Friday, January 15, 2010

Divisional Weekend, Sunday Games

Cowboys vs. Vikings (Sunday Afternoon):

Let me start by saying that I love the way the Cowboys are playing right now, and this is the game I'm most interested in watching. Both teams look good on both sides of the ball, and they're doing things that they should be able to sustain throughout the playoffs. Running the ball hard and rushing the passer aren't fluky things the way that needing your QB to throw 350 yards and 4 TD to win can be.

As much as people have talked up the size of the Viking offensive line (the Fox guys are going to keep throwing it out there because Troy can't learn new material), they haven't actually been playing that well. The Dallas front 7 should be able to play Peterson and the run game well, and in general the Vikes haven't handled physical defensive lines well. Don't get me wrong, Peterson will get his yards, and it wouldn't be surprising if he ended up with 100 yards and a TD. If Dallas can keep him to around 100 yards on 25 carries, that's fine for the Cowboys. They need to avoid the big runs and make Favre beat them consistently.

The more Favre has to throw against this Dallas team, the more the game sways away from the Vikings. Favre is liable to make mistakes once he has to start making plays on his own, especially against a team with defensive play makers. The Vikings are at their best when Peterson can run effectively, setting up play action and some 2nd and 2 deep throws.

I love the Cowboy offense right now. It's an attack that can both grind the ball to wear you out and yet has potentially the top big play guy left in the playoffs in Felix Jones. The pass game tends to be safe and consistent, but I guess you could argue that the deep throw isn't really a big part of the game for them. Against Minnesota, I'm guessing they'll struggle with a lot of the interior runs with the Viking DTs being so tough to handle, but I do think they can break some runs on the exterior. Look for some draws to be run at Jared Allen, which should slow down his pass rush as well as create some opportunities for Jones and Barber to get out in space on the perimeter. The Cowboys are crazy to try to force the ball down field in the pass game because (1) the Viking pass rush is really tough, especially on the fast Metrodome turf; (2) Flozell Adams cannot consistently handle Jared Allen whatsoever without a ton of help; (3) they don't really have a downfield guy anyways.

I'm guessing the first half is going to be a somewhat defensive type game. There may be a big play, but the teams probably won't be able to just drive it. Maybe a halfime score around 13-10, 10-10, etc. The Cowboys have a little more explosion on a play to play basis, and I fear Favre might turn the ball over if he has to make plays on his own. I say the Cowboys do just enough to pull it out and head on to the NFC Championship. That being said, I do think these are the 2 best teams in the NFC, so I'll take the winner next week as well.

The Pick: Cowboys, 27-24.

Jets v. Chargers (Sunday Late Game)

As good as the Jets looked last week, we need to keep in mind that the Bengals really just weren't a very good team. They just weren't. That, and the Jets literally played their perfect game. People are underselling this Charger club and this week they'll make some big plays to show they're the real deal.

The Jets are clearly a run-first team, so look for a lot of heavy sets from the Chargers. San Diego isn't a particularly good team against the run game, so they'll have to commit extra guys up front. That being said, the Jets run game is more of a pound the rock approach as opposed to a big play team, so there still be situations where Sanchez needs to convert 3rd and 7. The biggest thing to watch out for, if you're the Chargers, is the Sanchez roll out where he's trying to get the TE Keller across the middle. They'll need to commit a safety to run with Keller, and they should be able to slow him a lot if they do.

On the other side of the ball, there is a huge hubbub about Darrell Revis and his ability to stop the passing game. The problem with this idea is that while Cincy only had one legitimate receiver, San Diego has Jackson, Gates, Naanee, Floyd, and Sproles, all of whom can catch the ball and make plays. Revis will generally be matched up with Jackson, and really close him off, but the Chargers are probably better equipped to respond to this than any team in the league (except maybe New Orleans or a healthy Arizona). The Jets will try to bring a ton of pressure, but the Chargers will respond by trying to get rid of the ball quick. Look for a lot of quick passes to the WRs and Sproles. The other issue is that the Chargers can throw a lot of the jump ball passes, and they should have a substantial advantage over the smaller Jet corners.

The Chargers aren't much of a running team, but it's not as bad as people made it out to be. Tomlinson has played better at home than on the road, and Sproles should be able to make some hay on sweeps and draws. That, and you can run on the Jets (Benson had 167 yards alone last week on the ground against 8 man fronts). All this being said, this game isn't going to be won or lost by the San Diego ground game--they're probably throwing it 35 times this week.

Overall, I like the Chargers to pull away once they get warmed up. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Jets score first or get an early turnover, but the Chargers seem like a team that's at least a touchdown better. Don't overvalue last week, since this happens every year.

The Pick: Chargers, 27-17.

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