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Doug Farrar
Writer

Doug Farrar

A FootballOutsiders.com staff writer

One-seeds need to bring it

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The Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints are under the most pressure in the divisional round, for a couple of reasons. Neither team did well down the stretch. The Saints lost their last three regular-season games, and only one of them was a "rest our starters" contest -- they looked very mortal against the Cowboys and Buccaneers before gliding through the season finale against the Panthers with their second and third teams. The Colts famously gave up on a perfect season against the Jets in Week 16, pulling their offensive skill-position starters in the third quarter with a five-point lead and eventually losing by two touchdowns. The Colts lost their last regular-season game against the Bills in a snow-globe game in Buffalo -- Peyton Manning played a lot, but the Colts were also coasting, making way for the postseason.

Here's the problem with the "rest-until-the-playoffs" theory -- when your key starters aren't playing well, a three-week bye right before things get more intense isn't really a sensible option. In his last four games, Manning has thrown five interceptions to eight touchdowns, including a three-pick mistake festival against the Broncos. At their best, the Colts have the firepower to overcome any scoring differential in a hurry, but that's the question. Are they at their best? And will the Ravens keep them off the field with their newly-rediscovered ground attack?

For the Saints, the problem is staring them right in the face every time they put on film of Kurt Warner's five-touchdowns, four-incompletion performance against the Packers last weekend. New Orleans' pass defense has dropped from third in Defensive DVOA in the first half of the season to 20th in the second half. Like Manning, Saints quarterback Drew Brees can bring his team back against just about any score, but if the Saints face the same Warner and they put the same type of defense on the field, the result may be too much for any offense to overcome. The Saints are even worse against the run, and the last thing you want to give Warner is a bunch of options.

The Colts and Saints are each one loss away from a non-stop off-season referendum on the subjects of resting their starters. For either team to lose in their first postseason round would wash away any accomplishments the season itself had seen.

By Doug Farrar  |  January 15, 2010; 11:43 AM ET  | Category:  Indianapolis Colts , New Orleans Saints Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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