Shootout

So the Arizona Cardinals scored a staggering 51 points and still needed overtime to beat the Green Bay Packers in their wild and wooly NFL playoff game Sunday. Ironically, in a game that was the highest in NFL postseason history, it was a defensive play – Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ fumble was returned 17 yards for the game-winning TD – that sealed things for Arizona, the defending NFC champs.

The big question is: Arizona travels to the Superdome next weekend to meet New Orleans, which zoomed to a 13-0 start but lost its last three regular-season games (granted, the finale was more or less an exhibition contest). I’ll go out on a slight limb and say Arizona pulls off another win. Arizona defense will have to do a better job defensively against the potentially explosive Saints, but New Orleans seemed to be out of sync on both sides of the ball toward the end of the year and there’s a lot of pressure on that club to regroup. It’s almost as if Arizona, while shooting to return to the Super Bowl for a second straight year, is essentially an underdog with far less to lose than the Saints, who set expectations sky high for 13 weeks.

Then again … anyone who wants to take my NFL predictions to Vegas would be quite ill-advised. After all, I finished second-to-last in the five-man Daily Globe "Pigskin Pick ‘Em" this year, which is an improvement over the 2008 season’s last-place effort. (I did win it in ’07.) And I had boasted to those present in the newsroom Friday night that the Cardinals, Bengals and Eagles – who all lost last weekend against their first-round playoff opponents – would emerge with wins this time around. Well, we know Arizona came through, but the Eagles were a joke for a second week in a row (a lesson to never bet on Andy Reid in January), and the Bengals were the Bungles once more (particularly thanks to an inept performance by placekicker Shayne Graham).

I did, however, have the Ravens over the Patriots today, though I certainly didn’t expected as lopsided a score. The Ravens probably won’t topple the mighty Colts, but they left little doubt they are a better team than a New England club that had sputtered through inconsistency despite winning another AFC East title. It was remarkable how the game began, as Baltimore running back Ray Rice took a handoff on the first offensive play from scrimmage and dashed 83 yards for six points. He didn’t make the key block on the play, but it was nevertheless fitting somehow to see tackle Michael Oher blocking for the Ravens – just hours after Becca and I saw "The Blind Side," during which Oher makes huge block after huge block for many long touchdown runs.

I didn’t watch any of the Eagles-Cowboys game last night, but even though Tony Romo has suddenly become a late-season hero of sorts, I still think the safe money is on the Vikes next weekend. That leaves the Cardinals and Vikes playing for the NFC championship … and I’ll make a pick on that after seeing how the actual action shakes out.

In the AFC, I’ll go with Colts and Chargers, though the J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets could give the Bolts a heck of a scare. If San Diego starts quickly, I think the game’s over, but if Gang Green hangs around and control the pace of things, it’s another matter.

Feel free to print this out and laugh hysterically next Sunday night. Maybe, just maybe, though, I’ll have the final chuckle.

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