New Orleans (-3.5) at San Francisco [Sat. 4pm, FOX]
The 49ers make their triumphant return to the postseason after a nearly a decade with a surprising 13-3 record which no one saw coming. Jim Harbaugh who any day now should be named NFL Coach Of The Year gets all the credit for the culture change in the Bay Area. San Francisco comes in with the 3rd ranked defense in football. New Orleans comes in with the most explosive offense in the league. Something's got to give. Drew Brees is coming off a record setting year in which he broke Dan Marino's single season passing record and a 9 game winning streak (playoffs included)to boot. So it's natural why the Saints would be a slight favorite to win this game.
The key is whether the 49ers can play keep away with the Saints and limit the amount of possessions Drew Brees has. New Orleans is definitely a different team on the road which isn't necessarily bad news for Saints fans but it provides the opportunity for the 49ers to keep it close. This will be the the ultimate test for a San Francisco team that likes to grind out wins. They will need to score more TD's and not settle for FG's in this game to keep pace with the frantic Saints offense so it will be priority #1 for San Francisco's below average red zone offense to take advantage of any and all scoring opportunities.
Unfortunately for the Niners they catch New Orleans at the worse time. The Saints might arguably be the best team in football and the way they are playing I don't see ANYONE beating them. I think San Fran keeps it close and competitive but ultimately the Saints offense will too much to handle.
Prediction: Saints 30-24
Denver at New England (-13.5) [Sat. 8pm, CBS]
Tebow-mania heads to Foxboro after a dramatic Wild Card win last week vs. the mighty Steelers in one of the bigger playoff upsets in recent memory. Say what you will about Tim Tebow good or bad, he was magnificent last week especially considering who he beat and the fashion it was done.
Unfortunately as dramatic as this ride has been for Tebow who right now reigns as the most polarizing man in America right now, I expect this rollercoaster to come to a screeching halt at Foxboro. Sure, Denver will probably move the ball with will against the 31st ranked defense in the league. And honestly I expect them to. But one thing about the Patriots I will give them alot of credit for is that their red zone defense is pretty darn good. And if the Broncos have even a puncher chance in hell of winning this game they will have to score TD's rather than settle for field goals. John Fox will have to play less conservative this week and take some chances.
The Patriots have greatness personified in QB Tom Brady. The Pats who have lost 3 straight playoff games (dating back to Super Bowl 42) come in with a huge chip on their shoulder. And as the AFC is more wide open now for them to win than in years past especially with the Pittsburgh Steelers already being eliminated, all those elements I believe play into New England's favor and I believe they will cash in on it. The Patriots offense is just too good and I believe the Broncos might make one mistake too many which is pretty much signing your death warrant to Tom Brady as was the case in Week 15. This game will be closer than last time but there is no doubt who should win this one.
PREDICTION: Patriots 34-24
Houston at Baltimore (-7.5) [Sun. 1pm, CBS]
What a nice storybook season for the Houston Texans. They make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history (took y'all long enough), and the myriad of injuries they have suffered along the way to key players. Mario Williams, their best defensive player and of course Matt Schaub their starting QB. The Texans are down to their 3rd string QB in TJ Yates who has played solid for the most part even winning a playoff game.
The Ravens meanwhile host their first playoff game in a very long time and come in with very big Super Bowl aspirations and expectations. Alot of experts had the Ravens in the preseason and even parts of the regular season as the favorite to win the AFC. With the thorn in their paw Pittsburgh Steelers out of the way the path is set for the Ravens to make their move. There is still one burning question: Is Joe Flacco to be trusted in the playoffs?"
I dont think Baltimore at least this week will have to worry about putting the ball in Flacco's hands. The Ravens defense will rise up this week keeping Arian Foster in check and I see Ed Reed making one or a few game shifting plays that will ultimately be the Texans undoing. Plus add in the fact that Baltimore is virtually unbeatable at home and I don't see the Ravens letting down their home crowd.
PREDICTION : Ravens 27-14
NY Giants at Green Bay (-7.5) [Sun. 4:30pm, FOX]
My favorite game of the weekend and rightfully so seeing that I'm the resident Giants homer so obviously I have a horse in the race. The Giants come in red hot. The Packers come in rested.
The G-Men looked absolutely sharp Wild card weekend vs. Atlanta. Their pass rush, specifically their defensive line is as healthy as it has been all year. Eli Manning is having a career year and their receiving core is one of the most dangerous in the NFL. All these elements have the Giants possibly duplicating their run they did in 2007.
The Packers while ending their phenomenal season at 15-1 come into this game banged up. While starting the year looking dominant as any team in recent memory, the last few weeks they haven't looked as sharp as they were in midseason. It doesn't help that they are also the 32nd ranked defense in the league. But they still have this season's eventual MVP Aaron Rodgers.
This game will be a classic. It will come down to who makes a mistake or the most mistakes. While I do trust Eli Manning cause he has been down this road before, I think Aaron Rodgers and company are taking this game personal due to everyone leaning towards the Giants pulling the upset. However I have to be honest, the Packers are just too good and I think they will be able to overcome the injuries and doubt.
PREDICTION: Packers 35-31