Saturday, January 13, 2007

NFL Divisional Playoffs

The second round of the NFL playoffs begins today with two games - the Indianapolis Colts meeting the Baltimore Ravens at 4:30 p.m. and the Philadelphia Eagles travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints at 8:00 p.m.

At stake - a berth in the conference championship games. Here's a preview of each game.

Indianapolis (13-4) at Baltimore (13-3)
The Colts answered questions about their run defense by holding Kansas City's Larry Johnson to 32 yards last week. Now they must answer questions about their ability to win on the road. They lost their last four road games this season and are 1-6 in their last seven playoff road games. They averaged 26.7 points a game this season — second in the league — but only 18 in their last four road games. The Ravens defense was No. 1 in the league in fewest yards given up (264.1 a game) and points given up (12.6). The offense, led by quarterback Steve McNair, was effective and efficient, after Coach Brian Billick assumed the role of offensive coordinator. Since then, they are 9-1 and have averaged 24.3 points. Before that, they averaged 18.3. Running back Jamal Lewis had 1,132 yards rushing.

Prediction:It's a classic offense vs. defense battle, with Peyton Manning and the Colts looking to shed their reputations as playoff underachievers against one of the top defenses in the league. Also, the Colts angered Baltimore fans when they left for Indianapolis in 1984. Indy will jump out on Baltimore and the lack of a consistent Ravens offense gives Manning and company the advantage. Winner: Colts.

Philadelphia (11-6) at New Orleans (10-6)
The Eagles enter with a six-game win streak, the longest in the NFC, and have the NFL's No. 2 offense at 381.4 yards a game. Brian Westbrook, who set career highs with 1,217 yards rushing and 699 receiving this season, had a career-high 141 yards rushing last week against the New York Giants. Defensive back Lito Sheppard will sit out the game because of a dislocated elbow. The Saints had a first-round bye for the first time in team history thanks to an offense that led the league with 391.5 yards a game. Their weakness is experience: The Saints have only one playoff victory in their 39-year history and receiver Joe Horn, who may not play because of a groin injury, is the only skill position player who has played on a team that won a playoff game.

Prediction:The Eagles are trying for their fifth NFC championship game appearance in the last six years. The Saints are trying for their first. The Saints defeated the Eagles, 27-24, Oct. 15 on a last-second field goal. Philadelphia has the playoff experience, but Drew Brees and company will have the Superdome loud and proud. In the end though, experience always wins out. Winner: Eagles.

The Corner Lowdown
Last week: 3-1
Overall: 155-82

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