Last Sunday Tebow and the Denver Broncos provided the biggest upset of Wildcard Weekend, in the process earning a shot at the New England Patriots this week. The Giants slammed the Falcons, the Saints beat the Lions and the Texans beat the Bengals, leaving all the Wildcard Teams out the door and nothing but division winners left. What will divisional week have in store? Honestly, I don’t know, I took a stab at predicting things Wildcard Weekend and failed miserably, despite what my 2-2 record says, so I’ll just break down the teams competing.
New Orleans Saints (#3) @ San Francisco 49ers (#2) – Saturday, 4:30 PM (ET) – FOX
The New Orleans Saints come into San Francisco with one of the league’s best offenses and will face the league’s best defense. The 49ers earned their 2-seed through hard-nose, smash mouthed football, the only problem is that their offense has an ever-lasting struggle in the redzone. Alex Smith has improved significantly this year, not turning the ball over and actually moving the team down the field with the help of Frank Gore. The 49ers need to keep the ball out of the Saints’s hands, because as we’ve seen over recent weeks, they’ll start off reasonable, put up a modest 24 points heading into the 4th quarter, then suddenly explode. Don’t believe me? Ask the Vikings, Falcons, Panthers and Lions, they all had the game within reach in the 4th quarter and then before they knew it, it got out of hand. The Saints haven’t quite faced a defense like the Niners before, they have a solid rotation on defense and as long as they keep their players in a steady rotation they’ll be able to keep up with this team on foot. Aldon Smith has been outstanding this season, especially in stints where Willis was missing due to injury, between the two of them they may be able to make Drew Brees uncomfortable enough to make a mistake or two….but it’s not the mistake that they need, it’s the conversion of said mistake. The key to this game for the 49ers is simple: make your scoring drives as long as possible and make sure they end in 6….every one of them. This should be a fun game as no team has scored more than 27 on the Niners, and that only happened twice: Week 2 and Week 17, can the Saints muster up enough points to overpower this team that’s heavily dependent on its ground game for success? Or will Jim Harbaugh prove that there still is room for a good defense in the NFL.
Denver Broncos (#4) @ New England Patriots (#1) – Saturday, 8:00 PM – CBS
Last time these two teams met, the Broncos jumped out to an early lead that was later given up with ease. This time around it’ll be up to the Broncos defense to keep Brady and company in check, because Tebow showed last week that whether he’s a solid passer or not, he adds an element to the Broncos offense that allows big plays to open up. The Broncos put up 23 in regulation against the Steelers and 29 overall, including 316 yards from Tebow off 10 completions. Why is this? Because the threat of Tebow and McGahee causes team to stack the box, leaving more one on one matchups outside, that’s where DeMaryius Thomas comes in, his speed is top-notch and he can out run most defenders on a whim. The Patriots defense gives up a LOT of yards, but also causes a lot of turnovers….depends on how they feel, they’ll need that turnover causing one to show up Saturday in order to keep Tebow and company on their toes. Want to know the most interesting aspect of this game? Cause it’s not Brady vs. Tebow, it’s the fact that former Broncos Head Coach Josh McDaniel will face his old team as Offensive Coordinator of the Patriots. McDaniel as you know, was responsible for the drafting of Tebow AND Thomas, the two reasons why Denver won last week, now he’ll have to seal their fate or watch them seal his.
Oh yeah, and Brady should make things interesting since he has some guys named Wes Welker and Rob Gronskowski in his arsenal.
Houston Texans (#3) @ Baltimore Ravens (#2) – Sunday, 1 PM EST, CBS
If the Houston Texans are going to continue any type of run in the AFC playoffs, it’s going to go through that man pictured above, Arian Foster. Foster ran for 153 and 2 scores and allowed the Texan defense to attack, setting up a huge 31-10 victory for Houston that moved them into this second round match-up against Baltimore.
These two teams faced off earlier in the season resulted in a 29-14 victory for Baltimore, who has been one of the more confusing teams in the AFC playoffs. The Ravens hold some huge wins on the resume, but they also hold some questionable losses, all on the road (8-0 at home, 4-4 on the road), and all of which were offensive no-shows. This team runs through Ray Rice, he is the ignition that makes this offense go, he opens up everything from Torrey Smith to Joe Flacco. Houston has to be careful and find a way to keep Boldin and Smith in check while somehow keeping Rice respectable, the minute you try and play an evenly spread, all-around game, Rice sneaks a big run on you, or Flacco finds Smith deep. The major difference between this Raven team and teams of the Flacco era, is that instead of just a consistent, solid #1 threat, Flacco has a major deep threat that WILL burn you if you let him. The Texans have seen TJ Yates grow up in a matter of weeks, but we’ll know whether he’s a full-grown man when he’s got Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, and Haloti Ngata in his face, he’s going to have to simply beat them with his arm. He’s going to be asked to make plays that he may not have made before, he may become more crucial to this team than he has in the past, and whether or not he can answer the call will determine what happens Sunday.
New York Giants (#4) @ Green Bay Packers (#1) – Sunday – 4:30pm – FOX
This is the 3rd or 3 rematches taking place this weekend, and it is honestly the most intriguing. The Packers at one point looked unstoppable, and even though the Chiefs loss didn’t have anyone writing them off, it definitely showed they were human. The Pack needed a 58-second Aaron Rodgers drives to pull them out of the last game….and it was in Lambeau, just like this one. Eli is playing better than almost any other QB in the league right now, and deserves a spot in the MVP conversation, especially if he wins this game. The entire reason the Giants made the playoffs is because Eli Manning played almost lights out when it mattered, a microcosm of his entire career, and he’s found a new Plaxico Burress in Victor Cruz (while he’s not as tall and physical, he is speedy and deceptive), a guy he can go to when a drive or game is on the line. This team made mince meat out of the Falcons defense in the second half, it wasn’t even pretty, and he’s the hot hand coming in the matchup. This is not to ignore Aaron Rodgers, who is the clear favorite for the MVP award, as he has a dangerous set of weapons around him as well (evidenced by Matt Flynn’s ability to have a career game with them Week 17). We just know what Rodgers is capable of, so it’s in Eli’s best interest to not give Aaron Rodgers even less than a minute with the ball should it come down to one final drive for the Giants…..he needs to leave like 2 seconds, maybe.
All picks will be made on The Sports Forum, 6:30 pm CT on BlazeRadio.org this Friday (Jan. 13).