Friday, January 13, 2012

NFL Divisional Round

Really no introduction needed here - it's the 2nd round of the NFL playoffs - week 20 of the NFL season. Time for teams to put up or shut up. I feel a 4-0 week coming on - that's me putting up a ridiculous claim. Come Sunday Night I'll probably be wondering what the heck just happened - so long as we don't all get Tebow'd again I'm good...

Saturday, January 14th
New Orleans Saints (-4) @ San Francisco 49ers, 4:30 ET - FOX
The classic old adage - which will win, the better offense or the stingier Defense? All my life I've been brainwashed into thinking the cliche "Defense wins Championships" must be true - but have you seen this Saints offense operate on turf? 42, 45, 45, and 45 points in their last four games on the synthetic field. That's the thing - they're not as quick, not as explosive when the game is relegated to real grass away from the Superdome. In fact all 3 of their losses this year have come on the road (Packers, Buccaneers, and Rams...yes they lost to Tampa Bay AND St. Louis!) and 2 of those losses came on grass. In their last game on grass - they scored 22 points against the Titans and barely eked out a 22-16 victory. Not exactly the greatest show when they're playing on a grass surface. Alright enough talk about grass - I think I got baked writing those last few sentences.

The Saints come into this games with a ridiculous 10-0 record ATS in their last 10 contests. But equally impressive - the 49ers are 7-0-1 ATS when games are played in their backyard. Something's gotta give here, unless of course they push... Wait a minute - that actually feels like the right call in this game. Saints by 4, 24-20. No, no I'm not gonna cop out like that on this game.

Here's how I think things will shake out - the 49ers only give up 10.9 points per game at home. The Saints aren't the same team away from home . The 49ers have a system that has proven all year to work pretty flawlessly. Play breakneck defense (I know it'll be tough to keep your eyes off the Saints - but just watch 49ers LB Patrick Willis - its a treat), run the ball on offense, and limit turnovers. Throw in the fact that the Saints have never won a playoff game on the road - and I'm okay with backing the 49ers in this one and taking the points. Should be a gem to get the weekend started off.

Denver Broncos @ New England Patriots (-13.5), 8 ET - CBS
It's not every week that the Patriots and Tom Brady are out of the spotlight heading into a playoff game - but that will be the case this week when the Patriots welcome Tebowmania to Foxboro. The story line to this game is undoubtedly about Tebow's backbone and resolve to keep willing his team to victory - but this week he runs into a revered Patriots offense who will not take lightly the fact that they've been second billing all week.

Patriots fans can't exactly be overconfident in this situation since they've been bounced from the playoffs the last two years in their home opener. They also have gone down 17-0 to the Dolphins and 21-0 to the Bills in their last two games - which if anything like that happens here we might as well just blow up the internet now. The one thing Pats fans can take solace in is their offense. Welker, Gronkowski, and Hernandez are all weapons that Brady will have his disposal - I just don't see how the Broncos will be able to stop them.

Another one of the odd story lines to this game is the fact that the Patriots have just added former Broncos Head Coach Josh McDaniels (drafted Tebow and WR Demaryius Thomas) to their coaching staff. Kind of an odd twist that I'm not accustomed to seeing happen the week before a major playoff game - but so be it. I'd imagine this gives the Patriots another leg up in a game which is already pretty lopsided to begin with.

With everything that Tebow has done for the city of Denver and the NFL from a ratings standpoint (can't wait to see the numbers from this Saturday Night prime time slot) - it simply won't be enough to get past the mighty Patriots. I'll ride with the Patriots to put a stop to all of this madness - take them and lay the two touchdowns. 

Sunday, January 15th
Houston Texans @ Baltimore Ravens (-7.5), 1 ET - CBS
This matchup might be confusing to some people but I feel like I have this one covered pretty well. When looking at these two teams they're almost mirror images of each other - that's because the Texans are essentially the younger version of the Ravens. The Texans have basically copied the blueprint of the Ravens for the past decade - dominate the run game and become one of the most feared/respected defenses in the league. 

The major question mark for the Texans this week will be if Rookie QB T.J. Yates can handle the pressure of leading this team into a hostile environment in Baltimore. That's a lot to handle and a lot to ask of guy that was drafted as a 5th round pick. I mean Matt Ryan was drafted 3rd overall and he couldn't even lead his team to a single point against the Giants last week. But I'm sure Gary Kubiak and the Texans offensive minds know this and will likely try to keep it as simple as possible in order to keep the ball of Yates' hands in crucial situations - basically limit his chance for failure (that's what the 2000 Ravens did with Trent Dilfer and what the 49ers have done all season with Alex Smith). 

Baltimore has been a perfect 8-0 at home this year and during his career Joe Flacco has been a completely different QB at home (27-5) than on the road (17-15).  The Ravens also beat the Texans this year 29-14 earlier this season - all of that being said, something tells me the younger blueprint will be able to keep up with the oldies in this one. I like the Texans with their ground and pound attack to keep this closer than a touchdown. 

New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers (-7.5), 4:30 ET - FOX
A lot of comparisons about this years Giants team have been made to 2008 Giants team - both teams tout defensive lines that wreak all types of havoc - both teams played the best teams in their respected regular seasons very well, but ended up losing. In 2008 - the Giants lost 38-35 to the Patriots before their Superbowl rematch. This year the Giants dropped their game to the Packers 38-35 and will now see the 15-1 Packers this week in Lambeau for a rematch. Kind of weird, right?

Anyways - a lot of experts and analysts have said they're not sold on this Packers defense. Here's what I would say to them - when your team's offense is scoring at will and putting up 5 TDs (35 points) per game - wouldn't you kind of coast throughout the regular season too? I know I would - but that's also why I'm sitting in front of a computer and not playing on the gridiron. The fact of the matter is the Packers still have three pro bowlers in DT B.J. Raji, LB Clay Matthews, and CB Charles Woodson. The only other teams to accomplish pro bowlers at defensive lineman, linebacker, and secondary are the 49ers and Ravens - both pretty revered defenses. Yet for some reason we're dismissing the fact that the Packers Defense is more than serviceable. 

On a more somber note - but a note that is definitely worth mentioning the Packers Offensive Coordinator Joe Philbin has had to deal with the loss of a child this week - something that obviously trumps the game of football. I have no idea how this news will affect the outcome of the game - but its certainly something that must be weighing in the hearts of players, coaches, and fans of the Packers organization. 

While the Giants have had a strong run to get to this point in the playoffs - their run will stop this week on the cold tundra of Lambeau. Look for Aaron Rodgers to do what Matt Ryan should have been able to do all day - torch the weak secondary of New York. I like the Packers to win in a blowout at home. 

Enjoy the weekend, stay warm, and watch some Foooootball....

Last Week: 2-2
Season Record: 126-124-10

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