My associate and friend, Paul, was kind enough to share his thoughts and predictions for this weekend’s playoff matchups.
Saints at 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers are the big surprise in the NFC this year, not only making the playoffs but securing a first round bye and securing home field advantage for their matchup against the hottest quarterback on the planet in Drew Brees. The Niners were aided by a defense that played well beyond expectations under new coach Jim Harbaugh. This same defense will have to play one hell of a game in order to stop the high-powered Saints offense. The Niners will feature one of the best run-defenses in recent memory but it is their pass defense that will get a firm test this weekend. The Niners don’t do anything special on offense but they don’t turn the ball over either, which is huge in the NFL. The Niners will feature a heavy run game led by Frank Gore while mixing in some short to intermediate throws.
The Saints are built much differently than the 49ers. They rely heavily on the right arm of Drew Brees, and there is no reason to think that will change in this game. The thing that makes this team so dangerous is Brees spreads the ball around to so many different receivers including Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles who are great in the screen game. Unfortunately for the Saints, this game won’t be at home where they are simply untouchable. However, on the road the Saints do have a bit of a drop off. The Saints were 5-3 on the road this year, which included losses to the Rams and the Bucs (ouch!).
On to the prediction, I really like the way the Niners play at home. It has proved to be a tough place to play over the years for the opposing team. While the Saints have struggled at times on the road, traveling out to the West Coast won’t help their cause. The Saints traveled to Seattle last year in the playoffs and it didn’t end so well. For the Niners to win, they will have to win the time of possession battle to keep Drew Brees off the field. I like the Niners in this game at home and with an extra week to prepare for the Saints passing attack. I think the Niners will be able to score against the Saints lackluster defense and I think they will be able to contain Drew Brees enough for the win.
49ers 23, Saints 20
Broncos at Patriots
The Broncos come off an exhilarating win against the Steelers in wild card weekend and now will travel to New England to face Tom Brady. I don’t know if there is anything else to say about Tim Tebow that hasn’t already been said. The Broncos will feature their rushing attack but will almost have to throw more in this game in order to keep up with the high scoring Patriots. Through Tebow’s great run, I think the most underappreciated part of it was their defense and the Broncos will need them in a big way this week.
The Patriots did their usual thing finishing at the top of the AFC and securing the 1st seed and homefield advantage throughout. It doesn’t matter who Tom Brady has he makes everyone he plays with better. Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski both had career years and will be the focal points for the Patriots attack. We all know that the Patriots defense just isn’t very good but give Belichick a bye week and more time of preparation and it can’t be good for the opposition.
Tim Tebow deserves much respect for resurrecting the city of Denver, but I don’t know if any team can beat the Patriots at home in freezing temperatures, with an extra week to prepare. The experienced Patriots have been here many times while Tebow is still very inexperienced in situations like these. Broncos will have to make enough plays in the passing game to keep the Patriots defense from stacking the box. I don’t care about the Patriots defensive problems because Tom Brady is too good and they’re going to put up points. Tebow and company will have to score at least 28 points in this game and I really don’t see that happening.
Patriots 41 Broncos 20
Texans at Ravens
Texans have had an odd season, finishing their season with 3rd string quarterback, TJ Yates. Houston has finally arrived in the playoffs for one reason. Their defense has made dramatic strides in just one year and now is a defense that is a force to be reckoned with. Andre Johnson seems to be back healthy and they will need Andre in a big way if they want to pull off the upset against the Ravens. We all know the Texans can really run the ball, led by Arian Foster, but can they do it against a stingy Ravens defense to take pressure off the inexperienced TJ Yates?
The Ravens come into this game having another good season netting them the 2nd seed in the AFC and a much needed bye. Ravens will feature their normal great defense along with a steady dosage of Ray Rice running the ball and catching the ball. The Ravens are set up pretty nicely in order to advance to a potential AFC championship game. Playing a game at home versus a very inexperienced quarterback on the other side, you couldn’t ask for much more. Can Joe Flacco prove he can be an “elite” quarterback in the league?
I don’t see the Texans being able to hang around against Baltimore on the road with a 3rd string quarterback. This is going to be tough for the Texans. I think the Ravens will be able to shut down the Texans running game to try and put as much pressure on the shoulders of TJ Yates. He will have to be able to throw consistently in this game to keep the Ravens from stacking the box. I don’t think the Ravens will light up the scoreboard either, but they have much more experience and are the home team, which should give them the edge. Having good defenses on both sides I think this game will be pretty low scoring.
Ravens 20 Texans 9
Giants at Packers
The Packers followed up their Super Bowl effort by steamrolling the competition this year in the regular season besides one hiccup at the Chiefs to finish 15-1. Aaron Rodgers had a fantastic year finishing with a ridiculous 122.5 QB rating which should land him the MVP award. Even their defense the 2nd half of the season started to get back to the form they had last year. The Packers will feature a pass-oriented offense using multiple weapons as usual. Greg Jennings looks ready to go for the Packers, which will be huge for Aaron Rodgers who has had a nice little 3-week vacation since playing his last game. Will there be any rust to shake off for the Packers offense? Most likely not, but it should be interesting to see.
The Giants are a different story. I never know what to think about this team because I have no idea what Giants team is going to come out and play on any given Sunday. Either way, Eli Manning is going to have to play out of his mind to win this game. The Giants would be well served to try to establish a run game before they rely on the pass. Giants will need a balanced attack to win. Are we going to see the Giants team that lost to the Redskins twice and the Seahawks at home? Or the Giants team that won at New England and almost took down Green Bay at home?
I’m not going to let the inconsistency, that is the Giants, hinder my thoughts on my prediction. I think Green Bay wins and wins big. The Giants secondary is banged up and that is the worst thing you could have going into a game against Aaron Rodgers. I don’t believe Eli Manning can play effectively in cold weather and will have some problems throwing the ball in this game. The Packers are at home and are used to the cold temperatures. I don’t see any way this Giants team will be able to slow down the Packers. Giants will have to time of possession, and will have to get Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw going, in order for them to have a chance.
Packers 38, Giants 17