Cornerback Walt Harris and linebacker Parys Haralson will go head to head during the playoffs with their picks and reasons for them. For the wildcard weekend, these two defensive players seem to be in tune with their predictions, but we'll see how often they agree as the playoffs continue.
Wildcard Weekend Saturday Games
*Indianapolis @ San Diego CB Walt Harris' Take *The Chargers have been the Colts Achilles' heel the last few years and gave them trouble last year by beating them at home in the post-season. Both teams have finished the season strong, but what the Colts have done with nine straight wins is very impressive. My thing is when you've got a guy like Peyton Manning, at any time or any place, he's able to light the scoreboards up.
When San Diego beat them before, they had Shawne Merriman who can give offenses a lot of different looks to deal with, but Manning won't have to even consider him in this matchup.
Manning and those guys will do what they need to do in this game and take care of business. Manning had the knee injury early in the year and I think that through of his timing with his receivers, but right now they are clicking and that's what you want. The teams that play well in the latter part of the season are usually the ones who do well in the playoffs. I think they've got that swagger and they'll overcome some of those past losses to San Diego.
I think when you think about San Diego's offense, it starts with LaDanian Tomlinson, who is coming off that toe injury. He seems to be getting back to form and hitting his stride, but the Colts also have Bob Sanders back, and they'll be much more able to handle the Chargers with him. He can stop the run, play the pass and really gives those guys up front a chance to pin their ears back and get to the quarterback. When you let Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis get after the quarterback like they are capable of, it could be a long day for Phillip Rivers.
If San Diego falls behind early, that game is totally going to be over. But either way, I pick Indy.
LB Parys Haralson's Take
I'm going to go with Indianapolis. I think Peyton Manning is playing very well. He just got named MVP for the year, and he's been leading his team on a nice win streak right now.
Joseph Addai was also running the ball well at the end of the season and I think this Indy offense is hot right now.
The Chargers have some weapons on offense too, but if the Colts can shut down LaDanian and the Chargers run game, I think it'll be real tough for them to get anything going. I don't think that offensive line of San Diego can stand up to that pass rush of Mathis and Freeney.
Plus Bob Sanders being back on defense means the Colts will take it up another level. He can mix it up and help stop the run and he's a game changer in the secondary.
Atlanta @ Arizona
Harris' TakeThis is the game that I really want to see because having played Arizona twice every year and going up against Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin – that's three Pro Bowlers on offense right in your face. I'm curious to see the outcome of this one.
I think one of the key matchups is going to be the Falcons secondary against Boldin and Fitzgerald. That's a match up that usually those receivers win, but I don't think it's in Arizona's best interest if all they can do is pass the ball because John Abraham will be gunning for Warner. They've got to establish some type of running game, something they haven't done well. I think that's a problem in the post-season. Plus Arizona hasn't been playing well period, and I think that's a question mark – how will they play this weekend?
This one could go either way, but I am leaning towards Atlanta.
Matt Ryan is a quarterback who has really come in and done what needs to be done for that Atlanta offense. Ryan is playing sound, throwing the ball where it needs to be and he's got a running back in Michael Turner, who is just playing wonderfully. I think Arizona will struggle stopping the running game, and I don't know that they can account for Roddy White.
I think the Falcons have the edge because they have a running game and the team that has a better chance of controlling the game has a better chance of coming out with the win, especially in the post-season.
Haralson's TakeI'm going to go with Atlanta simply because the way Michael Turner is running the ball. Plus, Matt Ryan is getting the ball to Roddy White, a Pro Bowl receiver who is having a huge year. That oline is blocking well and that running game is explosive.
Arizona has an explosive passing attack and two great receivers, and that passing attack is one of the best, but they are not balanced. They haven't been running the ball well and that defensive front of Atlanta is tough.
Jonathan Babineaux and Grady Jackson are solid inside and John Abraham is having a monster year with 16.5 sacks. I think they can shut down the run and then pin their ears back and get after Kurt Warner and cause Arizona some difficulties, so again, I'm taking Atlanta.
