NFC Divisional Round Preview: Arizona Cardinals at New Orleans Saints
by Matt Severance - 1/13/2010
Let’s see, if the Arizona Cardinals can score 51 points – with Kurt Warner throwing more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four) -- against a Green Bay defense that was second in the NFL in the regular season, what can Arizona do against a New Orleans unit that fell off big time at the end of the year?
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And if the Packers can score 45 points against the mediocre Cardinal defense, what will the Saints’ top-ranked offense do on Saturday night?
Obviously, no one expects another record-setting game in terms of points as we saw last weekend in Arizona, but the Bodog total on this game is 57.5, which is currently 11.5 points more than any of the other four playoff games. So it should be a back-and-forth offensive shootout.
Arizona is 5-3 ATS on the road this season, losing three of their final four against the spread. New Orleans is 4-4 ATS at home this season, but it dropped its final two ATS at home and final five against the spread overall.
The Saints defense should be better as the key players basically have had three weeks off to heal and rest, but Warner is at another level in the playoffs. After last week’s 29-for-33 effort for 379 yards and five scores, he is now just the third QB in NFL history with six playoff games with at least 300 yards passing. Only three QBs have more playoff touchdown passes than Warner, who is 9-3 in his playoff career -- but seven of those wins came in home dome games while only two of those were true road games, in which Warner is 1-1.
And Warner torched the Packers – getting sacked only once, so the offensive line deserves credit -- without probably the best No. 2 receiver in football, Anquan Boldin, who sat out with left knee/ankle injuries. In his place, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet combined for 13 catches for 202 yards and three touchdowns. Boldin is hopeful of playing this week, and you can bet he wants back on the field just to establish he is indispensible to the team and perhaps enhance his trade value. What Breaston and Doucet did last week makes it likely that the unhappy and injury-prone Boldin is dealt this offseason.
While New Orleans safety Darren Sharper was one of the nice stories of the early part of the season and he finished third in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting (tying for the NFL lead with nine picks to go along with three return TDs), the fact is that the Saints pass defense was again a problem, ranking No. 26 during the regular season. In four of the final five games of the season, New Orleans allowed the opposing QB to throw for at least 300 yards three times. Even Bucs rookie QB Josh Freeman threw for 271 yards in an upset that was the second loss of the Saints’ season-ending three-game losing streak. While it’s OK to give up big numbers to the likes of Tony Romo, New Orleans also gave up big yards to Chris Redman and Jason Campbell.
On offense, New Orleans, which is a seven-point favorite at Bodog, scored fewer than 20 points in each game of that ending three-game skid after not falling under that number in the previous 23 games. Certainly you can throw out the season finale against Carolina, but the Saints were going full bore at home against both Dallas and Tampa Bay before that. In fairness, the Saints played their last three games without injured tight end Jeremy Shockey and two of those games without receiver Lance Moore. Leading rusher Pierre Thomas sat out the finale (as did nearly all starters) with cracked ribs. All three players should be ready for Saturday night. QB Drew Brees and that unit could get well fast against a Cards defense that allowed 422 yards passing to Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and four second-half TD passes after giving up just four TD passes combined in the previous four games.
With all this talk of quarterbacks, don’t be surprised if the running game is the difference. Arizona ran for 156 yards against the Packers' top-ranked rush defense last week. And in its final three regular-season games, New Orleans allowed 499 yards on 107 carries (4.7 per carry). The Packers rushed for just 90 yards last week against Arizona, although they began throwing the ball on every down. The Cards were a middle-of-the-pack team against the rush during the regular season, while New Orleans was No. 6 in rushing offense.
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Saturday’s game is just the ninth playoff game in franchise history for the Saints, who are 2-6 in the previous eight with both of those wins coming at the Superdome (in five tries). And what’s with the teams’ respective trends playing on a Saturday? New Orleans is 0-4 ATS in its past five on that day, while Arizona is 7-0 ATS in its past seven.