Rested or rusty, Colts and Saints join Super Bowl race

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The top-seeded Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints join the race to the Super Bowl this weekend hoping to benefit from the rest rather than suffer from rust after coasting through the end of the regular season.

A series of intriguing match-ups among the last eight teams standing in the National Football League include the AFC-leading Colts (14-2) hosting the hard-hitting Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens used a punishing ground game and ball-hawking defense to pound the Patriots 33-14 in New England in their wild card playoff and will be looking to get at the Colts' MVP quarterback Peyton Manning.

Indianapolis have won the last seven meetings between the two clubs but only scraped by 17-15 in November in Baltimore.

The high-scoring Saints, who led the NFC with their 13-3 mark, entertain the defending NFC champion Arizona Cardinals, who showed off their potent offense in a 51-45 overtime playoff victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

The Colts left out their regulars for the last two games of the regular season and suffered their only two losses, while the Saints lost their last three, coasting to a close after starting 13-0.

"There's something to be said for coasting in because obviously you've earned the right to do that," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. "There are advantages to that and advantages to fighting your way in."

MOMENTUM

Also enjoying opening-round byes were the Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers, the NFL's hottest team with victories in their last 11 games.

The Chargers host the defensive-minded New York Jets, who began the playoffs rated as 50-1 long shots.

"We're excited," said Jets rookie coach Rex Ryan, whose team advanced with a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. "It's right now with two of the hottest teams in the league.

"We've won six out of seven. We feel pretty good about ourselves. Then you look at San Diego, 11 straight. Both teams are carrying a lot of momentum going into this game."

The Vikings and charismatic signal caller Brett Favre will be visited by the Dallas Cowboys, who advanced with their third victory this season over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Minnesota tight end Visanthe Shiancoe referenced the Cowboys' plush new stadium when asked about Dallas and how they had become a popular pick in the playoffs, saying they might have a harder time under the dome in Minneapolis.

"All the people in the bandwagon aren't going to be on the field," Shiancoe told reporters.

"We're going to be on the field. They're coming to the 'hood. This ain't all that high tech (stuff). They're coming to an old school stadium, all right? Old school Vikings."

(Editing by Nick Mulvenney;

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