Related FeaturesWhatIfSports 2009 NFL Playoff Preview
WhatIfSports 2009-10 NFL Season-to-Date
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To see how far each team will go in the 2009 NFL Playoffs and who we predict has the best shot at winning SuperBowl XLIV, see our 2009 NFL Playoff Preview.
The inputs to the 10,001 simulations of each upcoming game are based on a rigorous analysis of each team that considers strength-of-schedule-adjusted team and player ratings and then makes modifications for injuries and depth at each position. To see our season-to-date performance, click here.Divisional Matchups
One side is rested, perhaps a little too much? The other has the momentum, but hasn't had a week off -- except for perhaps the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17 -- since bye week.
It's the NFL Divisional round, maybe the most exciting playoff weekend of the NFL season and fresh off a 3-1 start in wildcard action, the WhatIfSports.com computer -- never one to take a week off -- tries to continue its success with 10,001 simulations of each matchup.ARIZONA AT NEW ORLEANS
The Arizona Cardinals all but took the final week of the regular season off, rolling over for the Green Bay Packers and then taking the Packers down in overtime in the first round of the playoffs on Sunday. The New Orleans Saints didn't try to fool anybody in resting up for this game, giving quarterback Drew Brees and other starters the day off in the final week. Now these two offensive juggernauts will square off for the first time this season.
The Cardinals showed they could put up points in a big way. They threw for 11.5 yards per attempt in that game, but that certainly was a bit of an anomaly compared to the regular season, where they ranked 12th in the league with 7.1 yards per attempt. And on the ground, they tied for just 19th with 4.1 rushing yards per carry. And even if Arizona can put together another record-setting offensive performance, getting in a shootout with New Orleans is not advised. And with a defense that gives up 4.5 yards per rush and 6.7 yards per pass attempt, that's exactly what the Cardinals would be doing.
There's no smoke and mirrors when it comes to the Saints' offense. Only the Dallas Cowboys matched their offensive output of 6.3 yards per play on the offensive side of the ball as Brees led them to the top passing numbers in the league during the regular season and Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush helped them to a top five rushing offense as well. But the Saints' defense deserves attention as well. But the New Orleans defense gives up 5.5 yards per play, another sign that this one could lead to a shootout.
Whether this game provides another offensive onslaught or not, the computer likes this game as the biggest blowout of the week, with New Orleans winning 83.9% of the time by an average score of 36-20.DALLAS AT MINNESOTA
While one NFC playoff game provides the biggest blowout of the weekend, the other one provides the closest game of the week. The Dallas Cowboys dominated the Philadelphia Eagles for the second straight week during the wildcard round. The Minnesota Vikings wrapped up the bye in the final week of the season and is about the only team that got a bye that didn't take the final week of the season off. Now quarterbacks Tony Romo and Brett Favre will battle for a spot in the conference championship.
Dallas shook off its December curse and then followed suit by ending any talk of a playoff slump by decimating the Eagles. Somewhat quietly, the Cowboys matched the Saints step for step on offense, actually putting up the top mark in terms of yards per play thanks to the second-ranked rushing game and the fourth-ranked passing attack. Like the Saints, Dallas leaves a little to be desired defensively, giving up 5.2 yards per play, but they do boast one of the top 10 rushing defenses, which could be critical against Adrian Peterson and the Vikings.
Minnesota picked up Favre in the offseason and “the old gunslinger” has helped lead them back to the Divisional Playoffs. The Vikings mirror the Cowboys somewhat. Minnesota's offense isn't quite as prolific, but did put up nearly six yards per play thanks, somewhat surprisingly, more to Favre than to Peterson as the Vikings barely averaged four yards per carry. Defensively, Minnesota lags behind in passing, but boasts one of the best rushing defenses in the league.
Perhaps the quarterbacks will be left to “gunsling it out” in what could be the most exciting game of the weekend. Dallas pulls off the road win, but just 52.9% of the time and by just a single point, most likely setting up another exciting matchup with New Orleans in the conference finale.BALTIMORE AT INDIANAPOLIS
The Indianapolis Colts made all kinds of news when they took the final two weeks of the regular season off despite the fact that perfection was on the line after a 15-0 start. The Baltimore Ravens have had no choice but to duke it out every single week as they made the playoffs with a victory in the final week and then had to beat New England just to get to the top team in the AFC. Now Peyton Manning's arm will take on Ray Rice and Willis McGahee's leg.
Not surprisingly, the Colts put together the best offensive season in the AFC at 5.9 yards per play. Manning's arm clearly had a lot to do with that. Indianapolis averaged 7.7 yards per pass attempt, but ranked an abysmal second-to-last in the NFL in rushing, gaining just 3.5 yards per carry on the ground. Defensively, the Colts are no slouch, either, giving up just 5.0 yards per play on that side of the ball. They match their passing offense with their passing defense, giving up just 6.2 yards per attempt. But they rank just middle of the pack in terms of rushing, which is clearly the bigger number this week.
Baltimore passed the ball just 10 times against the Patriots and basically lined up showing all of its cards as to which way the Ravens were going to run the ball. They still ran all over New England. The Ravens' offensive numbers don't necessarily turn heads, but their rushing numbers in the wildcard round surely did and they weren't really any fluke as Baltimore boasted the fourth-best rushing attack during the regular season. And defensively, the Ravens have never been slouches and they aren't this year, ranking third overall and, most importantly, put up top-10 numbers against the pass.
In the battle of run against pass, the rushing team wins again as the Ravens move on to the AFC title game 58.2% of the time, though also by just an average of one point.NEW YORK JETS AT SAN DIEGO
Can the Jets make it a perfect 2-for-2 in wildcard teams making it to the AFC Championship? New York was the last team to get in the playoffs, winning the final game of Week 17 just to get in the field. Then they duplicated the feat by beating Cincinnati for the second straight week to advance through to the Divisional Round. The San Diego Chargers are there, ready and waiting after putting together an 11-game winning streak to end the year.
As was noticed in last week's surprise, the Jets are the computer's favorite to win the Super Bowl thanks to a bevy of numbers that simply stack up well. New York had just the 21st-ranked total offense in the regular season in terms of yards per play, but they're a top-5 team on the ground and that showed in a whole new way in the first round of the playoffs as Shonn Greene rushed for 139 yards on a career-high 21 carries. And defensively, the Jets are second to none as they gave up an astonishingly low 4.2 yards per play thanks to the top-ranked passing defense in terms of yards per attempt and the fourth-best rushing defense.
Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers will have to tame that defense to extend their winning streak and advance to the conference championship. It could be tough for the Chargers' pass-heavy offense to make that happen, however. San Diego ranked fourth in the regular season at 5.9 yards per offensive play, but did almost all of that damage through the air. The Chargers rank first in passing yards per attempt -- yes, better than Manning and the Colts or Brees and the Saints -- yet they rank dead last with just 3.3 yards per carry. And defensively, the Bolts struggled against the run, giving up 4.5 yards per carry to rank near the bottom of the league for a defense that was simply middle of the run.
In ground game versus aerial assault, yet again the computer likes the team that can run the ball and likes a battle of wildcard teams in the AFC title game. The Jets win 70.3% of the time, winning by an average score of 24-19.
NFL Divisional Playoffs
|@ New Orleans Saints||83.9||36||Simulate Game|
|@ Minnesota Vikings||47.1||25||Simulate Game|
|@ Indianapolis Colts||41.8||22||Simulate Game|
|New York Jets||70.3||24||Boxscore|
|@ San Diego Chargers||29.7||19||Simulate Game|
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