful the game didn’t extend any longer. Things won’t get easier for Rolle and his pals on short rest today going against the league’s top-rated QB and his wave of receivers. Not to mention the likely return of TE Jeremy Shockey and RB Pierre Thomas (questionable, ribs), who makes New Orleans’ ground game special. The Saints just need to find a way to pressure Warner, especially with DE Charles Grant out. But fellow DE Will Smith has 13 sacks and will be heading a defensive unit that souped up its health during its bye month. Arizona WR Anquan Boldin remains questionable (ankle/knee).

FORECAST: Saints 35, Cardinals 21

 

BALTIMORE (10-7) AT INDIANAPOLIS (14-2)

TIME: 5:15 p.m. LINE: Colts -61/2 TOTAL: 44

FACTS: For the second consecutive postseason, Baltimore, which beat New England 33-14 on Sunday, has to travel on short rest after a wild-card road playoff game. Last year’s Ravens came off a victory in Miami before beating host Tennessee 13-10 in the divisional round. That’s the only time in league history a team has succeeded in the short-rest two-step on the road. Only two other teams ever have been put in this situation, and they lost by a cumulative 84 points. … In Indianapolis’ 17-15 victory over Baltimore in Week 11, the Ravens penetrated the Colts’ 30-yard line on seven drives but came away with only five field goals. It’s the only game this season in which Baltimore didn’t score a TD. … Counting the last two away games of the regular season, which Baltimore won to reach the playoffs, the Ravens are going to have to win on the road for five consecutive weeks to reach the Super Bowl. No team has won that many in succession in enemy buildings since the 1936 Packers. … Baltimore’s fifth-ranked rushing offense will be engaging an Indianapolis defense that has yielded an average of 126.5 rushing yards per game, the highest rate among the 12 playoff teams and ninth worst overall. In the Colts’ 2006 Super season, when they yielded a league-worst 173 a game, they were the first team in 22 years to allow every regular-season foe to have 100-plus rushing yards. But in the postseason, three straight AFC foes failed to reach that plateau. … The Ravens’ average starting field position in their victory at New England was the 50, the best for any team since the Jets had that average launch point in Week 4 last year in a 56-35 victory against Arizona. … Since 2002, Baltimore has lost seven straight to the Colts and is 0-4 in Indy in its history. Until last week, though, the Ravens never had won in New England, either. … Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell, along with the Jets’ Rex Ryan, is trying to become the first NFL rookie head coach to win a league title since George Seifert took over the Super 49ers in the 1989 season and won.

ANALYSIS: There’s been concern that Baltimore QB Joey Flacco (probable, hip/quadriceps) is laboring both running and stepping into his throws. He was only 4-for-10 with an interception last week, and on two of those completions, it took leaping acrobatic grabs. He won’t be able to keep up with the Colts’ Peyton Manning. And unlike the last time Flacco faced the Colts, he’ll be facing pass-rushers supreme Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, who had 23 sacks between them. And good luck to Baltimore rookie OT Jared Gaither, who missed drills with an ankle injury this week. As for shifty Ravens RB Ray Rice, well, he had his worst rushing day of the season against the Colts earlier, averaging only 3.6 yards on 20 carries. So maybe Indy has the recipe for slowing him.

FORECAST: Colts 27, Ravens 13 SUNDAY

 

DALLAS (12-5) AT MINNESOTA (12-4)

TIME: 10 a.m. LINE: Vikings -3 TOTAL: 451/2

FACTS: If QB Brett Favre leads the second-seeded Vikings to victory, he’ll improve his record to 3-9 in games against the Cowboys (1-3 in the playoffs). … Flashback: The "Hail Mary" was born 34 postseasons ago in Bloomington, Minn., when Dallas’ Roger Staubach heaved a prayer toward Drew Pearson in the final seconds for a 50-yard score that resulted in a 17-14 Cowboys victory. … Minnesota special teams whiz Percy Harvin had two TDs on kickoff returns this season, but his chances could be limited Sunday. Dallas rookie David Buehler has 29 touchbacks on his kickoffs, a league high and a substantial improvement over last year’s team total of zero. … In Dallas’ second consecutive rout of Philadelphia last week, the Cowboys ran 47 plays to the Eagles’ 18 in the first half. To put that in perspective, there were only 10 occasions all season in which a team had a play differential greater than that (29) for an entire game. … The Vikings have yielded five non-offensive TDs this season, the highest total among the NFC’s final four. But that’s a six-TD drop from last season. … In the 12-team playoff format that’s been in place since 1990, all four of the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the divisional round have advanced to the conference finals four times, but only once did they all beat the line. … In Dallas’ wild-card victory, the Cowboys saw double-digit penalties marched off against them for the fifth time this season, tying for a league high. They are 4-1 in such games. All other teams are 16-29. … Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson, last season’s rushing champion who had 1,383 ground yards this season, averaged 4.4 yards a carry but over his final six games got past 3.9 a rush only against the arm tacklers in Giants costumes. But he did have six touchdowns.

