Divisional Round Playoff Predictions

Saturday 4:30 PM ET: New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers

The unstoppable force meets the immovable object.  Unstoppable is not an overstatement either; Brees and the Saints’ offense have been rolling on all cylinders and show no signs of slowing down.  One piece of information that I have noticed many experts and analysts using against New Orleans is the fact that they have struggled when playing outdoors.  When playing without a dome this year, the Saints were 3 and 2 (13 and 3 overall), which may or not be significant.  You could argue that 60 degree weather may not affect a dome team as much as numbers suggest but the Saints have averaged a full two touchdowns less in those games.  What I keep coming back to are the memories of exciting, high-flying, flashy offenses being stopped in their tracks by a big boy defense (as the Ravens and Steelers have shown us in many recent years).  As incredible as Drew Brees has been all year, I really think that we could see an instance where he actually has some issues throwing those accurate, 20 yard missiles downfield that he has made look so easy.  In a year that has definitely been a breeze for the New Orleans offense, this one looks more like a grind.

On the other side of the field, the matchup is Alex Smith and the Frisco offense against the soft defensive unit for the Saints.  People keep looking at Smith’s past seasons, where his numbers and lack of success had him going down a road similar to so many “1st Overall Pick” busts before him, and fail to recognize the success he has had this year under a true quarterback’s coach, Jim Harbaugh.  While his stats still don’t dazzle, he is more than capable of leading an offense, as he has shown this year.  There is nothing about this unit that Smith is facing that really discourages taking shots downfield and attacking weaknesses.

Prediction –    SF: 24 NO: 21

Saturday 8:00 PM ET: Denver Broncos at New England Patriots

I love Tim Tebow and will without a doubt, be wearing his number 15 jersey on Saturday night.  That being said, I think this year’s magical run is over when the Broncos go into Gillette Stadium to play the New England Patriots.  While he deserves all the credit in the world for playing the best game of his career against the (although injured) best defense in football, Tebow will be tortured to the point of insanity by Bill Belichick and his defensive schemes designed to take advantage of young quarterbacks like himself.  Unless Denver gets their running game moving early on, forcing the defense to play up on the Tebow-McGahee option, there won’t be many points scored on that side of the field.

The Broncos’ defense is one of the biggest reasons – if not the biggest – for this years magical run.  Let’s be honest though, as good as they are, they are not “Stop Tom Brady” good.  This man probably holds the record (among others) for crushing more hopes and dreams than anyone else in history. He is that good.  When you think you have him where you want him: losing a game late in the second half; he comes back at you like something out of a horror movie.  Don’t get me wrong, I will be Tebowing and acting a fool if the Broncos find a way to pull this off, but I don’t think it will happen.

Prediction –    NE: 28 DEN: 17


Sunday 1:00 PM ET: Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens

Smashmouth football at its finest.  Both teams have their top-of-the-line running backs pitted against top-of-the-line defenses.  The biggest difference that I see between these two is at quarterback: Joe Flacco is under center for Baltimore, and some Yates guy is going to do his best to hand the ball off to Arian Foster.   I may be underselling the Texans QB a little, but not much.  Since he has had to take over the offense thanks to injuries, he has played what some would call “game manager” football.  To me, that translates to “Let’s get the ball out of this guy’s hands and work around him.”

Flacco hasn’t been too impressive in his past playoff appearances, but with no injuries and another year under his belt, he should do just fine.  The Ravens have looked like the best team in football (at least to me) for most of the year and I believe they play up to their potential, at least for one more week.

Prediction –    BAL: 20 HOU: 14

Sunday 4:30 PM ET: New York Giants at Green Bay Packers

The wild card Giants that got hot at the right time have to go through Lambeau Field and the almighty Packers in order to advance.

Sound familiar?

Aaron Rodgers wasn’t a factor in that game, as he was still waiting for his chance behind Brett Favre, but a lot was different then.  These teams even played earlier this year, in week 13 actually, and Rodgers one-upped Eli Manning and the Giants, 38-35 as the Big Blue pass rush seemed to be one step behind the elusive QB all afternoon. Since that matchup, both teams have changed significantly: Green Bay has gotten healthy in key areas such as wide receiver and the offensive line, and New York’s defense has done a 180 and is looking very similar to the group in ’08.

Even as a Giants fan, I give a slight edge to Rodgers over Manning at quarterback.  However, I have more confidence in Eli to put the team on his back when everything else is going wrong around him.  This may cause some Packers fans outrage in games where they have to come from behind to score late, Rodgers looks more good than great.  The Giants should move the ball well against the Green Bay defense and the running game that has absent most of the year should help considerably.

The key matchup to this game is Aaron Rodgers versus the New York pass rush.  If Rodgers is able to move around outside the pocket and make guys miss like he has all year, the Giants don’t have a chance.  What should be noted is the return of Osi Umenyiora, and JPP’s level of play.  This defense is more confident that it has been in years (some say overconfident), and for good reason.  It is not going to be easy to beat the Pack in their own house, but it is far from impossible.

Prediciton –    NYG: 35 GB: 31


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