Earlier today on the vikings.com Blog, we examined the Saturday Wild Card games. Now, let’s look at Sunday’s matchups.
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots – Sunday, Jan. 10 at Noon CST
Though the Ravens and Patriots didn’t play last weekend, they did square up earlier this season in New England, with the Pats coming out on top. Can they go two-for-two vs. Baltimore?
New England Offense vs. Ravens Defense
The main storyline of this game is in essence Ravens LB Ray Lewis vs. Patriots QB Tom Brady. Both are perennial Pro Bowlers and the leaders of their respective teams. However, with the loss last weekend of Pats WR Wes Welker to a knee injury, Brady’s job just got a heckuva lot tougher, as the New England offense may have a difficult time replacing Welker’s 123 catches and nearly 1,400 receiving yards.
Welker had 6 catches in the Week 4 matchup between these teams last October, but had just 48 yards as the Patriots offense was largely held in check by Lewis and Co. Randy Moss had 3 catches for 50 yards and a score, while Brady was 21 of 32 for 258 yards and the lone TD pass.
On the ground, like usual, New England struggled, as their 4-headed attack of Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris and Laurence Maroney combined for 25 carries for 74 yards.
With the absence of Welker and his ability to catch short and intermediate passes, establishing the ground game to setup play action and deeper passes down-field to Moss will be key for the Pats.
Ravens Offense vs. New England Defense
In the team’s prior meeting, the Ravens offense was driving down the field late in the 4th quarter with a chance to tie or win the game, but a drop on a 4th-down pass by WR Mark Clayton inside the New England 10-yard line ended Baltimore’s hopes of pulling off the comeback.
Despite the loss, QB Joe Flacco had a solid day, throwing 47 times, which is a number that Baltimore would likely want to cut in half this time around. While the 2nd-year signal caller has the ability to do more than just be a care-taker, a game such as last week against Oakland is more of an ideal setup for the Ravens: Flacco threw 19 passes while the team ran the ball 31 times.
The trio of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain is as deep of a backfield as there is, as the Ravens sport the 5th-best rushing attack in the NFL. Despite not having Welker to worry about, the Ravens will want to try to keep Brady and the Pats offense off the field and their best bet to achieve that goal is to establish the running game early and often.
Prediction: Ravens over Patriots
Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals – Sunday, Jan. 10 at 3:40 p.m. CST
Including their preseason trip to Arizona, this is Green Bay’s 3rd trip to the Phoenix area this season. A nice reward for having to live in Green Bay I guess.
Arizona Offense vs. Green Bay Defense
Despite playing just a week ago, it’s tough to draw too much from that game as it relates to this week’s matchup since, by the time the game kicked off, neither team had anything to play for in terms of postseason positioning and both teams pulled its starters at various points during the contest.
However, this weekend’s game could be adversely affected by the knee and ankle injury suffered by Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin, who suffered an MCL sprain and high ankle sprain. Even if Boldin is able to go this weekend, he clearly won’t be at 100 percent and his loss is a big blow to Arizona’s offense. QB Kurt Warner will still have Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston at his disposal, and the Cards will likely need to score close to 30 points or more to win.
Due to the explosiveness of Green Bay’s offense and the likely loss of Boldin, look for the Cardinals to try to establish Beanie Wells and the rest of their running game to wear down Green Bay’s defense and, more importantly, keep Aaron Rodgers on the sideline.
Green Bay Offense vs. Arizona Defense
No offense in the NFL has been better than the Packers over the 2nd-half of the season, as Green Bay rolls into Arizona averaging over 30 points per game over their final 8 regular season games. Rodgers, who earned his 1st Pro Bowl birth this season, has thrown just 2 INTs over that 8 game span, shouldn’t have many issues in continuing his strong play and putting up points against an Arizona team that may be without Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, one of the team’s top CBs. Arizona ranks 23rd against the pass, so missing one of their top defenders could be a blow too much to overcome if Rodgers-Cromartie can’t go due to his knee injury.
RB Ryan Grant had over 1,200 yards on the ground for Green Bay this season, and like the Cardinals with their running attack, Green Bay will want to control the clock to a degree and not let Warner and Fitzgerald beat them.
As fans saw last season in the playoffs, the Cardinals are a very dangerous team, particularly at home, so look for them to give the Packers a very spirited effort Sunday is the desert.
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