Cardinals ready for Saints shootout

New Orleans prepare for a high-scoring attack in the NFL playoffs.

    Cardinal's Drew Brees is among the most prolific regular-season passers in the NFL [GALLO/GETTY]
    When the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals meet to open the second round of the NFL playoffs on Saturday, the scoreboard will get a workout.

    The defences will get dizzy. The announcers might go hoarse.

    They are led by two of the most prolific passers the NFL has seen, in New Orleans' Drew Brees and Arizona's Kurt Warner.

    Doubts about defences aren't likely to happen in the other three playoff games this weekend: Baltimore at Indianapolis on Saturday, then Dallas at Minnesota and the New York Jets at San Diego on Sunday.

    New Orleans scored a league-high 510 points, ninth highest in NFL history.

    Arizona had a mere 375, then Warner riddled Green Bay's second-ranked defence for five touchdown passes in a 51-45 wild-card overtime victory - the highest-scoring playoff game ever.

    Danger zone

    The Superdome could be a danger zone for defenders.

    "I know what we're capable of and I know that if you just look at our track record, the last three out of four years we've had the No1 offence in the league,'' Brees said.

    "That's a body of work. That's not just a stretch of games here and a stretch of games there.''

    Results & fixtures

    Divisional Playoffs
    Saturday January 16

     New Orleans vs Arizona
     Indianapolis vs Baltimore

    Sunday, January 17

     Minnesota vs Dallas
     San Diego vs New York Jets

    Conference Championships

    Sunday January 24
     TBD

    Super Bowl
    Sunday February 7

     NFC champion vs AFC champion

    And it is no stretch to expect the top-seeded Saints to light it up on Saturday. They may have lost their final three games but they had little on the line in those contests, and everything is on the line now.

    Plus, the bye week helped them heal.

    "We know how to play at a high level offensively,'' Brees said.

    "The opportunity to get guys healthy - that was huge. We've been banged up at times throughout the season.''

    So have the Cardinals, and they still are uncertain about the availability of outstanding receiver Anquan Boldin. But they didn't miss him against Green Bay, particularly with Early Doucet emerging to join Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston in a dynamic receiving corps that could cause anyone problems.

    "We've all been pleasantly surprised with how he has responded on the big stage,'' Warner said of Doucet.

    On a roll

    With the way the Baltimore Ravens manhandled New England last weekend, the
    Ravens could be on the kind of roll that carried them into the AFC title game a year ago.

    Ray Rice is the playmaking running back who could damage the Indianapolis Colts. He'll need to be, because the Ravens won't scare Indy through the air, and the Colts have solid pass rushers in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

    Indianapolis rested Peyton Manning and other regulars in the final two games after going 14-0. So a win-the-Super-Bowl-or-else mentality surrounds the team, which has never won in the playoffs after a bye.

    Still, this was the league's best team for about four months, and Manning won a record fourth MVP award. The Colts will be ready.

    "This is how you set a legacy,'' Colts centre Jeff Saturday said.

    "This is how you make things happen, by playing in big games and playing well in them.''

    In their last four games, all victories, the Dallas Cowboys beat the undefeated Saints and twice took the Philadelphia Eagles. Their last loss was to San Diego, which finished the schedule with 11 consecutive wins.

    Dallas Dowboys quarterback Tony Romo has rediscovered his form [GALLO/GETTY]
    No jitters

    Dallas is rolling, with and without the ball.

    Quarterback Tony Romo appears to have discarded the jitters that plagued his big-game performances, and has all kinds of threats around him in the running and passing games, even if regular running back Marion Barber (left knee) is sidelined.

    If the offensive line avoids penalties, the Cowboys could deal well with Minnesota's sixth-ranked defence.

    Of course, the Metrodome is a very loud and difficult place to visit, and Minnesota passer Brett Favre didn't end yet another retirement to go out early in the playoffs. Plus, star running back Adrian Peterson is a difference-maker.

    The San Diego Chargers haven't lost since October, melding a sensational passing attack with opportunistic rushing and just enough defence.

    That defence must stop New York's top-rated running game, which is two-pronged with the emergence of rookie Shonn Greene to complement 1,400-yard rusher Thomas Jones.

    The Jets, who have won six of their last seven, also have the league's stingiest defence, but shutting down the Chargers is much more challenging than stopping the one-dimensional Cincinnati Bengals.

    "We think we're at our best right now and I think the Chargers are at their best,'' Jets coach Rex Ryan said.

    "It makes for a great matchup.''

    SOURCE: AP


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