2012 NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round Picks

January 13, 2012

I’m not going to try to rationalize here; my picks last weekend sucked. I admit that I don’t follow the pro game as much during the regular season as I do with college football. Although the two aren’t really all that related, my picks last weekend reflected the amount of the pro game that I watch. Well, at least the Atlanta-New York game did.

Here are my picks for this weekend’s games. I can’t guarantee that they will be any better than last weekend; in fact, they might be just as bad. But maybe the Son of God will work in his mysterious ways and grant me the ability to pick every game correctly.

Don’t be fooled; I’m not picking Denver.

AFC Divisional Round

Denver at New England

Well, if you read what came before this sentence then you already know who I am picking in this one. Next game.

No, I’m just kidding. It needs to be said that New England will win this game because they are simply a superior team. The defense is not coming into this game as mangled as Pittsburgh’s was last week, and there is little doubt that the Patriots saw the film of last weekend’s game and know how to stop Tebow. No longer can a team stack the box and figure that they will be fine. Tebow proved that he can hurt you through the air if you give him every possible opportunity, and New England is not going to allow him that luxury on Saturday.

One thing that gives Denver a chance in this game is that New England’s pass defense is atrocious. They give up more yards than every team in the league except Green Bay. The funny thing about those two teams is that they also have the best quarterbacks in the league. In other words, it doesn’t really matter if they give up almost 300 yards a game through the air. We have seen stranger things when Denver is playing, though.

Analysts have been quick to point out that Tebow had his best game of his career last weekend. If he wants to keep his team in the playoffs, he’s going to need to have a performance that blows last weekend out of the water. Things fell into place for the Broncos last weekend, but don’t expect them to on Saturday afternoon.

Final Score: 34-20 New England

Houston at Baltimore

The sound-bite of Joe Flacco talking about how the media scrutinizes everything he does has been a frequent topic of discussion on sports talk radio shows the past few days. Now Flacco will get a chance to quiet the media (or prove their point) this weekend when the Ravens take on Houston this Sunday.

What the media says should be of very little concern to Flacco. Not only has he lead his team to the playoffs every year he has been in the league, but he has won at least one game in each of those appearances as well. The Ravens are arguably the most balanced team left in the AFC, and at times this season have looked like the most dominant team in the NFL. This weekend’s game will come down to Flacco’s play however, as Houston comes in with a stingy run defense that limited Cincinnati to 76 yards rushing last weekend. Joe Flacco wants to prove to people that he is an elite quarterback? Prove it.

As mentioned, the Texans have a very tough run defense that should do a good job of limiting Ray Rice in this game. The key for Houston will be finding a way to score when it has the ball. The Ravens are good at defending the pass, and there is some concern as to whether rookie quarterback T.J. Yates will be able to go on the road and step up in a big way for the Texans. Yates has done well up to this point, but this weekend’s game is without a doubt the toughest test he has faced thus far. Arian Foster will make things easier for Yates, but it remains to be seen if Yates can deliver the type of gritty performance that is needed to beat the Ravens at home.

Sometimes having a week off can affect a team negatively. However, I do not think this will be the case for Baltimore. My preseason Super Bowl pick will move on to the AFC Championship Game thanks to a solid, yet not elite, performance by Joe Flacco.

Final Score: 21-16 Baltimore

NFC Divisional Round

New Orleans at San Francisco

Much like last weekend’s game featuring the Saints, if there is only one NFL game you plan on watching this weekend, it should be this one. This game could go either way depending on which team’s strength prevails.

The Saints are the hottest team in the NFL right now. In addition to putting up 40-plus points in its last four games, New Orleans has been doing a good job on the defensive end as well. Drew Brees allows an amount of comfort for the Saints defense that not a lot of other teams experience. Because New Orleans’ defense knows it only needs to make a few stops a half and Brees will likely have built a lead, it can play loose and focus on blitzing and forcing turnovers to give the ball back to the offense. Keeping Brees on the field will be a key for New Orleans in this game. The 49ers are not a team that can come back from a huge deficit, so the less time San Francisco has the ball the better for the Saints.

San Francisco may not be a quick strike team, but is extremely efficient and has the ability to hold opposing offenses to well under their normal scoring output. The 49ers are exceptional on defense, and the offense is designed in a way that makes sure quarterback Alex Smith is not relied on too heavily. The defense will be extremely important for the 49ers as a result. San Francisco needs to keep this game within single digits throughout the game, or they will be forced to rely on Alex Smith to make big plays. Smith thrives in an offense that asks him to convert on short yardage downs, not one in which he is throwing downfield every play.

If San Francisco is able to contain Drew Brees and the Saints offense, they have a good chance at winning this game. In addition, I do not like how the Saints have fared on the road this season against even mediocre competition. However, it is hard for me to go against the hottest team in football right now. I have New Orleans in a close one.

Final Score: 31-24 New Orleans

New York at Green Bay

Before we crown the Green Bay Packers Super Bowl champions for a second season in a row, let’s remember how the Packers did last time out against the Giants.

Green Bay had a lot of trouble stopping Eli Manning, who has finally emerged as one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Considering their pass defense numbers, it would not be surprising to see Manning have another solid game against Green Bay this weekend. The X-factor in this game for the Giants will be the running game, which gashed Atlanta in the wildcard game last weekend. If Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw can get things going in this game, then the Giants will have the ability to control the clock. If that is the case, then New York may be able to escape the need to beat Green Bay in a shootout as everyone is expecting.

The Packers have given the starters essentially two weeks off, which is good news for the home team. The bad news is that the time off could result in the team being rusty, which usually affects the offense far more than the defense. A good first quarter will be extremely important for Green Bay, not only because it will assure that rustiness is not an issue but also because the Giants have proven they can win a shootout if need be. In addition, the Giants defense looked very impressive in last weekend’s victory over Atlanta, so they will be very confident heading into this game. Rodgers & Co. could shatter that confidence with a solid first quarter.

I think New York has a chance, but the combination of Green Bay’s time off and the fact that they are at home will be a little too much for the surging Giants.

Final Score: 35-27 Green Bay

– K. Becks

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