Saints, Cardinals brace for high-scoring playoff clash
Drew Brees is among the most prolific regular-season passers the NFL has seen. Kurt Warner has the same credentials for the postseason.
When Brees’ Saints and Warner’s Cardinals meet Saturday to open the second round of the playoffs, the scoreboard will get a workout. The defenses will get dizzy. The announcers might go hoarse.
New Orleans (13-3) scored a league-high 510 points, ninth most in NFL history. Arizona (11-6) had a mere 375, then Warner riddled Green Bay’s second-ranked defense for five touchdown passes in a 51-45 wild-card overtime victory — the highest-scoring playoff game ever.
The Superdome could be a danger zone for defenders.
“I know what we’re capable of and I know that if you just look at our track record, the last three out of four years we’ve had the No. 1 offense in the league,” Brees said. “That’s a body of work. That’s not just a stretch of games here and a stretch of games there.”
And it is no stretch to expect the top-seeded Saints to light it up Saturday. Sure, they averaged 307.3 yards and 14.6 points in the final three games, all defeats. But they had little on the line in those contests, and everything is on the line now.
Plus, the bye week helped them heal.
“We know how to play at a high level offensively,” Brees said. “The opportunity to get guys healthy — that was huge. We’ve been banged up at times throughout the season.”
So have the Cardinals, and they still are uncertain about the availability of outstanding receiver Anquan Boldin. But they didn’t miss him against the Packers, particularly with Early Doucet emerging to join Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston in a dynamic receiving corps that could cause anyone problems.
“With Q (Boldin) not being able to play and with him getting his opportunity the last few weeks, I think we’ve all been pleasantly surprised with how he has responded on the big stage,” Warner said of Doucet. “And no bigger than last week, knowing how much we needed him and we were going to call on him with the situations that we were going to see without Q playing. Obviously, we all saw the results and he came up huge and made some great plays.”
Doubts about both sides’ defenses make this matchup even more intriguing. And potentially filled with more points that the Cardinals and Packers managed.
That’s not likely to happen in the other three playoff games this weekend: Baltimore at Indianapolis on Saturday night, then Dallas at Minnesota and the New York Jets at San Diego on Sunday.
Ravens (10-7) at Colts (14-2)
With the way Baltimore manhandled New England last weekend, from the first play to the last, the Ravens could be on the kind of roll that carried them into the AFC title game a year ago. Ray Rice is the playmaking running back who could damage the Colts, who ranked 24th against the run. He’ll need to be, because the Ravens won’t scare Indy through the air, and the Colts have solid pass rushers in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
Indianapolis rested Peyton Manning and other regulars in the final two games after going 14-0. So a win the Super Bowl or else mentality surrounds the team, and the last time it came off a playoff bye, it lost to San Diego in the divisional round. Indy is 0-3 after a postseason bye.
Still, this was the league’s best team for about four months, and Manning won a record fourth MVP award. The Colts will be ready.
“This is how you set a legacy,” center Jeff Saturday said. “This is how you make things happen, by playing in big games and playing well in them.”
Cowboys (12-5) at Vikings (12-4)
In their last four games, all victories, the Cowboys beat the undefeated Saints and twice took the Eagles. Their last loss was to the Chargers, who finished the schedule with 11 consecutive wins.
Dallas is rolling, with and without the ball. Tony Romo appears to have discarded the jitters that plagued his big-game performances, and has all kinds of threats around him in the running and passing games, even if starting running back Marion Barber (left knee) is sidelined. If the offensive line avoids penalties, the Cowboys could deal well with Minnesota’s sixth-ranked defense.
Of course, the Metrodome is a very loud and difficult place to visit, and Brett Favre didn’t end yet another retirement to go out in the opening round of the playoffs. Plus, All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson is a difference maker.
Jets (10-7) at Chargers (13-3)
San Diego hasn’t lost since October, melding a sensational passing attack with opportunistic rushing and just enough defense. That defense must stop New York’s top-rated running game, which is two-pronged with the emergence of rookie Shonn Greene to complement 1,400-yard rusher Thomas Jones.
The Jets, who have won six of seven, also have the league’s stingiest defense, but shutting down the Chargers is much more challenging than stopping the one-dimensional Bengals.
“We think we’re at our best right now and I think the Chargers are at their best,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “It makes for a great matchup.