Wildcard Weekend Sunday Games
Baltimore @ Miami
It's been a bit of a storybook year for both of these teams. They both had coaching changes last year and have really turned it around. They had losing seasons a year ago and now they are in the playoffs and playing well.
But I think this is where it ends for Miami because they are going against a very experienced Baltimore team, particularly on defense. Although Miami has the home field advantage, I think Baltimore is just going to be too powerful for them.
Joe Flacco is a rookie playing like a poised veteran and getting the ball to where it needs to go, along with having a good running game that makes them tough on offense. The Dolphins do have a solid front with Joey Porter getting after the quarterback, but I think Flacco can handle the pressure. They don't want to get into a passing frenzy, but if they run the ball and let Flacco manage the game, they'll be fine. They're playing pretty consistent football and I think they'll come up with the right game plan to win this game.
But I think it really comes down to Baltimore's defense being the difference maker.
From playing Miami, they are not a great passing team. Baltimore can and will stop the run, and that's going to force Chad Pennington to throw the ball against a secondary led by Ed Reed, who is just playing phenomenal. That's just not Pennington's style of play to have to throw the ball.
I'm taking Baltimore all the way on this one because of their playmaking ability on defense. I think they are ranked in top five in every category. They do a lot of things on defense. Miami does have the wildcat but I think Baltimore found a way to contain that the first time around.
Ed Reed has nine interceptions and I think they'll be hard to get any points against. I know Pennington and Ronnie Brown had good years, and that Miami defense is making a lot of plays too, but I have to take the Baltimore defense. I really do feel that defense wins games and I just think Baltimore is playing the best defense right now.
Plus they got my guy Marques Douglas over there, so I'll go ahead and pull for him.
Philadelphia @ Minnesota Harris' Take
I think you are dealing with two teams that have great defenses. Both defenses are ranked in the top ten, at 3 (Philly) and 6 (Minnesota).
You've got Adrian Peterson who has been running the ball well for the Vikings and I'm sure he'll get his yards, but the Eagles are going to be tough to throw against.
Tarvaris Jackson is back in at quarterback for Minnesota and he's going to have to deal with an Eagles defense that is going to come at him in numerous ways. He's mobile but the Eagles are going to try to fluster him. If Gus Frerotte ends up in there, he's experienced, but he doesn't have the mobility to escape their pass rush.
Minnesota really needs to establish the run to keep this one close.
For the Eagles offense, you've got Donovan McNabb, who has gotten better as the season has gone on, and then a guy who's very tough to account for in Brian Westbrook. They are coming off a great win over Dallas and I think they are pumped and more experienced when it comes to the playoffs.
I think Westbrook is a guy you just can't really account for because he brings so many different things to the table, running the ball, catching the ball out of the backfield and then even lining up at wideout. I think he's a tough matchup for Minnesota and I don't know that they can account for a guy with his playmaking ability.
I've got to lean towards the Eagles for this game.
I'm going to pick Philadelphia. I think they are also a top five defense in most every category.
Vikings Pro Bowl back Adrian Peterson is running the ball well but I think the Eagles will be able to shut down the run and they are going to blitz. I think that blitz can really fluster Tarvaris Jackson, an inexperienced quarterback especially when it comes to the playoffs.
Minnesota has big beasts in the middle with Pat and Kevin Williams but I still think Philly's defense will make more plays against Minnesota's offense.
Plus Donovan McNabb has been playing like the old McNabb in this last stretch. He's also got Brian Westbrook, who is one of the premier backs in the NFL. We didn't see him earlier in the year when we played them, but he's healthy now and he's got an offensive line with two veteran tackles who are tough to get by. I think Philly will be too much for them.
So, that's my last pick and apparently Walt and I picked all of the same teams unbeknownst to either of us. I guess that means great minds think alike! We'll see what happens.