Saturday, January 14, 2012


New Orleans Saints @ San Francisco 49ers
ANALYSIS: The San Francisco 49ers are back in the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons and new head coach Jim Harbaugh has the team playing good football. Alex Smith has not been asked to do much, but he has done a great job in protecting the football with just five interceptions. Shouldering most of the load has been Frank Gore—who ran for a solid 1211 yards and eight touchdowns this season. San Francisco is also doing it on the defensive end with the fourth-best unit in the league. Giving up passing yardage might be a concern, but the 49ers picked off 23 passes, while it is very tough to run on the best run defense in the league.

The New Orleans Saints got off to a slow start on Wild Card Weekend, but everything clicked late as they defeated the Detroit Lions, 45-28. The Saints offense was as explosive, if ever, tallying up 626 yards—a new NFL record for a playoff game. Drew Brees threw for 466 yards and three touchdowns on 33-of-43 passing, and Jabari Greer’s two second half interceptions virtually end any chance of a Lions’ win. This week, the Saints will try to win their first road game in franchise history. 

PREDICTION: Saints 27, 49ers 23
The Saints offense vs. the 49ers defense (especially the passing game)

Denver Broncos @ New England Patriots
ANALYSIS: The New England Patriots are back in the playoffs, yet they are seeking their first postseason win since the AFC Championship Game four seasons ago. In a mirror image of last season, the Patriots breezed through the second half of the season and Tom Brady made his claim to win the MVP award. Brady passed for 5235 yards and 39 touchdowns, and if not for Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers, he would have had the more prolific passing season this year. His two favorite targets—Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski—were reliable this season, each having over 1300 yards receiving. On the flip side, New England has the second-worst defense in the league but they did force the third-most takeaways with 34.

Tebow-Mania lives to see another week after the Denver Broncos’ thrilling 29-23 overtime win last week. Just as everyone was grasping the new overtime rules made specifically for the playoffs, Tim Tebow hooked up with Demaryius Thomas for the 80-yard “one-hitta quitta” to seal the deal.  Tebow was just 10-for-21 passing, but he threw for 316 yards. While under the radar, Thomas’ 204 receiving yards (103 after the catch) is just as impressive. Denver hopes to avenge a 41-23 loss in Week 15 to the Patriots. 

PREDICTION: Broncos 23, Patriots 20
Tim Tebow vs. the Patriots defense

Houston Texans @ Baltimore Ravens
ANALYSIS: The Baltimore Ravens finally were able to unseat the Pittsburgh Steelers as champions of the AFC North, ensuring a home playoff game for the first time since 2007. The Ravens are still fierce on defense, giving up the third-fewest yards and points this season. Terrell Suggs recorded 14 sacks and one can never count out Ray Lewis being the heart and soul of the unit. On offense, Ray Rice ran for 1364 yards and 12 touchdowns, along with catching 74 passes. Joe Flacco continues to be hit-or-miss playing quarterback at times, but he threw for 3610 yards and 20 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. Rice, Anquan Boldin, Ed Dickson and Torrey Smith will be counted on to help Flacco.

Houston, we have liftoff! The Houston Texans soared to a 31-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in their first-ever playoff game last week. Arian Foster dominated on the ground, running the ball 24 times for 153 yards and two touchdowns. Andre Johnson caught five passes for 90 yards in his playoff debut and Houston’s defense forced three turnovers, including J.J. Watt’s pick six late in the second quarter. In this week’s game, can rookie T.J. Yates do the improbable and give the city of Houston its first representative in the AFC Championship Game since the “Luv Ya Blue” Houston Oilers?

PREDICTION: Ravens 20, Texans 10
Ravens run defense vs. Arian Fostor/Ben Tate

New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers
ANALYSIS: The Green Bay Packers played much better this season than in their Super Bowl winning season last year with Aaron Rodgers emerging as a legitimate MVP candidate. Rodgers threw for 4643 yards and 45 touchdowns despite sitting out the season finale. Greg Jennings was once again his favorite target but four others also caught at least six touchdown passes including Jordy Nelson with a team-leading 15. With the Packers offense sizzling, the defense was awful, giving up the most yards in the league.

The New York Giants pounded the Atlanta Falcons so much into submission that they actually gave them two points thanks to a safety. But in all seriousness, New York’s 24-2 victory was impressive and the Giants continued their recent trend of running the football well and playing good defense. The Giants ran for a season-high 172 yards and Atlanta had a tough time getting its running game going. We cannot even forget Eli Manning’s play in the contest with 277 yards and three touchdowns to no interceptions. New York is quite familiar with Green Bay and played them close until the end of Week 13’s thrilling 38-35 Packers win. 

PREDICTION: Packers 30, Giants 27
Aaron Rodgers vs. Eli Manning

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