Tebow-Mania, Big Blue, the Frozen Tundra, Houston’s First Playoff Appearance and Drew Brees’s passing records.
That’s what you’re going to hear a lot about this week as the NFL playoffs take somewhat of a center stage. Your ears will also tend to pick up a lot of the entire Josh McDaniels situation with New England, Baltimore’s surging defense and the offensively challenged San Francisco 49ers.
The first game that the nation, and world for that matter, will see is New Orleans versus San Francisco. The Saints have a prolific offense led by the record-setting Brees as well as big receiving threats Jimmy Graham and Robert Meachem. Devery Henderson and Lance Moore provide very good fourth and fifth options for a team that can also role out a stable of talented running backs with speed man Darren Sproles, talented back Pierre Thomas and slam back Chris Ivory. All those weapons plus an underrated D make the Saints a sneaky Super Bowl pick.
Now to the other sideline: San Francisco. Due to my heavy biased approach to Seattle I have to bash the Niners a little bit, or a lot. I’d be an idiot to say San Fran’s D isn’t good. It’s a very good defensive team with some excellent linebackers like NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner were and are excellent free agent finds for Jim Harbaugh. Then we get to the other side of the ball, ehhh. Frank Gore is a perennial Pro Bowl player who consistently racks up big games. And he’s great, don’t get me wrong. But he’s the Niners’ crutch. Everything runs through him. If he’s off then the 49ers will have a lot of problems. Alex Smith is a game manager. I know it, you know it, hell even Harbaugh probably knows it. He isn’t going to light up the score board, more or less he’s going to lite it up. Smith hasn’t topped 300 yards once this year. That includes a schedule with teams like Tampa Bay, Washington, St. Louis (twice), Cleveland and the Eagles. Yikes. He has only put up 3 TDs once in a single game this season. That was in a 48-3 win over Tampa in which he managed only 170 yards. When you score 48 points you should probably have a little more than 170 passing yards. Vernon Davis is a solid tight end, Michael Crabtree is a viable option, but is likely only the third or fourth option if he were on the Saints team.
Prediction: Saints 48 49ers 21
Now we finally get to Mr. Tebow. Tebow prevailed against the defending AFC champs in round one. Granted the Steelers were banged up, a win is a win, especially in the playoffs. Denver takes its rag tag bunch into New England to face a Patriots team that made a hiring that is curious to say the least. First, let’s set it up for people who have lived under a rock for the last couple years. Denver’s head coach is John Fox. Denver hired him after firing Josh McDaniels. McDaniels went on to run the offense in St. Louis this season before he was hired by the New England Patriots as their Offensive Coordinator for next year seeing as they will lose their current one to be the next head coach at Penn State. Did I mention that McDaniels was hired after the season ended? And he will serve as an offensive assistant or something of the like for the rest of the playoffs. You make the call on the shady-ness of that one.
New England, amid all that hoopla, has a guy named Tom Brady. Not sure if you’ve heard of him. They also roll out an offense that might only be rivaled by those in New Orleans and Green Bay (certainly not San Francisco). The Pats do have a porous D that could pose problems for New England.
Denver has the underdog factor. That, Tebow, a resurgent Willis McGahee and a strong defense makes for a nice upset pick of sorts. The underdog’s luck has run out in the divisional rounds in recent years. It’s also hard to pick against Tom Brady and a full arsenal of weapons with the man they call Gronk at the forefront.
Prediction: New England 35 Denver 23
Houston and Baltimore, your playoff rookies and playoff vets, this one probably screams blowout for a number of reasons. One, the Ravens have one of the better defenses in the league. Two, Houston is down to their third string QB and has been forced to sign Jake Delhome and Jeff Garcia as a result. No typo there, Jeff Garcia is the Texans third string QB. But they do have a very effective running game with the dynamic duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. That also gives them an extremely efficient play action attack that is one of the better ones in the league, TJ Yates or no. Oh yeah, Andre Johnson is also their number one receiver.
Baltimore’s defense is very good. Their offense is the key. Ray Rice, is the key to their offense. So to boil it down, Ray Rice is the key. In a loss in Seattle, Rice got five carries and lost 22-17. Rice needs to get it going if Baltimore is going to have any chance at winning. This is going to be a grind it out game, lots of running and lots of defense. Look for the Ravens running and D to prevail.
Prediction: Baltimore 23 Houston 17
The defending Super Bowl Champs are taking on the G-Men. The Giants held, or rather gave, the Falcons all of two points in the opening round. The Packers on the other hand sat and watched the wildcard round in the comforts of their own homes. New York has a lot of weapons to surround Eli Manning, while they aren’t near the level of the weapons that Aaron Rodgers has, they’re good weapons. Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, upstart Victor Cruz and the two-headed running back monster of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs.
The Packers roll out tons of weapons that go right at the other defenses: Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finley, (go ahead catch your breath, there’s more) Donald Driver, Randal Cobb, James Starks and John Kuhn. So to sum that up, the Pack can score. Their defense on the other hand is the key. Their D has been a struggling unit. They are good against the run (14th), but their passing defense is last in the league. Yep, last.
This is going to be a passing clinic. The Packers are last in pass D and the Giants are 29th. It doesn’t help when the two guys at QB are both pro bowlers. Like I said, this is going to be a shoot out.
Prediction: Green Bay 42 New York 35