One of my favourite football weekends of the year. The Divisional playoffs. The wildcard winners moving forward to play the teams who earned bye weeks. The Super Bowl is in sight. The intensity rises. And some of the greatest games in NFL history have been during the divisional playoffs.Here’s my take into this weekend’s games.
New Orleans at San Francisco
The old adage, offence sells tickets but defence wins championships will be tested in this matchup. The Saints are a well-oiled machine on offence led by Drew Brees. In their win over the Detroit Lions last week, Brees threw for 466 yards and 3 touchdowns. If he delivers the same type of performance this week the Saints will be successful. With a variety of weapons at his disposal, Brees is extremely difficult to contain. Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles are effective runners and receiving threats from the backfield. Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Jimmy Graham and Robert Meachem are all quality targets for Brees in the passing game. The Saints defence did struggle in the regular season but can force turnovers. They forced 2 interceptions last week and will need to make plays on defence to set up the offence.
The 49ers have one of the best defences in the NFL led by stud linebacker Patrick Willis. Willis has been battling hamstring issues but should be ready to play. The 49ers ranked 4th in total defence and are the toughest team to run against, allowing only 77.2 yards on the ground per game. On offence, Alex Smith has had a nice comeback season after his job was on the line a year before. He is helped by a strong running game led by Frank Gore. Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis are quality pass-catchers and will need to come up big for the 49ers to be successful.
Normally I pick the defensive team to win in the playoffs however, the Saints do have playoff experience on their side which includes a Super Bowl championship 2 years ago. I’m not sold on Alex Smith as of yet and not sure how the rest of the 49ers will handle the playoff pressure. I’m picking New Orleans to win.
Denver at New England.
Tim Tebow vs. Tom Brady. That’s what everyone is talking about this weekend. The future vs. the present. There is no doubt that Tebow has been a massive story in the NFL this season. And after last week’s showing, in which he threw for 316 yards including an 80 yard strike to Demaryius Thomas in overtime to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tebow has become THE media sensation of the NFL. Now Tebow and the Broncos face a very stiff challenge travelling to Foxborough to face the experienced Patriots and their rowdy fans. I know the Patriots have issues on defence. I know Tebow can produce miracles on the football field. I know that anything can happen in a one game scenario. But I’m picking New England to win this one only because at some point, Tebow and the rest of the Broncos will run out of miracles.
Houston at Baltimore.
This should be a defensive showcase. Both teams pride themselves on playing tough defence so expect a low scoring game. The Texans will try to run the football led by Arian Foster. Foster had a huge game last week against Cincinnati running for 153 yards and 2 touchdowns. Foster’s terrific performance eased the burden of quarterback T.J. Yates who threw for only 159 yards last week. Foster will have to come up large if Houston expects to win.
The Ravens defence is well-known but they do have issues on offence. Joe Flacco has to deliver on his potential at some point. Flacco has struggled in previous playoff engagements and now is the time for him to shake off those disappointments. Ray Rice should help with his bruising runs. Rice did run for 1,364 yards this season and will need to chew up yards for the Ravens to win. Anquan Boldin is Flacco’s favourite target in the passing game and will be called upon to make big plays.
I like what the Texans have done this season and I’m impressed with their work ethic and determination. However the Ravens are motivated. Ray Lewis wants to win another Super Bowl before he retires and Ed Reed has never won a Super Bowl. Plus the Ravens are 8-0 at home and will have home field advantage. I like Baltimore to win this one.
New York Giants at Green Bay.
Very intriguing matchup here. The Giants looked very strong in their win over Atlanta last week and are peaking at the right time. Eli Manning had a solid game at quarterback while the running game finally showed up for the Giants. The Giants ran for a season high 172 yards last week and were extremely effective moving the ball on the ground. Brandon Jacobs ran for 92 yards while Ahmad Bradshaw rushed for 63 yards last week and they will need to share the duties again this week against the Packers. Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Mario Manningham are excellent receivers that will pose problems for the Packers secondary. The defence was huge for the Giants last week and will need an all-world performance to slow down Aaron Rogers and the high-octane Packers offence.
The Packers are extremely potent on offence, led by Rodgers and his cohorts. Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley are outstanding receivers who give opposing secondary fits. Rodgers is very adept in using his receivers in certain situations and he knows how to mix up play calls to confound the defence. While the running game is not quite up to par with the passing game, the Packers are effective in the ground game and will need to run the ball more in the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. The question mark for the Packers is on defence in which they are susceptible in the passing game. The Packers will need to play better pass defence or they could see their Super Bowl dreams go up in smoke.
The Packers are coming in very confident this week, but they better beware. The last time these 2 teams met in the playoffs was in January 2008, when the Giants defeated the Packers in overtime in the NFC Championship game in Lambeau Field. The Giants know how to win this time of year and won’t show any fear this week. I’ll still pick Green Bay to win this week but I won’t be surprised if an upset takes place.
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