The Baltimore Sun


Matchup: Atlanta (11-5) at Arizona (9-7), 4:30 p.m.

TV: Chs. 11, 4

Line: Falcons by 1

Playoff momentum: The Cardinals had one of the ugliest finishes to the regular season in the NFL, losing by three TDs to the Vikings at home and 40 points to the Patriots. Arizona lost four of its past six games. The Falcons won five of their past six, beating three playoff teams in that stretch (Carolina, San Diego and Minnesota), and had a shot at the NFC South title in the last game.

Difference-makers: Atlanta QB Matt Ryan was the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year, but RB Michael Turner was the team's Most Valuable Player with 1,699 rushing yards. On defense, John Abraham (16 1/2 sacks) was an enforcer. Cardinals QB Kurt Warner (30 TD passes, 4,583 passing yards) produced the Greatest Show in the Desert with Pro Bowl WRs Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, who combined for 23 TD catches.

Point of attack: Arizona will attack by air and Atlanta by ground. The Cardinals have the worst running game in the league and will try to get a few plays out of veteran RB Edgerrin James. They will go as far as Warner can take them. The Falcons like to grind it out with Turner and let Ryan take his shots. Neither team plays pass defense very well, but Atlanta has improved a lot down the stretch.

The Baltimore Sun's pick: The Cardinals have the advantage on their home field in the heat with a former MVP at quarterback. Atlanta played in a tough division and is used to playing in close games. Here's a guess that Warner has a last hurrah. Arizona, 33-28.


Matchup: Indianapolis (12-4) at San Diego (8-8), 8 p.m.

TV: Chs. 11, 4

Line: Colts by 1

Playoff momentum: After starting 3-4, the Colts won their past nine games, starting with big wins over New England and at Pittsburgh. The Chargers won their past four - averaging 37.3 points - to win the AFC West, which was hardly a prize. The Colts won a November meeting in San Diego, 23-20.

Difference-makers: Peyton Manning was named the NFL MVP, a deserving honor for the quarterback who willed the Colts to several wins while injuries mounted around him (he had one of his own, too). Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark are his go-to guys. The Chargers got 34 TD passes from QB Phillip Rivers, who deserved a Pro Bowl berth, and 1,110 rushing yards from a gritty LaDainian Tomlinson.

Point of attack: San Diego's defense usually gives Manning fits, but the Chargers rank 31st in pass defense and have given up 25 TD passes. That's a mismatch. The Colts won't need to run if San Diego can't do better than that. Although Indianapolis' defense has been gouged often by the running game, the Colts always seem to come up with the stop when they have to have it.

The Baltimore Sun's pick: The Chargers' defense isn't the same without Shawne Merriman (Maryland), collecting only 28 sacks. The Colts are clutch, and Manning is back playing at a high level. If the Colts' defense shows up, they could make a strong playoff run. Indianapolis, 31-21.

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