Let's be real, here. Players might always say that they play against the opposing defense, not the opposing quarterback, but that's not the reality. Brees and Warner will be keenly aware of what the other QB is doing. And they are even more aware that the Cards' defense ranks 23rd against the pass and the Saints' D ranks 26th against the pass. It's time for the big stars to Cowboy up, or Cajun up, as the case may be.
2 of 12David E. Klutho/SI, Simon Bruty/SI
Saints WR Robert Meachem vs. Cardinals CB Michael Adams
There will come a point when Adams figures to be in the middle of a turning point-type play. The question is, for which team? In the epic 51-45 Cards wild-card win over the Packers, Adams was the human pass-interference-call. He also got burned and somehow defied gravity long enough to miss a sure sack. But then he forced the fumble, which Karlos Dansby returned for the game-winning points. Whether Adams is in nickel situations or in to spell the hobbled Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, it figures the Saints will look for a mismatch.
3 of 12Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Saints RB Pierre Thomas vs. Cardinals D-Line
Saints coach Sean Payton will tell you his running game doesn't drop off that much without Thomas in the game. That's not true. The offense is more crisp and the ground game more efficient with Thomas, who says he will play despite three broken ribs. Reggie Bush has become a one-trick pony catching the ball and the Saints simply have not been as productive with Mike Bell carrying the load. One key carry could spell the difference in this one.
4 of 12Al Tielemans/SI (3)
Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Colts DEs Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney
The Colts are going to come after Joe Flacco with their noted pass rush, of course. But technique and staying at home will be at a premium. The Ravens' passing game is more a rumor than a threat. While stopping the run isn't what Freeney (93) and Mathis (88) do best, that's what makes this an intriguing game within the game. The Colts ends are all about sacks. But Rice (27) is terrific at exploiting ends caught out of position.
5 of 12Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Colts vs. Losing their edge?
Would you rather be the team that cruised into the bye week resting players and resting on laurels? Or would you rather be the team that scratched for every inch of traction, with no guarantees of an NFL tomorrow. There are positives and negatives for each path. But rest assured, no one's going to be second-guessing the Baltimore Ravens if they fall short against Indianapolis. Not so for coach Jim Caldwell and his Colts.
6 of 12Damian Strohmeyer/SI, Al Tielemans/SI (2)
Ravens CBs Chris Carr and Domonique Foxworth vs. Peyton Manning
No one finds a weakness better than Manning (10), no matter how small or impossible it is to find. Foxworth (24) and Carr (25) stepped up huge against Tom Brady and the Pats in the wild-card upset. Both made big plays tackling and hawking the ball. Randy Moss was rendered a veritable non-factor. But Manning has made a career out of foiling the otherwise dominant Ravens' defense. He consistently has hurt and beaten the Ravens. If he does it again? Ballgame.
7 of 12Joe Robbins/Getty Images, Bob Rosato/SI
Jets Safety Kerry Rhodes vs. Chargers TE Antonio Gates
Darrelle Revis covers everything and anyone thrown his way. From blanketing Andre Johnson to making change of Ocho Cinco in successive weeks, Revis is the league's best shutdown corner. So what opens up, then, for Chargers QB Phillip Rivers? Probably the best tight end in the game, Antonio Gates. Rhodes has had his share of success. If he stops Gates, Jets win. Simple as that.
8 of 12Fred Vuich/SI, David Bergman/SI
Chargers coach Norv Turner vs. Jets coach Rex Ryan
Ryan appears to be totally unflappable, despite being a rookie head coach. Turner, who's been on the big stage several times, seems to have a terminal case of stage fright. The fact is Turner has done a consistently superb job --- just not when it has counted most. It's an image he's keenly aware of, despite barely acknowledging it. If Ryan has a better day defending Turner's offense than Norv has attacking Ryan's squad, both images could be set forever.
9 of 12David Bergman/SI, Peter Read Miller/SI, John W. McDonough/SI
Chargers special teams vs. Mark Sanchez
You may not think Sanchez (6) and special teams go together, but they do. The Jets are all about defense, running the ball and field position. Few teams are better at pinning opponents deep in their own territory and lengthening the field than the Chargers. A big special team play early could force the Jets to play from behind, play on a long field and make Sanchez make plays with his arm. Nate Kaeding is an exceptional kicker. Chargers punter Mike Scifres (5) would be All Pro if not for division mate Shane Lechler. Add to that tremendous kick coverage teams and Darren Sproles (43) in the return game. Advantage Chargers.
10 of 12John Biever/SI
Vikings QB Brett Favre vs. Vikings coach Brad Childress?
Yeah, you read that right. Childress and Favre have had their well-publicized disagreements. They've made up ... or, have they? Keep in mind, Favre returned for another season for one game. This game. No player is more well aware of his legend and legacy than Favre. Will he trust Childress' gameplan and calls? Or with the wild rebel in him want to be a hero?
11 of 12Bill Frakes/SI, Tom Dahlin/Getty Images, Christian Petersen/Getty Images, Rich Gabrielson/Icon SMI
Cowboys RB Felix Jones vs. Vikings S Madieu Williams, Tyrell Johnson and Jamarca Sanford
As hot as the Cowboys are, naturally they can come at you a dozen different ways and beat you. They can nickel-and-dime you with an array of backs. But only one can gobble up yardage a counterfeiter would love -- in 10s and 20s. That's Jones. And that's the issue for the Vikings safeties (Johnson, 25; Williams, 20; Sanford, 33), who have struggled finishing tackles and making plays.
12 of 12Scott Cunningham/Getty Images, Tom Dahlin/Getty Images (2)
Cowboys LBs DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer vs. Vikings OTs Phil Loadholt and Bryant McKinnie
Loadholt (71) and McKinnie (74) are prone to struggle with fast ends or rush linebackers. This could be the most pivotal matchup of the game, with Ware (94) and Spencer (93) certain to be put in position to attack the edges. The answer could be line check-offs to power runs by quarterback Brett Favre, giving his tackles the advantage.<br><br>Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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