I guess last week I must have been smoking something heavy, because I went 1-3. The only correct pick I had was the Saints. Now, the teams I wanted to win, won. I wanted Houston to win and I wanted the Broncos to win, I just didn’t pick them. This week should make a little more sense as since 1990 (when the current playoff format started) the home teams in the divisional round are a stout 61-23. That’s .726 winning percentage or about 75%. So based on percentages, only one of this weeks road teams will win. So which one will it be?
Well, the reason that the home team has such an advantage in the divisional round is because all four home teams have been spending the last two weeks resting sore muscles, studying tape and practicing. Take the Patriots v. Broncos. While the Patriots starters have essentially had three weeks off, the Broncos are coming into New England on a short week. Only six days to prepare. Against three weeks? Who will be the more prepared team? Of course, the only positive is there is such a thing as over preparing.
This might be a good time to mention that my Superbowl pick this year was the Packers vs. Patriots. It should also be noted that I had no idea that Tim Tebow was going to be in the playoffs. I had the Broncos dead last in their division and the Chiefs going back to the playoffs. Great call there right? Who knew the Chiefs were going to suck so freaking bad? And who knew that Jesus would come down from the heavens, anoint Tim Tebow the savior of football, kick Merril Hodge in the balls and zip back up to the clouds? Football! Yearggh!
New Orleans at San Francisco
Saturday 4:30 PM ET – Line: +3.0
“Stop Gore and they won’t score,” opined @mbletsch at lunch the other day. There is a little more to the San Francisco offense than Frank Gore, but they need his legs to be chugging against the Saints front line in order to open up the passing game. But the Saints are no fools, rarely using an overload blitz against the run (as many teams seem to foolishly do these days) and shouldn’t have much problem defending the pass. The Niners don’t have a guy like Megatron, who still managed to scorch the Saints defensive backs last week. The Saints tore up the Lions like it was an arena football game, after giving them slight hope in the first half. The Niners will have to contain Sproles and push through to pressure Drew Brees. The Saints run such complex and unique passing routes, that Drew Brees needs as much time as possible to let the play develop. There is tons of misdirection and the key here is pressure, pressure, pressure. If the Niners and their top ranked defense fail to move Brees out of the pocket, they will fail to win this game. It’s that simple. The Lions failed to do this, they failed to properly cover receivers in the secondary and they failed to win. The key to a Saints victory is score fast and keep scoring, something they do well. Something the Niners do well is ground out the clock and games once they have a lead. The Saints have to avoid that from happening. This is my one away team pick though, as I’m sticking with the Saints to go to the NFC Championship game.
Denver at New England
Saturday 8:00 PM ET – Line: -13.5
I’m going to be honest here, I want the Broncos to win. I want them to overcome nearly a two touchdown line to beat the Patriots, in New England and go to the AFC Championship game. But I’ve already played the percentages. I picked the Saints to win, and that’s my one away team. This is a history making year though, so anything is possible. But is a Denver win possible? The Patriots rolled into Denver a few weeks back, and after letting the Broncos get an early lead, simply annihilated them on offense, making the Denver defense look the fool. There were a couple things happening in that game that are different now. First off, John Fox finally started calling in passing plays. Second, Tebow started completing passes on passing plays. Of course, the Patriots are going to be watching tape from the Pittsburgh game and wondering how receivers got that open, and how Tebow got that accurate. But will they be looking for the pass, the run or the Tebow run? You can’t anticipate all three and I think John Fox and crew, with absolutely nothing to lose, will have some serious surprises in store for the Patriots and their bottom ranked defense. Remember, the Steelers had the number one ranked defense, and the Broncos torched them through the air. Maybe because they didn’t see it coming, whatever. It’s not going to matter against the Patriots, they have a terrible defense. This game will be won or lost by the Denver defense. It’s not about containing the run, it’s about guessing if the ball is going to Welker, Hernandez or Gronkowski. Double teaming a tight end is out of the question. So what’s the key? Get. Tom. Brady. Sack his pretty ass. For finesse QB’s like Brady, everything is about timing. Throw off his timing, throw off his game. We’ll see if the Broncos can accomplish this. Either way, as much as I want the Broncos to win, I don’t think they’ll be able to keep up with the score. I expect this game to be a lot closer than 14 points, but still picking the Patriots to win and make a lot of Tebow fans very, very sad. Merril Hodge will be happy though, but fuck Merril Hodge.
Houston at Baltimore
Sunday 1:00 PM ET – Line: -7.0
The worst team in the playoffs was proven to be the Bengals, as they completely rolled over for the Texans, who overpowered them on offense and on defense. The Bengals didn’t seem to be playing in the same league. It was the first match-up of rookie QB’s in a playoff game, and only the 3rd stringer prevailed. This week Yates takes his team into the very hostile Baltimore to go up a defense just as, if not stronger than his teams. Really, Flacco and Yates basically cancel themselves out. While not a rookie, Flacco still makes the same late game errors that rookies tend to make. Plus, the rushing game makes for a great storyline too. And that’s where the win is going to come from. Who can break the line and get the yards, Ray Rice or Arian Foster? I think it’s going to be Rice, based on the continued strength and pull of the Ravens offensive line. I think Foster will get plenty of carries and break off a couple good runs, but Rice is a very explosive player that also receives well in the flat. Since the defenses are so good, it’s going to come down to offense and it’s going to be the running game that seals the deal. This is a great match-up and should be a very exciting game to watch. Big defensive plays and great running. Statistics are statistics though, so I’m taking the Ravens to win.
New York at Green Bay
Sunday 4:30 PM ET – Line: -9.0
There are pundits talking about how the Giants beat the Packers in the playoffs on their way to a Superbowl. Most of those same Giants, especially on the defense, are still on this team. So after making short work of the Falcons (who are barely worth a mention at this point) the Giants roll into the hallowed field in the middle of the small town of Green Bay Wisconsin. I would love to think that the Giants really do stand a chance this year against the explosive offense of the Packers, but I really don’t think they do. At least not for 60 minutes. Look, while the Packers don’t have the best defense, they do have a playmaking defense. That’s enough to keep the game in their favor when they get ahead, or fall slightly behind. The keys to victory lie in the hands of the starting QB’s. Both Manning and Rodgers are kings of the two minute drill, with only Eli slipping up now and again with a late interception (see Seahawks loss.) I’m taking the Packers in this game not just because of statistics but because they will just score more points. Math wins at this point. Packers to win.