The majority of the playoff teams got here by throwing the ball, but we see two teams in the divisional round that arrived via the ground. The Jets and Ravens are living by the old adage that a great defense and a good running game win championships. This weekend we get to test that theory. I believe we are in the death throes of that idea and the Chargers and Colts win two tough games. I love watching a team impose their will on another team. The Jets and Ravens do that, but the Colts beat the Ravens earlier in the year because even in a tough defensive battle, Peyton Manning could get his team into the endzone while Joe Flacco couldn’t.
I’ve taken the rushing yards given up since week 10 to each defense and found the corresponding ranking and taken that number and put it in between those little curvy lines. Got it?
Saturday 4:30 EST
Arizona (22nd) @ New Orleans (24th)
In the last half of the season the Saints have given up 120 yards and 1 touchdown per game. Of course the Cardinals are still splitting the running backs up enough to make it tough for them to put up big numbers, but Beanie has been getting the majority of the carries since week 10. For some reason Tim Hightower continues to get goal line looks, but thankfully not all of them. Yes, Kurt Warner is a machine, and will probably complete 103.4% of his passes, but the matchup is too good for Whisenhunt not to run and after his defense was torched he’ll probably want to keep them off the field for as long as he’s able.
ARI: Wells +1, Hightower 0
If Arizona hadn’t gotten out to such a big lead we could have seen a lot more of Ryan Grant who was having plenty of success, so a lot of the Saints’ rushing numbers will depend on the score. The Saint’s aren’t afraid to rush the ball. They are 8th in rushing attempts, 3rd in rushing TD’s, and 8th in total rushing yards. They won’t just throw to throw. The fantasy problem is deciphering who will get the ball and where. Even though Mike Bell has hardly done anything, Sean Payton still uses him as their short yardage back. As long as Pierre Thomas is healthy enough he will continue to get the most overall work, and Reggie Bush will either have 10 touches an 3 touchdowns or 5 touches and a big fat Kardashian butt zero.
NO: Thomas +1, Bell 0, Bush 0
Saturday 8:15 EST
Baltimore (4th) @ Indianapolis (28th)
Baltimore’s bread and butter is the ground game (see NYJ) and Indianapolis has had some trouble against the rush as of late and I love bread and butter and Rice. I know, it’s boring, but so are running games, boring and filling. The Colts beat the Ravens last time by keeping them out of the endzone while Billy Cundiff kicked 5 field goals. Ray Rice totaled 135 yards even with his worst average per carry for the year with 3.5 yards. His ability to gain yards through the air always makes him dangerous. Willis McGahee will see work around the endzone, but Rice still gets more work in the redzone and in the last 8 weeks has touched the ball 6 times to McGahee’s 11 inside the 5 yard line. Even if the Colts get up big, Ray Rice will continue to see work.
BAL: Rice +1, McGahee 0
In the last nine games Baltimore’s run defense has given up 2 touchdowns to running backs and that includes rushing and receiving. Joseph Addai’s forte is scoring touchdowns, unlike Matt Forte’s forte this year. In the last half of the season the Ravens have been the best fantasy defense against the run. Addai is good at bucking the trend, but I sure wouldn’t bet on it. Donald Brown just hasn’t looked good since coming back from his injury and the Ravens aren’t the team to help him turn things around.
IND: Addai -1, Brown -2
Sunday 1:00 EST
Dallas (1st) @ Minnesota (3rd)
Marion Barber has a swollen bursa sac. Which is either a pool toy or a fish organ. It looks like he’ll be able to go, but even if he were 100% I wouldn’t feel good about his interior style of running against the Williams Wall. I would feel much more comfortable with the versatility of Felix Jones. Ray Rice and Justin Forsett had good luck catching passes out of the backfield against the Vikings and I think Jones would be the best back to do that for the Boys. The Vikings have given up the least number of touchdowns to running backs in the league and you can’t expect a huge game from any Cowboy, but Jones is your best bet. Tashard Choice could get a lot of work if Barber is still hurting, but I wouldn’t count on him.
DAL: Jones +1, Barber -1, Choice -1
Dallas’ rushing defense ranks 4th in the second half of the season, but those numbers are a bit skewed by the great backs Quinton Ganther, concussed Brian Westbrook, Quinton Ganther, Huggy Bear offspring Justin Fargas and Quinton Ganther. The Cowboys do have a stout run defense, don’t get me wrong, but going against Adrian Peterson is a different animal or Purple Deity.
MIN: Peterson +2, Taylor -1
Sunday 4:40 EST
New York Jets (9th) @ San Diego (8th)
San Diego lost 350 pounds of defensive lineman in the form of Jamal Williams, but somehow have kept their run defense intact. They were gashed by the amazingly awesome trio of Jamaal Charles, Jerome Harrison, and Chris Johnson, but otherwise they held strong. The Chargers can be run on with a concerted effort and if the Jets do anything at all, it’s run the ball concertedly. Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene make a great one two punch, but who will be the most productive? Last week was the first time Greene saw more touches than Jones and much will depend on who is running well. I believe that will be Greene once again.
NYJ: Greene +1, Jones 0
The Jets rush defense also lost a big chunk of man gut from their middle, 360 pounds of Kris Jenkins, and they have also patched together a decent run defense. Like the Chargers, the Jets aren’t infallible, just look at the beating Cedric Benson put on them last week. But the Chargers don’t have a Cedric Benson, they have a scat back and an old goal line back. The Jets matchup pretty well against the Chargers strength, the passing game, and they should be able to contain their running game. If I didn’t have faith in Rivers and Gates and Floyd I would be picking the Jets, but I do. LT can get into the endzone no matter who they are playing and Sproles is a wildcard play with his explosiveness and lack of touches.
SD: Tomlinson 0, Sproles -1