Here is our Football Relativity comparison of the 8 remaining playoff teams. Note that these teams fell between the 10 and 1 levels in the Wild-card round comparison of all teams. We leave some levels blank to show the gap between teams. We’ll make actual picks of the divisional-round games Friday.
10 – San Diego Chargers – The Chargers, who didn’t play, will need to find a way to beat the Jets’ defense even if WR Vincent Jackson is blanketed by Darrelle Revis. But the Chargers’ depth of offensive playmakers should allow them to do so. Philip Rivers has a real opportunity to prove himself as an elite guy this week by beating the league’s No. 1 defense. One troublesome omen: San Diego must hope that PK Nate Kaeding doesn’t flash back to his crucial miss in his last playoff meeting against the Jets.
9 – Indianapolis Colts – The Colts got a bye, and they get the Ravens this week. They won in Baltimore earlier this year, although the Ravens moved the ball better than they did. The key to that game was the Colts’ ability to get in the end zone and to force the Ravens to settle for field goals; it may take a similar performance this week for the Colts to earn another win.
8 – Dallas Cowboys (UP A LEVEL), New Orleans Saints – The Cowboys thumped the Eagles for the second week in a row, and they look to be really rolling right now. With Anthony Spencer stepping up his play across from DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys have a scare factor on defense, and Miles Austin gives Tony Romo the kind of big-play target that turns an offense from good to great. The reappearance of Felix Jones as an impact player is a great sign as well. New Orleans comes off a bye and now faces off against the scary Cardinals. The Saints’ defense will need to get some turnovers to make up for the points they will inevitably put up. The pressure will be on Drew Brees to generate plenty of passing offense, or else the Saints could lose in this indoor track meet.
7 – Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings were off, and now they must regain their mojo against a Cowboys team that looks like it might be the better overall squad. Adrian Peterson needs to return to his early-season form, and the Vikings’ D-line needs to get back to generating pressure on its own for the Vikings to advance. The home field advantage doesn’t hurt either.
6 – Arizona Cardinals (UP A LEVEL) – The Cardinals’ defense gave up a bunch of points, but the offense was so good we’ll still move the Cardinals up. At this point, you don’t want to see the Cardinals in your playoff bracket. Kurt Warner is fearless, and he always steps up his performance in the playoffs. And even without Anquan Boldin, the Cardinals have so many talented receivers that Warner is going to find the right matchup more often than not. On defense, the Cards are vulnerable, especially across from CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but they have enough playmakers that someone is prone to do what Karlos Dansby did last week and make three big plays. The Saints should be able to score on the Cards, but another shootout is likely in the offing.
5 – none
4 – Baltimore Ravens (UP A LEVEL) – The Ravens used an explosive running game to jump out to a lead against the Patriots, and then Baltimore put on a clinic about playing with a lead. They ran the ball, limiting Joe Flacco to just 10 pass attempts. They blitzed to put pressure on Tom Brady, which kept the Pats from being able to get the ball downfield and covered up the normally susceptible Ravens cornerbacks. That recipe may not completely work against Indy, however. While Baltimore should be able to run the ball again, getting to Peyton Manning will be a struggle, and that should lead to some big passing plays for the Colts. The Ravens’ ability to blanket the Colts’ receivers will determine the outcome of this game.
3 – none
2 – none
1 – New York Jets – The Jets would have moved up a level, but they’re still the least of the eight teams remaining, and so they remain at the bottom of the reset comparison. The most encouraging thing in the Jets’ first-round win was the solid performance of rookie QB Mark Sanchez. If he plays like that this week against the Chargers, the Jets have a chance. And while the Jets were gashed by Cedric Benson, it’s hard to see LaDanian Tomlinson having the juice in his legs to do that this week. Darren Sproles, however, could be another matter. The Jets are better than we thought, but they still have limits, and those should show up this weekend.