If you noticed a slight slow down at 18to88 in recent days, you aren’t imagining things.  I’m on vacation with the family and am limiting my 18to88 time.  On top of that, I’m working feverishly on the book about the Colts, so what spare time I do get goes into that.  I hope to have the book largely completed by March 1st.  Honestly, the project is exciting, and I think every die hard and casual Colts fan will love it. If you’ve been a fan for 25 years, you’ll love that someone remembers the same details you do.  If you are a new comer or a young fan, it will fill in the gaps in your Colts knowledge and give you a sense of the heritage of the team and how it has transformed Indiana.  I appriciate your patience with me as it will temporarily divert my attention to the site.  I’m still reading every comment and email, but if I’m slow to respond, please understand why.

So, in consideration of that, I’m printing the work of a reader today.  TJ Thompson picks every game in the NFL before the season, and has had very strong results.  During the season, he ran at about a 70% clip.  This year he had 7 8 of the playoff teams right before the season   Today, he’s contributing a breakdown of every game this weekend.

Dallas Cowboys Vs. Minnesota Vikings — May The Best Defense Win

The Dallas D has been absolutely dominating the past month, and the Vikings will expect Power D.  I think that Cowboys coach Wade Phillips will change schemes to contain both Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson.  Expect to see Dallas run a lot of 3-3-5 Nickel packages.  Dallas will use the 5th DB (expect it to be Orlando Scandrick) to ‘Spy’ Peterson – but also run an occasional Blitz: on 2nd & Long plays, mostly.
The top priority of Minnesota’s Defense will be to try and create one-on-one matchups with Jared Allen Vs. Flozell Adams to create pressure on Tony Romo.  Jason Garrett – Dallas Offensive Coordinator – will plan for this so expect a lot of Run Game and Play-Action passes from the Cowboys.  This is bad news for Minnesota for two reasons: #1 – Dallas has 3 dynamite running backs who are dangerous.   #2 – Romo performs extremely well when scrambling/bootlegging.

Keys To Victory:
– Make Dallas one-dimensional.  Pick the lesser of two evils – Shut down Jason Witten & Miles Austin and force them to run the ball.  Hit Romo often & keep him rattled.  Keep the crowd involved and making noise.

– Establish run-game early, and use play action.  Contain Adrian Peterson & pressure Favre.  The speed of the Secondary can maintain a solid coverage in any scheme.  Put the weight on Favre’s shoulders; not the deadly legs of A.P.

Result:  Like MVP voting: Favre Falls Short.    *Dallas 31 – Vikings 24*

Arizona Cardinals @ New Orleans Saints — “The Greatest Show On Turf” Revisited?

To Retire, or Not To Retire?  That is the question for Kurt Warner.  And last week against the Packers, Warner looked like a College QB slinging 5 TD’s and  completing 29 of 33 passes for 379 yds.  Warner and the Cards could almost taste the champagne in last season’s Super Bowl, and I think Warner is looking to “Pull an Elway” and retire on top.
Look for another shootout this week in The Big Easy.  The Saints and QB Drew Brees are a reflection of Warner’s Super Bowl Champion Rams a decade ago.  Warner, once again, has a stable of young, quick, enthusiastic talent around him – and the same Sniper Arm.

Keys To Victory:
– The Arizona D needs to create turnovers exactly like they did against Green Bay.  Forcing a few punts are also imperative in this mayhem-filled matchup.   Warner and the offense are perfectly in sync, and I see no reason for that to slow down.

– Pressure Warner.  Pressure Warner.  And then Pressure him some more.  Kurt Warner has never been the most mobile QB, especially now.  Force Arizona into 3rd & long situations.  Get Drew Brees comfortable in the pocket and utilize Reggie Bush in the passing game.

Result:  Warner Too Tough On Turf.     *Cardinals 35  –  Saints 31*

Baltimore Ravens Vs. Indianapolis Colts — Indy Rusty after month in the shed?

Colts Coach Jim Caldwell have been blasted, beaten, & battered in the media for choosing to rest the starters for basically a month leading up to this week’s match-up.   I believe this is the smartest move Caldwell made all season long.  The 2nd String players get the much needed experience to carry with them into the playoffs.  This gives the Colts the confidence to make more frequent substitutions to keep both Offense & Defense relatively fresh through 4 quarters of play.  Only 2 words need to be said about Indy’s team — Peyton & Freeney.  ‘Nuff said.
Baltimore is fresh off of a woodshed whipping of the New England Patriots.  The Ravens defense is still what we’ve known for a decade – physical & dangerous.  Baltimore’s most powerful weapon is a running game that is twice as scary as the Super Bowl XXXV winning combo of Jamal Lewis & Priest Holmes.  Tailbacks Ray Rice & Willis McGahee spearhead a backfield that also includes Fullback Le’Ron McClain. 

Keys To Victory:
– Do not give Peyton Manning a chance to read your Defense.  Keep the D-Line in a 2-point stance and draw linebackers close to line of scrimmage.  Offensive Line MUST contain Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and allow RB’s to get to the second level.  QB Joe Flacco needs to take his time, keep offense on the field as long as possible, to keep Peyton on the bench as long as possible.

– Avoid Ed Reed.  Keep passing plays to the 5-10 yard distance and let Wayne, Clark, & Garcon create yardage with their feet.  The Linebackers & Secondary are speedy enough to keep deep plays in check, yet still contain the run – maintain Cover 2 Defense.  The key is tackling.  The Colts have shown poor tackling all year.  They MUST wrap up the ball carrier.

Result:  MVP Reigns Over Ravens.     *Ravens 13  –  Colts 24*

New York Jets @ San Diego Chargers — QB Battle: Green Rookie Vs. Sparked Veteran

Philip Rivers is a man on a mission.  He wants not only a Super Bowl appearance, but he wants to Win it.  In 2007, the Chargers were one step away, but lost in the AFC Championship game.  Last season, they lost to the eventual Champion Steelers in the Divisional Round. 
San Diego is streaking White-Hot coming into the playoffs, and have no intentions of cooling off.  However, the Jets “Gang Green” defense infects opposing offenses and cuts off the lifeblood of success – the Run Game.  New York will suffocate LaDanian Tomlinson and put the game in the hands of Rivers.  To make things tougher for Rivers; Darrelle Revis is one of the best Cover Corners in the NFL.
The Chargers are no slouch on Defense, either.  Shawne Merriman will pressure the Jets Rookie QB Mark Sanchez – and as we all have seen, Sanchez is less than stellar under pressure – forcing the Jets fierce run game to take center stage.  This game will be 100% SmashMouth Football.

Keys To Victory:
– Give Sanchez time to let play develop and make accurate passes.  Establish run game to keep San Diego Defense honest.  Stop LT & Darren Sproles, let Revis become a factor.

– Again, establish run game: especially against NFL’s Top Defense.  Special Teams play might be the game-changer. 

Result:  Rivers looks to make it 3 for 3 against Peyton in Playoffs.    *Jets 17  –  Chargers 21*