ANALYSIS: During the Vikings’ fade after Thanksgiving, their offensive tackles, Bryant McKinnie and rookie Phil Loadholt, have received criticism for being lead-footed and keeping Favre in a constant state of peril. He went down 10 times in Minnesota’s three late losses. And those bookends weren’t creating holes big enough for Peterson to run through. Whereas the Cowboys’ protection schemes, not to mention a stout running game led by elusive Felix Jones, have improved and afforded Tony Romo time to play like a Pro Bowler again. With Dallas getting that pesky playoff victory out of the way last week, it seems the pressure is landing squarely on Favre and his men.

FORECAST: Cowboys 27, Vikings 24

 

N.Y. JETS (10-7) AT SAN DIEGO (13-3)

TIME: 1:40 p.m. LINE: Chargers -7 TOTAL: 421/2

WEATHER: High 60s, 20 percent chance of rain

FACTS: Although the Jets earned a 38-0 victory at Oakland this season, they haven’t mastered cross-country travel. Last year, they became the first Eastern team in history to receive the cursed Golden Sombrero, which goes to the team that loses on the road to all four West Coast teams. … No. 2 seed San Diego, coming off a bye, averages 3.3 yards per rush, the worst rate for any team the past two years. The last time a team won a Super Bowl with a mark this bad was the Baltimore Colts in 1970. The Jets are at 4.5. … On the other hand, Chargers QB Philip Rivers has a norm of 8.8 yards per throw, tops in the league. Jets QB Mark Sanchez is at 6.7, with 11 more interceptions in the regular season and eight fewer TD passes. … Over the past 11 weeks, the Jets have held enemy passing games to fewer than 3 yards a throw, compared with seven such games for the rest of the league combined. But not one of those Jets foes had a QB ranked among the top 15 in the league. Rivers is the third-rated passer. … Dating to the early days of the AFL, the Chargers are 4-8-1 against the line at home in the postseason, 6-7 straight up. … Last season, San Diego’s defense was on the field 117 more plays than its offense, the third-worst margin in the league. This year that mark is only minus-19. … For the first time since 2002, there isn’t a head coach in the Final Eight who owns a Super Bowl ring. Of field bosses still working, San Diego’s Norv Turner and Arizona’s Ken Whisenhunt have the most playoff victories with four apiece. … At the season’s midpoint, the Jets had the league’s 13th-rated offense. They finished at No. 20. … Since 2003, teams with byes in the divisional round have gone 8-16 against the spread, but from 1990 to 2002, that mark was 32-18-2. … San Diego, which never has won a Super Bowl, might be hungrier. The Jets earned a crown as recently as the 1968 season.

ANALYSIS: Sanchez, who has been New York’s Achilles’ arm most of this year, especially with his 20 interceptions, was glowing after last week’s 24-14 Jets victory in Cincinnati as a three-point underdog. But it’s not like he was working with a full game plan — or a full field. The TV guys said they couldn’t believe how he was scanning only small portions of the secondary and not checking all his reads. If he gets a swelled head and tries to get in a duel with Rivers, his across-the-body throws will be coming back the other way. That Jets pass defense has been sensational, but CB Darrelle Revis can’t cover all those skyscraper receivers, led by Vincent Jackson, and also keep an eye on TE Antonio Gates and the Chargers RBs. Rivers has too much poise to screw this up.

FORECAST: Chargers 31, Jets 13

 

Last week: 2-2 vs. spread; 2-2 straight up

Season total: 122-130-8 vs. spread; 156-104 straight up

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