NFL Divisional Playoff Preview

In Sports on January 13, 2012 at 1:40 pm

by:  Kyle Slaby

Happy Friday everybody! I hope you are as excited about this weekend as I am!

This weekend features four interesting games; two of which could be very good.

New Orleans @ San Francisco, Saturday 3:30 CST

The divisional round starts off with what I believe is the best matchup of the week. San Francisco is a hard-nosed run oriented offense with a stellar defense. The up and coming 49ers rank #1 in rush defense (77.3 ypg), second in points allowed a game (14.3 ppg) and second in takeaways (41.) Unfortunately the Saint’s offense is predicated largely on QB Drew Brees and his vicious passing attack that broke Dan Marino’s single season passing yard record.

The Saints keys on offense will be to protect Brees long enough to take advantage of an aggressive secondary that ended the season with 23 interceptions but allowed over 230 passing yards a game this year. If the New Orleans’ offensive line can keep the likes of Rookie defensive end Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, and the rest of the 49er front seven in check, I think the red hot Saints could burst this game open early and force San Francisco to pass to early.

Ideally, San Francisco will look to control the clock with a steady diet of Frank Gore with Kendall Hunter spelling him. The methodical drives coupled with the beautiful game management of former first overall pick Alex Smith could keep Drew Brees and the Saints on the sidelines long enough to win what should be a close game.

The key to this game is the front seven of the 49ers. I think they are hungry enough and talented enough to make Drew Brees’ life miserable. By keeping Drew uncomfortable the Niners stand a good chance of forcing turnovers and setting their offense to do what they do best. I predict a 27-21 win for the home team.

Denver @ New England, Saturday, 7 CST

The Tim Tebow show returns to Foxbourough for redemption. After a stunning win in overtime over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Denver Broncos look to take knock out Tom Brady in what could be the hype game of the century. Let’s be honest, ESPN will have a difficult time figuring out which QB to praise more.

This matchup is going to come down to two things: the offensive line and defense of the Broncos. Since taking over in week 6, QB Tim Tebow has received much of the credit for Denver’s playoff run. Most of the grunt work has been done by the offensive line that keeps defenders out of Tebow’s face and opened holes for resurrected running back Willis McGahee. Opposing defenses sell out to stop the run, often making mental mistakes in pass coverage deep allowing guys like Demetrious Thomas and Eric Decker run free. This leaves easily read throws for the young lefty from Florida. While not a potent offense, the Broncos always do just enough to win it seems. Their defense keeps them in most games until a big play on offense late can seal the win.

The Patriots on the other hand fit into a category that seems to have become popular this year. High scoring passing offense coupled with a porous defense or as I like to call them “Glass Cannons.” Other notable Glass Cannons include NFC’s #1 seed Packers, #3 seed Saints, and #6 seed Lions. Much like the 1998 Vikings (curse you Gary Anderson!) the game plan is to score as many points as you can and hope it’s more that your defense can give up.

This game is a rematch of a matchup in week 15 when the Patriots thrashed the Broncos 41-23. I believe the Patriots again land on the winning side, but I don’t think it will be quite that one sided. Denver plays good defense but I think Tom Brady puts up points to fast for Denver to keep up. Patriots win 31-17.

Houston @ Baltimore, Sunday, Noon CST

The first game on Sunday looks to be a defensive struggle as the TJ Yates lead Texans visit Ray Rice and the Ravens. Both teams boast talented defenses and balanced offenses that could challenge for a championship.

The Texans are riding high after winning their first playoff game as a franchise. Lead by rookie QB TJ Yates (who started the season a third stringer) this potent offense has few weaknesses. This should be no surprise to anyone who has watched football the last three years. Even after losing all-pro quarterback Matt Schaub for the season and playing much of the year without receiver Andre Johnson the Texans still managed to put together one of the best offenses in the league. But what is surprising is the Defense that coordinator Wade Phillips has put together is one of the best in the league. Even after losing Mario Williams in week 5 the Houston defense is playing wonderfully. Rookies JJ Watt and Brookes Reed and FA acquisition CB Jonathan Joseph helped bring stability to a team gushing with talent. Unfortunately, despite his impressive run as the starter, Yates is still young and prone to rookie mistakes and while has tremendous upside isn’t at that point in his career yet.

To make up for this, the Texans look to rely on the two headed monster of Arian Foster and Ben Tate at running back. Both could be stars on their own but together they make the Texans a killer. If the Texans can get the run game going in Baltimore they could pull off this upset.

Unfortunately for the Texans, the Ravens are still the Ravens. Great defense and a ball control offense has always been the main stay of the Ravens. Baltimore’s QB Joe Flacco is somewhat of an unsung hero for the Ravens. He may never be the type of guy you expect to take over a game but he is a good quarterback with plenty of playoff experience. Since coming into the league 4 years ago Flacco has lead the Ravens to the playoffs each year and has a 4-3 record (all as a visiting team.)

Look for the Ravens to get the ball to All-Pro Ray Rice and play great defense as they always do. The Texans are a talented team, but with a rookie quarterback on the road against the Ravens, Houston will be stopped rather easily. Overall this could be a low scoring affair but I believe the Ravens will win 24-13.

New York @ Green Bay, Sunday, 3:30 CST

The final game looks to be a great nightcap on an exciting divisional round. This game is a rematch of a week 13 win by the Pack over the Giants. Since then the Giants have become the hottest team in the league. Their defensive front four is playing lights out and making up for a solid, yet unspectacular secondary.

Eli Manning has quickly become the man in the Big Apple by finally living up to his high draft position years ago. His stellar play coupled with the recent resurgence of the running game makes them a scary team to face.

The Packers on the other hand are still the Packers. Little to no running game, a defense that has more holes than Swiss cheese but a passing game that is as unstoppable as any and a hyper aggressive 3-4 defense that creates turnovers like no other. They are a typical Glass Cannon team that can put up points without mercy.

Not much else can be said about these teams. It’s pretty straightforward. If the Giants can take advantage of a banged up Green Bay O-Line (which will see the return of Bulaga) and create mischief for Aaron Rodgers, then the red hot Giants have a very good chance of taking the belt from Titletown.

I predict a high scoring affair. The Giants are playing wonderfully and I think they can take advantage of the holes in the Packers D. As long as they don’t turn the ball over and get pressure on A-Rod the Giants stand a good chance. Plus, in the NFL playoffs its more about who’s hot than who is better. I think this is the case. Upset alert! Giants go in and beat the Pack 31-27.


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