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Cowboys emerge as kings of the wild

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Running back Felix Jones #28 of the Dallas Cowboys stiff arms safety Sean Jones #26 of the...
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Terry Bradshaw

Terry Bradshaw is a two-time Super Bowl MVP who led the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl championships during his pro career. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989 and joined "FOX NFL Sunday" in 1994.

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My biggest problem with picking next weekend’s playoff winners, especially in the NFC, is the Cowboys and Cardinals are fresh in my mind. They both looked really great on offense in their wild-card wins, while the last time I saw the Saints and the Vikings, well, neither one was playing super.

So, I’m picking the Cowboys and the Cardinals. But I’m giving the Saints a chance because I’m a Saints guy. In the AFC, I like the Chargers and the Colts.

Here’s my game-by-game look:

Jets at Chargers: First of all, there won’t be any restrictions on the Jets offense in this game. I don’t think it will matter whether they play in bad weather or good weather. I knew they would beat Cincinnati because the Bengals haven’t had a good passing attack all year. But the Jets are facing San Diego, which will be well-coached, and I’ve always believed teams that throw the ball that well tend to do a great job schematically of dictating what blitzes they will see.

This will be a totally different game for the Jets, and the only way they will have a chance against Philip Rivers is with their same formula: a great defense, control the clock and be able to run, run, run. That’s really the key. They are going to face one of the top five offensives in the NFL, and they are going to face them on the road after flying 3,000 miles.

Mark Sanchez may have to throw more than 15 passes to win this one. Of the passes he threw against the Bengals, I was more impressed with the quick slants he threw than the bootleg ones. He had guys wide open on the boots, but on the slants he had to deliver some tight passes to keep the chains moving on third-and-fours. I was very impressed by those and also his decision-making. It’s going to be a different story against the Chargers. It’s going to be a hard game for them to win.

Now, I do agree with their coach, Rex Ryan, that the Jets are a formidable opponent for anyone. It won’t be a cake walk for the Chargers. I still like them to win, but I think I’d rather be in the Jets’ position than San Diego’s.

As a player, I didn’t like sitting around. I liked to play. San Diego has been sitting around and sitting around and they can say they are getting healthy and all that, but the only thing about the first-round bye is that, getting healthy. You still haven’t played in two weeks.

The Jets need to get out there and control the line scrimmage and take it to them. I don’t think of San Diego as a defensive machine, either. It’s not as if Shawne Merriman and those guys are great. This will be a very tough game; it will be a lot harder for the Jets than what they just went through.

Ravens at Colts: It’s the same thing for the Ravens as with the Jets. The Ravens love to run the Football. We’re seeing Joe Flacco do a little bit, but he’s mostly handing off to Ray Rice and Willis McGahee. To have any chance, they have to run for at least 180 yards. Now, if they can control the clock with the run, Baltimore can limit the number of opportunities for Peyton Manning. But the Ravens have to score, too. They just can’t keep it for eight-nine minutes and get three points. But I don’t see how the Ravens beat the Colts, who are so explosive on offense.

I feel better about Indy beating the Ravens than anybody next weekend. If I had to bet on any of these games and I had $100 to save my life, I’m more comfortable betting on Peyton Manning against the Ravens. No disrespect now to them, but I do think the Jets will come closer to beating the Chargers than the Ravens will against Indy.

What did I think of Peyton winning his fourth MVP? I’m not sure it meant as much to him as much it would have meant to Drew Brees, who has never gotten it. I like to spread this award around. I mean, you could give it to Peyton every year, but how could you not give it to Brees? What does he have to do to get it? What does Chris Johnson down in Tennessee have to do to get it? I always ask myself who stepped up and had incredible years. It would have been great for the NFL, because Drew is every bit as good a guy and a player as Peyton is.

Cowboys at Vikings: I am thinking Dallas will get pressure all over Brett Favre. I think they will get in his face. The Cowboys will stop the run — I don’t think Adrian Peterson has had a 100-yard game in quite a while — and force Favre to throw to win. As well as Dallas is playing right now, I just don’t expect the Cowboys to have a letdown — not like Green Bay’s defense did against Arizona. I think Dallas is by far the best team right now.

I say that because New Orleans has lost three in a row and Minnesota won only one of their last four, and that was against a Giants team that had its vacation bags packed before they played. That’s a false sense of confidence for the Vikings.

Now, I do believe the Vikings will go into this game believing they can win, but Dallas is by far playing better defense right now than Minnesota did in the last month of the season. And offensively, I would say they are a step ahead of the Vikings, too.

The Cowboys have the running game going, and Tony Romo is making good decisions with the football. I have a history with Favre, and he’s proven to me that he can succeed come January time and time again. He has had such a great season at 40 years old. I am still so amazed at what he’s accomplished this season. I mean, we never would have known what a great receiver Sidney Rice was if Brett hadn’t shown up in Minnesota.

Cardinals at Saints: If the Cardinals can play at least offensively like they did against the Packers, they have a great chance against the Saints. Once again, because New Orleans has lost three straight, I just don’t have a lot of confidence in the Saints. I was totally shocked with how quickly the Cardinals without Anquan Boldin jumped out on the Packers. Early Doucet had a huge game for them picking up the slack, and they ran the ball great (156 yards) against the NFL’s best run defense. I think they doubled what Green Bay was allowing in a single game this season.

Arizona’s defense really covered the Packers a lot better in the first half than in the second half. And give Mike McCarthy credit for calling that successful onside kick when they were down 14 in the second half. It got the Packers right back into the game. I believe Minnesota can light Dallas up and New Orleans can light Arizona up — absolutely, it can happen.

How great are Kurt Warner and Arizona? Well, I’m watching them today, and New Orleans isn’t playing this weekend. I’m going off those three lost games, and even though I believe in the Saints, they did not play well in the last five games of the season. They needed overtime to beat the Redskins and barely beat the Falcons, too. They were averaging 35.8 points in the first 13 games and then not even 17 points in the last three. They were turning it over and not being explosive.

Yes, I believe Sean Payton is very capable of coming up with the right game plan to beat the Cardinals. When the Saints were unbeaten, everything Payton called, a post route, a corner route, deep-in routes and bombs away, they were clicking. Plus, they were rushing for 145 yards a game. But in those final three, they were rushing for next to nothing and they got away from it. But can they dial it up and be scary once again? Yes, I believe they can. But right now, the Cardinals are fresh on my mind. I feel good about them, and I feel the same thing about Dallas. They looked awesome against the Eagles, and they can take this act on the road.


Tagged: Bengals, Cowboys, Packers, Colts, Vikings, Saints, Jets, Redskins, Ravens, Cardinals, Chargers, Brett Favre

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