Thursday, January 12, 2012

Divisional Round Predictions

The Divisional Round is often regarded as the best weekend of football by fans uninterested in fanfare and 5 million dollar Bud Light commercials.  This year’s matchups offer a mixture of perennial contenders and a few upstart franchises.  Let’s get right to it because I’m now just two episodes away from wrapping up the first season of Weeds and I need to have that done by the end of the evening.

Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots
At a 13.5-point spread, Vegas thinks this game will be the weekend’s largest blowout.  Tim Tebow’s lore is now at an all time high heading into this game against New England.  Interestingly enough, the same could have been said at the time of Denver’s first game with the Patriots that took place last month.  My prediction for that game was simple: New England should win by a sizeable margin, but if close in the fourth quarter, Denver would win.  I guess my stance hasn’t really changed heading into this matchup. 
A few more years of the current streak, and there's going to be a new
curse in Boston.   
Patriots fans across the country cheered as Pittsburgh, who handed New England a loss in the regular season, was eliminated.  This was the appropriate response, after all the Steelers were my AFC Super Bowl favorite in last week’s column.  Consider though how excruciatingly painful it will be for New England fans if they somehow lose.  Seeing their Super Bowl aspirations end against Roethlisberger would have been, after a week or so of mourning, tolerable.  But Denver? 

One of the most startling pieces of recent NFL information is that Brady and company haven’t one a playoff game since losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl.  How is that possible? 

In any case, I don’t know how anyone can pick against Tebow anymore.  Granted, if Denver someone manages to make it to the Super Bowl I don’t see how the end of the world 2012 prophecy isn’t correct.  None of New England’s wins this season came against a team that finished the year with a winning record.  The defense is at an all time worst.  Their offensive coordinator, Bill O’Brien, is already thinking about Penn State next year.  

There hasn’t been any real discussion on stats or matchups or anything like that for this prediction, but that’s because all those things have no bearing against the Denver Broncos.  Their success is unprecedented to the highest extent.  My gut tells me the Broncos can squeeze out one more postseason win, but I refuse to believe Brady allows that to happen.
Patriots 27, Denver 10

Houston Texans vs. Baltimore Ravens
For me, this is the weekend’s most intriguing matchup.  Maybe because there was never a complete AFC team this season, the football world seemed to give Baltimore that title mostly due to their two victories over the Steelers.  My stance on those games has been that they are not indicative of either team’s true abilities.  There are so many psycho meatheads between those two that whoever can go on more of a roid-rage tear will probably come out on top.  That’s not how things work in every game.

I’m also unable to ignore the outings in which Baltimore appeared no better than a six seed.  All four of their loses came to teams without a winning record.  Baltimore also produced a downright hideous performance against the Jets and needed a 24-point comeback to top the lowly Cardinals.  Granted, they still won those two games and there is something to be said about winning ugly, but I don’t really know exactly what that thing is or how it applies to postseason football against a very complete Texans team.  If I were a Ravens fan I would also be concerned with Flacco’s abilities against one of the league’s elite defensive teams.  To me, he’s not much more than a bigger, more ugly Marc Sanchez. 

As for the Texans, they looked exceptional in their first round dispatching of Cincinnati.  Their defense was in the face of Dalton all day, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster both looked to be possibly the best at their respective positions, and T.J. Yates demonstrated that the moment was not too big for him.  If this can become a regular thing, I don’t know if anyone can beat them.  I picked it last week and had been talking about the rise of Houston well before then.  I’m not backing down now.
Texans 24, Baltimore 20 

New York Giants vs. Green Bay Packers
Is it just me or does this Giants teem seem eerily familiar to the one that won the Super Bowl four years ago?  Manning is playing great.  The wide receivers look borderline unstoppable.  The defensive line is on a 60-minute warpath.  Tom Coughlin is coaching his way into positive media favor (be it well deserved or not – I’m going with not).  All of these things were taking place then too. 
Make no doubt about it; Woodson's D-POY award ahead of Revis
in 2009-10 was a total sham, but he is an all-time great playmaker
I can’t explain it, but I am itching to pick the Giants in the stunning upset.  I know, I know – I’ve been riding Green Bay since August and have probably not written a blog article since without the words “Aaron Rodgers”, but rightfully so.  This game will be his biggest test at a repeat championship.
Pass defense is optional for both teams, which has to leave both quarterbacks feeling like they’re going to dominate.  And you know what, they probably both will.  In fact, I suspect we may see over 800 yards between the two combined.  I don’t know if that’s a postseason record but it must be damn close.

Final game prediction: Rodgers leads the Pack down for a game-leading touchdown with 1:53 left.  Manning gets it back, drives the Giants down to the Green Bay 28 yard line, and, with 0:15 left, throws a game-ending interception to Charles Woodson in the back of the end zone after having the ball ricochet off Cruz’s hands. It’s going to be a shootout, but I’ve got the dance with who I brought.
Packers 41, Giants 37

New Orleans Saints vs. San Francisco 49ers
In a classic “something’s gotta give” game, something has got to give.  No team has looked better down the stretch than New Orleans, although were it not for two dropped easy interceptions by the Lions last week they may have been eliminated.  But, in a shocking turn of events, the Lions came up short. 
Don't think for one second Vilma has forgotten about Frank Gore's
history of fumbling.  
If Harbaugh doesn’t take home Coach of the Year I will be shocked, but I cannot see his 49ers team defeating Drew Brees.  The Saints defense is underrated and Alex Smith is getting more credit than he deserves.  It’s Frank Gore’s show in the Bay Area and there’s a chance this moment may be too big for the veteran runner.  Not to mention, Jonathan Vilma is playing probably the best football of his career and is going to be committed to stopping Gore before he can get into the open field. Another interesting thing to notice is that San Francisco’s highly touted defense dominates against the run (best in the league in yards/game) but are actually middle of the pack against the pass.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  The Saints have quietly developed one of the games best rushing attacks (sixth in yards/game) but still use it as more of a change-up to the Drew Brees show. 

I’m really excited for this game mainly because (1) the two teams are so different and (2) I haven’t sat on the San Fran bandwagon at all this season and hate being wrong. 
Saints 31, San Francisco 14

I was pleased with my 3-1 record last week.  I’d take that again.


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