Saturday, January 14, 2012

NFL Divisional Round

Last week, I tweeted my picks while on a road trip and went 2-2. An explanation for those picks: I had faith in the Texans defense at home against a rookie QB; I thought the Lions offense could keep up with the Saints, which they did for 3 quarters; I knew the Giants defensive line would kill the Falcons' offensive line, but I thought the game would be a lot closer; and I thought the veteran Steeler defense would play the ball better in the air-- I should have remembered how many times I've uttered the phrase "Ike Taylor is a great corner who is always in good position but has terrible ball skills" over the years.

It was just the third time since the new playoff format in 1990 that all four home teams won in the Wild Card Round, and it would be the first time ever that home teams would go 8-0, but that's how I'm picking them.
Crabtree had a big day in a classic on MNF last year.

San Francisco +4 versus New Orleans: The Niners shouldn't be underdogs at home, but every is on the bandwagon of the Saints' weekly fireworks display. Having this game at home on the grass in Candlestick instead of on the road on the turf in the Superdome is a huge difference. Furthermore, the Saints have to travel across the country, and the Niners have the exact blueprint for stopping explosive offenses: play great defense and kill the clock with a good running game to keep them off the field. You're not going to win a shootout with them, so you try to limit the amount of their opportunities. That will work since the Saints are susceptible to the run, and the Niners have allowed the fewest points per possession in the league, according to football outsiders.  The main areas of concern for the Niners are protecting Alex Smith against Gregg Williams' blitz schemes and preventing the big play on defense. They gave up the 4th most passing plays of 40 yards or more, so the safety play of Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner against Drew Brees and company will be key.

New England -13.5 versus Denver: I got burned going against Tim Tebow last week, but I'm doing it again. The deep ball down the sidelines is his best throw, and it caught the Steelers by surprise. However, this porous Patriots defense is most susceptible to throws to the inside, which most quarterbacks are great at, but Tebow struggles with it. The Broncos actually had huge success running the ball before fumbling it away in the first meeting between these teams when Tom Brady rang up 41 points in Denver. Although I like the young safeties for Denver, especially rookie Quinton Carter from Oklahoma, they are going to struggle to cover the tight end duo of Gronkowski and Hernandez. Having a healthy Von Miller adding to the pass rush is a big difference maker, but I'm rolling with Brady at home.

Terrell Suggs might look unblockable in this game.
Baltimore -7.5 versus Houston: Here's rookie QB on the road situation again, and to compound matters, T.J. Yates has to face the vaunted Ravens defense. His biggest strength right now is play action passes, but those won't be as effective if Baltimore succeeds in stopping the run first and foremost. I predict Ed Reed running into the end zone at some point in the game after forcing a turnover. On the other side, the Texans defense won't give up much more, but I think safety Glover Quinn could get beat for a deep ball or pass interference call like last week. If Joe Flacco can make Torrey Smith a threat down the field, then that will open up some running room for Ray Rice. Corner Jonathan Joseph against Anquan Boldin will be a fun battle to watch as well.

Green Bay -7.5 versus Green Bay: This is a dangerous game with the Giants' great pass rush against the Packers' banged up offensive line. I'm counting on Green Bay to come out strong and healthy after having the bye week. The game in the New Meadowlands was one of the best of the season with Aaron Rodgers making it look easy on two late scoring drives to pull out the win, but it was only so close thank to all the dropped balls by Packer receivers. Eli Manning can certainly pile up a bunch of yards against this underachieving Green Bay defense, but he can also turn the ball over in bunches, which has been the saving grace of the defending champs. Anything can happen with the snowy conditions at Lambeau, and I'm sticking with the Super Bowl team I picked in the pre-season.
Escaping from JPP again will be crucial for Rodgers.

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