Playoffs in the sun

Published 11:02 pm Friday, January 2, 2009

Atlanta (11-5) at Arizona (9-7) – 4:30 p.m.

How tough is playing quarterback in the NFL? Before this season, no rookie quarterback had ever started every game of his first season and taken his team to the playoffs.

Now Matt Ryan and Baltimore’s Joe Flacco have done it. Near the other end of his career, Arizona’s Kurt Warner, nine years after coming out of nowhere to be Super Bowl MVP for the Rams, has thrown for 4,583 yards (2nd in the NFL) and a franchise-record 30 touchdowns.

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Warner, usually with Larry Fitzgerald or Anquan Boldin on the receiving end, is the whole Cardinal offense.

In Arizona, the passing’s fine and the Cards are 6-2. Late in the year at Philly and at New England, it was ugly for Arizona. As division champs of the mighty NFC West, Warner’s in good shape through this round.

Michael Turner, LaDainian Tomlinson’s former backup, has had a better year than L.T. Turner’s 106 yards per game and 17 touchdowns have made things easier for Ryan. While his importance was overshadowed by Ryan’s rookie year, the press got something as right as it ever does by having Turner finish second in the league MVP voting, with Peyton Manning winning it, earlier this week.

Line – Atlanta by 1.5

My pick – Arizona 31-21

Indianapolis (12-4) at San Diego (8-8) – 8 p.m.

The Chargers were 4-8 a month ago, but now they’re hosting a playoff game.

S.D. is 3-7 against teams not in the AFC West and 0-5 vs. teams now in the postseason. The Chargers are the first team to win a division with a .500 record since 1985.

The Colts have won nine straight games, with Manning winning his third MVP award. Six of the nine wins have been one-possession margins. The Colts won in San Diego, 23-20 on a last-second, 51-yard field goal, on Nov. 23.

Despite the Chargers’ mediocre resume, Philip Rivers, L.T., Antonio Gates, maybe even Norv Turner, can draw from eliminating the Colts 28-24 from last year’s playoffs.

Tomlinson left last Sunday’s game with a strained groin, but isn’t listed on the injury report.

In last January’s game, the Colts played without Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. The two combined for 23 sacks this season. All-pro safety Bob Sanders is expected to return from injury.

Line – Colts by 1

My pick – Colts 24-14

Last week – 8-8

For the season – 150-99