The running theme so far this weekend has been the value of rest — a poke in the eye to all of us who ridiculed the Colts and Saints for laying down in the last weeks of the season. Neither team showed much rust, with the Saints looking every bit the Greatest Show II team that we saw midseason, and the Colts methodically, surgically, imposing their will on their opponents.
This weekend introduces two new well-rested heavyweights — the Vikings and the Chargers. Do the underdogs have a chance against either? Let’s check in with our FanBall correspondents:
Cowboys at Vikings (-3)
Heavy must be the crown for the man on the Vikings Throne, because it currently sits empty. But our man Brandon has weighed in on several of the running themes for the Vikings all season, and two are the biggest cause for concern among the slightly-favored Vikes: Does Brett Favre have enough left in his legs? And what happened to the monster Adrian Peterson? His early answer: Patience and hope.
Meanwhile, pundits are split on whether Favre or Peterson should be feeling the pressure more.
All eyes have been on Favre, but I think there are more questions around AP. Since the bye week, Peterson has gone seven straight games without cracking 100 yards, his yards per carry is sub-4.0, and he’s fumbled five times, losing four. His perception as a tackle-breaking machine is fueled by three monster games against Detroit (twice) and Cleveland, where he averaged better than five yards after contact per carry. Those games were a long time ago, in football terms. (Stats via ProFootballFocus.)
Coming back to a Vikings Throne observation in early December that still holds true:
Without him at full strength, they may not advance past this game.
Across the aisle, at Respect the Star, we have a quiet confidence but a wariness based on the last 13 years of playoff futility.
RTS offers their pros and cons of the matchup, and concludes that the Cowboys’s pluses at quarterback (yes, really), linebacker, and in the rebuilt secondary will be enough to lead the team to victory. However, we can’t ignore this caveat:
Jets at Chargers (-7)
Three weeks ago, Turn On The Jets correspondent Joe Caporoso pronounced his team’s playoff hopes a “pipe dream.” But when the Colts pulled their starters, they also unwittingly unleashed the unholy keyboard of FanBall’s winner of the “Blog of the Year,” and TOJ has blogged up approximately a thousand words per minute since then.
The Jets pass rush must get to Philip Rivers early and often, while still being to defend against the screen pass. Darren Sproles has the ability to kill them if they don’t account for him coming out of the backfield. Honestly, he is player I am most worried about on the San Diego offense.
Meanwhile, the quote-unquote Hottest Team in the Playoffs are confident if for no other reason than that their injury list is exactly one player long heading into this contest. With no other excuses, if they don’t win expect the blame to fall on their head coach.
The Bolts are well aware of the blitzing that the Jets and Rex Ryan like to run in their defensive system, but they are welcoming the challenge. Rivers addressed this earlier in the week saying: “It’s as good of a blitz package and scheme as we’ve faced this year. This group does a lot of different things that we have to be prepared for. We feel like we will have a plan and scheme together to handle all of those things. You’re playing against a good team and that’s the fun thing about the playoffs; it’s a lot of good verses good out there and whoever can execute the best will be on top.”
— “Bolts-Jets playoff preview extravaganza”
I actually like the Jets’ chances to pull off the only upset of the weekend, or at least give us a watchable game after three dispiriting blowouts. One thing is for sure, if the Jets do win, it will increase the Rams fan chorus crying out “We should have drafted Marc Sanchez!”