2011 NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round
New Orleans Saints (-3 1/2) at San Francisco 49ers: This will be the most intriguing matchup of the weekend, as the Saints' high powered offense takes on the stingy 49ers D. Call it finesse vs. grittiness. The unstoppable force vs. the immovable object. The Socs vs. The Greasers (What, you never saw The Outsiders?).
As always, I believe Saints all-world quarterback Drew Brees will get his. But how will 49ers QB Alex Smith fare in his first opportunity on the big stage that is the NFL playoffs? It's possible that the Niners could choose to pound Frank Gore in an effort to keep Brees & Co. off the field. The Saints run defense is ranked 12th in the NFL in total yardage, but that's a little deceiving. New Orleans' 2011 regular season opponents have had little use for the run given the fact many had fallen behind early.
In the end, the Saints should have enough to squeak by.
New Orleans 27 San Francisco 21
Denver Broncos (+13 1/2) at New England Patriots: A rematch of Week 15, where the Patriots went in to Denver and crushed the Broncos 41-23. However, the Broncos had things going their way early, as they built a 16-7 lead at the beginning of the second quarter. Unfortunately for Tim Tebow & Co., they lost three fumbles in the final 8-1/2 minutes of the first half, which was the catalyst for the Patriots scoring 20 unanswered points going into halftime.
Denver keeps this week's game close if they don't turn the ball over and runs the ball effectively. They did rack up 252 yards rushing in the regular season matchup vs. New England but, again, turnovers cost them. Meanwhile, 34-year old Pats QB Tom Brady is desperately trying to join the elite ranks of Montana and Bradshaw by acquiring his fourth Super Bowl ring. He appears focused like he's never been before, and thus I believe he wills his team to the next round.
Pats win, Broncos cover.
New England 34 Denver 24
Houston Texans (+7 1/2) at Baltimore Ravens: In the 2011 regular season, the Texans and Raves ranked 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in total defense in terms of total yardage. Both offenses feature dynamic all-purpose running backs (Arian Foster - Texans; Ray Rice - Ravens) whom will likely be relied upon heavily. And both have big physical receivers who can cause matchup problems for opposing defenses (Andre Johnson - Texans; Anquan Boldin - Ravens).
These teams seem very evenly matched, but the Ravens have the edge in playoff experience and home field.
Baltimore 21 Houston 10
New York Giants (+7 1/2) at Green Bay Packers: The Giants lost a late regular season game at home 38-35 to the team considered the overwhelming favorite to win the Super Bowl. But when the two clubs met again in the playoffs, the Giants scored a monumental upset.
A bold prediction for Sunday? Actually, that is the scenario which played out in 2007. The New England Patriots beat the Giants 38-35 in the '07 regular season finale to finish the year 16-0. But when the teams met in Super Bowl XLII, the Giants stunned the Pats 17-14.
I bring this up only because the parallels are eerily similar. The Packers (who won on the Giants' home field 38-35 in Week 13) have been dubbed the team to beat this postseason but now have to face a Giants team that (like in 2007) no one really believes can make a serious run. So are we indeed looking at the Giants pulling off another implausible Super Bowl run for the second time in five years? Will the Packers (like the Pats in '07) fall short of the grand expectations fostered by one of the more dominant regular seasons in NFL history?
Packers 42 Giants 24
Straight up: 2-2-0
Against the spread: 1-3-0