It’s the classic battle of the high charged offense against the solid defense, as the Saints who are scoring nearly 40 points a game head to San Francisco to face one of the best defenses in the NFL. During the preseason, the Saints and 49ers met and the two coaches Jim Harbaugh and Sean Payton squabbled, with the Saints breaking a so called gentlemen’s agreement and blitzing throughout the game. That should have no bearing on what happens in the playoffs as both coaches appear to be good game managers who avoid distractions.
The Saints offense is a juggernaut at home scoring more than 40 points per game. They are not that bad on the road as they have scored at least 20 points in every game this season. The field at Candlestick could get sloppy this time of year, but it has been sunny and dry by the bay, and is forecasted to be sunny and dry on Saturday. This should make the field fast for the Saints receivers.
The Saints have never won a road playoff game, so to say the 49ers don’t have a chance is a mistake, but if they are going to win a lot will have to right. Running Back Frank Gore needs to have a big day as he will hold the key to keeping the Saints offense off the field, Alex Smith must avoid turnovers, this is always important, but for a quarterback making his first playoff start it is a bigger concern than normal. The 49ers defense, which was led the league in forcing turnovers, must force turnovers, and the 49ers must make Drew Brees uncomfortable. If the 49ers can do all four things they will get the win.
However, Drew Brees is just playing at such a high level right now; the Saints will be hard to beat anywhere. They may be the best team in the NFL, and betting against them on a neutral field against anyone would be a mistake. The Saints have a solid run defense and should be able to contain Gore, leaving Alex Smith to duel Drew Brees. That just is not a fair match up. Saints won’t break 40, but they will break hearts that have been left in San Francisco.
It’s Tom Brady versus Tim Tebow part deux, as the Patriots host the Broncos and their miracle worker quarterback. When they first met just three weeks ago, the Broncos got off to a fast start, but soon 41-23. The game turned in the second quarter as the Patriots took advantage of three Broncos territory deep in their own territory to score 20 points.
The Patriots offense is loaded and hard to defend, and the Broncos found that out the hard way as they covered TE Rob Gronkowski and opened the door for Aaron Hernandez to have a big day. After losing two straight home playoff games, one has to expect Tom Brady to be primed and ready to have a big day on the Saturday Night Lights in Foxboro.
Tim Tebow is a wonder to behold. Three horrible games and about to be benched he comes out and has the best game of his career in the playoffs against the Steelers highlighted by his game winning 80 yard pass to Demaryius Thomas. However, Tim Tebow has a problem here in that when teams get their second look at him, Tebow has a tougher time fooling the defense. The Patriots defense has many holes and has been scored upon at will sometimes. However, they also are opportunistic and will seize on any little mistake for a turnover.
It will be hard to imagine the Broncos keeping this one close as Gillete Stadium has been a terror to opposing teams in the playoffs, especially when the Patriots get to host a night game. If the Broncos somehow manage to pull this one out, inspections will have to be made to see if three wisemen were present when Tim Tebow was born.
Last week was a big week for the Houston Texans as they hosted and won their very first playoff game. Now things get real tough as they play their first playoff game on the road. It is a tough road test, as the Ravens did not lose a home game this season including a 29-14 win over the Texans in Week 6.
Both teams have excellent defenses and have solid running backs, but the health of the Texans quarterbacks is the big difference maker. Last week Rookie T.J. Yates was a nonfactor as Arian Foster had a big day rushing for 153 yards with two touchdowns, while the Texans forced three turnovers from Bengals rookie QB Andy Dalton.
The Ravens are a veteran team that has in recent years performed well in the playoffs on the road. Quarterback Joe Flacco has already won four playoff games, and none of them have come at home, as this will be his first home start in the postseason. Flacco has even won in Foxboro.
The crowd will be too much, the defense will be too much and the Ravens will be too much. This game will be over fast, as the Ravens will teach a lesson to the Texans about how hard a cruel the playoffs can be.
When they met on December 4th, the Giants were reeling, losers of three straight and seeing their season slip away. The Packers meanwhile were unbeaten and looking like the best team in NFL history. The Packers won that game in the Meadowlands 38-35, and they left the field knowing they had gotten lucky. The Giants meanwhile despite losing a fourth straight regained their confidence and went on to take the momentum to beat the Cowboys twice in the final four weeks to win the NFC East.
The Packers are coming off a bye week, and sometimes it can be hard to get things restarted, especially in a week in which they had to deal with the death of Offensive Coordinator Joe Philbin’s son. However, even when Backup Matt Flynn started at quarterback for Aaron Rodgers the Packers managed 45 points, and though they did not finish undefeated they still went 15-1. No team that has gone 15-1 has ever lost in the divisional round.
The Giants are a better team now than they were in their first meeting, their defense is healthier and they finally have their running game going. If they are to pull off the upset they need to do both and do both well. They need to control the game clock and keep Aaron Rodgers off the field, and they must collapse the pocket on Rodgers. One thing that has made the Packers quarterback have a MVP type season is his ability to spread the ball around. The Packers have several receivers who can ruin the Giants day and the more time Rodgers has the better chance some one will get open and will score.
I expect a big day from Eli Manning and I expect the Giants to have fans in Lambeau Field holding their breaths late in the fourth quarter. However, in the end it will be too much Aaron Rodgers, as the Packers hold off the Giants in another shootout to reach the NFC Championship Game.