Pitt @ Louisville (6pm Saturday-ESPN)
Pitt’s second big test of the season comes against a very different style of play. Louisville loves to put pressure on you defensively. They’ll put on a full court press and really pressure you in the half-court to try to generate a lot of turnovers. The heat will really be on the guards to make quick decisions and handle the ball well. The Cardinals do a really good job at denying the post, so every time Blair or Biggs can get a touch down low, it’s a win. On the other end of the court, Louisville’s offense relies heavily on the transition game. They’re a very athletic team like South Florida where most of the guys on the court won’t hesitate to put the ball on the floor and take you to the tin. That could spell trouble for Pitt if they haven’t figured some things out. I think a big bright spot for Pitt, though, is that Louisville is not really the most physical team in the conference. I think Pitt can rack up a huge advantage on the glass if they want to. Overall, keep an eye on turnovers and rebounds. That will tell you how the game is going.
Player to watch: Levance Fields-Pitt
Teams like this are why Levance isn’t paying for college. He’s not the most athletic guy on the floor, but no one has a better handle and no one makes better decisions with the ball than Levance. I think if he does a good job breaking the Cardinal press (and there’s no reason to believe he can’t), Pitt will be in a very good position to win.
Prediction: I’m going with the Panthers but I’m not going to make a score projection because that depends on how many turnovers Louisville can create. Fields can handle the press. Can Wannamaker?
Eagles @ Cardinals (3pm Sunday-Fox)
I think the best matchup of the weekend is the Arizona offense vs. the Philly defense. The Cardinals love to throw the ball around the field, and the Eagles defense loves to blitz. So it’s going to be on Kurt Warner and the Cardinals offensive line to get time and get the ball out as soon as possible. I think the Eagles secondary is vulnerable, so if Arizona starts getting off some passes, it could be a long day for the Eagles. On the other side of the ball, I think the Cardinals defense has been much improved towards the tail end of the season. However, I think they may be a bit slow to the outsides, which plays right into the hands of a versatile back like Brian Westbrook.
Player to watch: Kurt Warner-Arizona
As I said, he needs to deal well with the pressure that’s going to come, and get the balls out quickly. If he can get the Eagles to respect the pass, it sets up to be a good game for Arizona.
Prediction: I think this will be the antithesis to the AFC Championship, and filled with scoring. I’d say both teams in the high 20’s at least. Probably 30’s. I think it’s a game of stops, and the Eagles get one or two more.
Ravens @ Steelers (6:30pm Sunday-CBS)
I’ve already covered this extensively in previous posts, but to reiterate: I think it’s a low scoring affair. That means it’s anyone’s game. This comes down to one key play or two that could go to anyone. I think turnovers will have a huge impact on the game. There’s a lot of talk about Raven injuries, but I think most of them will gut it out, and it won’t have a huge impact on the game.
Player to watch: Willie Parker-Pittsburgh
I think the Steelers need to keep it on the ground, because throwing against this Ravens secondary is dangerous. Really, it’s on the offensive line, but since I can only pick one player I’ll put it on Parker to need a big game.
Prediction: Way to close to call. Neither team gets to 20 points. I think Pittsburgh puts themselves in a bit better situations to get a big play. Baltimore’s been relying on some big passing plays that may not be there on Sunday.