Four games, eight teams, eight storylines.
The Divisional Round often produces the most compelling and memorable moments of the NFL Playoffs. Favorites carrying the weight of the world, or underdogs with nothing to lose and not getting enough respect even after being just one of eight teams out of 32 left.
Jerod offered his spread picks for each game earlier in the week. Now here are my predictions for each game.
NEW ORLEANS (14-3) AT SAN FRANCISCO (13-3)
- 4:30 PM ET, SATURDAY
The seemingly unstoppable Saints have become everyone’s trending darlings within the past month, and the favorites of many to win the next two weeks on the road and advance to Super Bowl 46.
Not so fast.
At home, in the Superdome, the Saints are indeed unstoppable. But how many games has New Orleans won in its franchise history. Try zero, thought it’s not like the Saints had not gotten many chances in the playoffs until the past few years.
The Saints will be as far away from their comfort zone as possible on Saturday against a 49ers team that allowed only 87 points at home all season. The city of New Orleans has always been regarded as an eerie and spooky place, but that holds nothing compared to a late afternoon at Candlestick. Wind, a few transformers blowing, the stadium going dark, or maybe the 50+ year old facility seemingly shaking.
Or maybe the Saints just get freaked out by the city of San Francisco itself, which Ari Kaufman refers to as ‘opulent, ostentatious, arrogant, and sheltered.’ What!!?? I like my BART system. My man Ari has become a Howard Cosell for a new generation.
New Orleans had to deal with this last year and saw their season end against a Seattle team they should had been far superior than. Not to mention they somehow lost to both lowly Tampa Bay and St. Louis on the road this year. This time the road task is much tougher; it’s the best defense of the league that has to be solved.
I do dock the Niners for lack of playoff experience (nine years, but seems even longer) and Frank Gore has to have a much better game than he did during the second half of the season. The O-line has to also stop the Saints’ blitz and keep Alex Smith upright, which was a challenge during a meltdown at Baltimore.
But I’m going to go with the home dog here…
PICK EM PAL!!! Saints-49ers Prediction: San Francisco 27 | New Orleans 24
DENVER (9-8) AT NEW ENGLAND (13-3)
- 8:00 PM ET, SATURDAY
The numerologists had a field day after last Sunday. Tim Tebow 316 yards, 31.6 yards per completion, a 31.6 TV rating during the fourth quarter. Big Ben picked on third and 16. It was a great day for those on the Tebow bandwagon.
But one is only as good as his last game, and Tebow right now remains a double-edged sword – and we’ve already seen Broncos v. Pats, and that was at Mile High. And as far as the Patriots are concerned, I love their road to the Super Bowl, especially since they don’t have to worry about the already-imploded New York Jets.
Maybe you have heard the tale of the man who puts $80 dollars on the #8 horse in the eighth race, then sees the horse finish eighth. Denver’s run comes crashing to a halt and the debate on whether Tebow can take it to the next level can rage until training camp in July.
PICK EM PAL!!! Patriots-Broncos Prediction: New England 31 | Denver 6
HOUSTON (11-6) AT BALTIMORE (12-4)
- 1:00 PM ET, SUNDAY
The Houston Texans are still a team that most NFL followers are NOT familiar with. Except for a late-season game on the NFL Network in which they lost, Greg Gumbel/Dan Dierdorf is about as good as it gets for this team getting run.
As was mentioned during the telecast of last week’s Wild Card game, the Texans have been built via the draft, especially this past year. J.J. Watt first round, Brooks Reid second round, and taking a QB named T.J. Yates in Round 5, which turned out in come in real handy. Pro Bowler Brian Cushing was a product of the 2009 draft. Even after losing Mario Williams and Matt Schaub during the season and WR Andre Johnson hobbled, the Texans have remained relevant.
Meanwhile I’m not sold on the Ravens, who I consider as the AFC version of the Atlanta Falcons. QB Joe Flacco is good, like Matt Ryan is ‘good’, but can he be OMG great?? And the team as a whole had too many games that had me guessing whether this is really an elite team and a title contender.
True, this is one of the last kicks of the can for Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, but there is always one result in the postseason that no one figures on and shocks everyone, I’m going to peg this game as one of those. As Bum Phillips said in the day, Houston will be ‘knocking on that door’ again after Arian Foster and Ben Tate grounds-and-pounds the Texans to the AFC Championship Game.
PICK EM PAL!! Texans-Ravens Prediction: Houston 23 | Baltimore 17
NY GIANTS (10-7) AT GREEN BAY (15-1)
- 4:30 PM, SUNDAY
We can talk X’s and O’s all day, but sometimes an off-the-field event ends up throwing all analysis off-kilter. Unfortunately that is the case this week, as Packers Offensive Coordinator Joe Philbin is on an extended leave of absence following the tragic and sudden passing of his son. Needless to say, this has been a surreal week in the Packers organization leading up to a playoff game, with the situation rocking the franchise to its core. Even classy Giants HC Tom Coughlin reached out to offer his condolences to the Packers organization.
How this effects the Packers on the field Sunday is anyone’s guess, but no doubt this is a major distraction in a football sense.
Philbin is not expected to be with the team on Sunday, meaning HC Mike McCarthy has to put a contingency plan in place in regards to the offensive game plan. On the field, there are not a lot of players on either side that werearound four years ago when the Giants shocked Green Bay en route to an eventual NFL title.
What the Giants do have, however, is the very same Ahmad Bradshaw/Brandon Jacobs smash-mouth element, plus the receiving weapons that can put the shaky Packers secondary on it’s heels much like they did in the regular season meeting at the Meadowlands.
Yes, there are much more important things than football, but should the Packers lose don’t expect the team to use the events of this week as an excuse. In the end, I do expect Green Bay to pull one out for their grieving coach and get him back in the coaching booth next Sunday.
PICK EM PAL!!! Packers-Giants Prediction: Green Bay 33, | NY Giants 27 (OT)