Atlanta Falcons at Arizona Cardinals
Arizona got off to a 7-3 start but struggled down the stretch losing four of its final six outings. The Cardinals have featured a one-dimensional offense for the majority of the season, getting little production from their running game. Arizona is averaging a mere 74 yards per game on the ground and has been limited to just 3.5 yards per carry. Veteran RB Edgerrin James rushed for 100 yards in the regular season finale, the team’s best rushing effort since Week 9. Look for James to see an expanded role this weekend while RB Tim Hightower reverts to being utilized on a situational basis.
Unlike the Cardinals, Atlanta boasts an extremely balanced offensive attack highlighted by rookie QB Matt Ryan and RB Michael Turner. Ryan has been a pleasant surprise this season, throwing for nearly 3,500 yards while maintaining a QB rating of 87.7. Meanwhile, Turner was second in the NFL in rushing with 1,699 yards and racked up 17 touchdowns. The Falcons’ biggest weakness has been defending the run where they’ve allowed 128 yards per contest. If Arizona can take advantage of Atlanta’s ineffective run defense, look for the Cardinals to have a slight advantage on their home turf.
QB Matt Ryan
Philadelphia Eagles at Minnesota Vikings
Philadelphia punched its own ticket to the postseason, throttling the Dallas Cowboys in the final game of the regular season. Despite a record of just 9-6-1, the Eagles have been one the more dominant teams in the NFC. They’ve allowed the fewest points in the conference (289) and are fifth in points scored (416). QB Donovan McNabb remains one of the most productive passers in the league. He threw for over 3,900 yards and tossed 23 touchdowns on the year. RB Brian Westbrook has been in and out of the lineup this season, but a healthy Westbrook could give opposing defenses fits in the playoffs.
Minnesota narrowly escaped with a win in Week 17, but would have won the NFC North by default following a loss by the Chicago Bears. RB Adrian Peterson led the NFL in rushing with 1,760 yards but goes up against the fourth-ranked rush defense allowing 92 yards per game. The Vikings have been even better against the run, giving up a league-best 77 yards per outing. Since replacing QB Gus Frerotte in Week 15, QB Tarvaris Jackson is completing 62 percent of his passes and has tossed seven touchdowns opposed to just one interception. If that production continues, the Vikings could be poised for a deep playoff run.
QB Tarvaris Jackson
Brad Wilbricht can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org