|I'm not taking the bait on this one...you can make up your own caption.|
In looking ahead to the Divisional Round, here are three things that stand out to me…
1. Tebow! – Didn’t I tell you that Tebow would win last week?! Wait, what’s that? I said he had less than a 0% chance of winning? Really? And I already wrote an apology for that? Well…I don’t know what to say, other than that I’ve made amends for my unbelief by paying nearly $100 for a Tim Tebow jersey. If that doesn’t put me squarely on the side of good, then I don’t know what will! As for the game, there is literally no way I could be more excited to see the rematch between Tebow and Brady. Say what you will about the guy, but he’s easily the most compelling thing on TV right now.
2. Unpredictable ‘Predictable’ Games – Every single one of these matchups seems really obvious at first glance…consequently, I am scared to death of them. Green Bay should curb stomp the Giants. New Orleans should roll over the 49ers. New England should crush the Broncos again. Baltimore should easily handle the depleted Texans. Key word: should. Seriously though, do we really expect the Divisional Round to go as planned? There are compelling reasons to think each and every one of the ‘underdogs’ can pull off the upset, and, come next week, I fully expect us to be talking about at least one ‘shocking’ result.
3. Green Bay’s Rhythm – I have done no research on this topic, but I’ll be curious to see if Green Bay looks out of sync at the outset of their game, after having essentially two consecutive bye weeks. Again, I don’t know if there is a historical precedent for this type of thing. Even still, any possible reason for a Green Bay upset has to be a big story, as the entire playoffs are blown wide open if the Packers are ousted early. Heck, even the Broncos might have slightly more than a 0% chance of winning at that point!
As for our Wild Card picks…well, who really cares anymore? Only Tim Tebow could come back from the kind of deficit I’m in!
(Remember, Prince and I are going head to head with our picks. No prize has been determined yet, but ideas are happily accepted.)
Wild Card Weekend Results (point spread in parentheses)
Landrum: 2-2 (2-2)
Prince: 2-2 (3-1)
Wild Card Weekend Winner: Prince +1
Results through Wild Card Weekend (point spread in parentheses)
Landrum: 163-97 (129-108)
Prince: 174-86 (133-104)
Overall Leader: Prince +15
Don’t even care anymore. Prince wins. Go Tebow. Let’s get to the Divisional Round picks…
New Orleans at San Francisco (NO -3)
Jon: New Orleans (NO -3)
Prince: New Orleans (NO -3)
OK, here is the updated home/road splits for New Orleans:
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Is New Orleans extremely talented? Absolutely. Are they more talented than the 49ers. I believe so, yes. Are they an absolute lock to put up bunches of points and roll through San Francisco? Not at all. (Is answering my own questions getting annoying? Certain it is! Do I plan on stopping? Yeah…probably should.)
Look, I’m not breaking any news with that home/road splits table. We all know that New Orleans is a radically different football team on the road, but it’s striking to see just how big the difference really is. I mean, how can a team as talented as the Saints have a near 20 PPG difference away from home? Yeah, it doesn’t help that they had to face Green Bay at Lambeau, but what about their other road games against Jacksonville, Carolina, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Tennessee, and Minnesota? That’s one of the easiest road slates ever!!!
All that having been said, I have concerns about picking San Francisco as well. Even if the ‘Niners hold New Orleans to under 30, and I think there is a VERY good chance that will be the case, can their offense score 28 points? Against a very suspect Saints defense, you’d think San Francisco could have some success, but I’m not so sure. Don’t take this as a ringing endorsement of the Saints D, as they are clearly below average against both the run and the pass. Rather, take it as a stinging criticism of a 49ers offense that is severely lacking in playmakers. While I’m understandably skeptical of Alex Smith in his first ever playoff game, my biggest concern for them is in the running game, where Frank Gore very well might be the most overrated RB in the league. As well as he played early in the season, Gore has come back to earth and then some in the second half of the season, finishing just 44th in DVOA. Honestly, they’d be better served giving the majority of the carries to Kendall Hunter since he at least gives them the threat of a big play outside the tackles.
So there you have it. I have major questions about both teams, and I really have no clue what to think. San Francisco has been great at forcing turnovers this season, but that’s going to be a much harder task against Drew Brees than it was against Tarvaris Jackson, Kellen Clemons, John Skelton, and whatever other crappy QB’s they played in the NFC West. I expect their D to get to Brees more than he’s accustomed, I expect them to lock down the running game, and I expect them to hold the Saints to no more than 28 points. Still, unless San Fran can convert red zone opportunities into TD’s, something they’ve struggled with all year, they just won’t be able to score enough. Saints win on a final drive TD.
Denver at New England (NE -13.5)
Jon: New England (NE -13.5)
Prince: New England (DEN +13.5)
I picked New England to win and cover for a very specific reason…and it had very little to do with the game. (Hint: I’m superstitious!) So yeah, let’s just keep things the same, shall we?
In spite of my childish, idiotic, superstitious pick, I actually do think Denver can win this game. I don’t think their odds are particularly great, but I do think it’s possible. In order to pull off a second straight upset, the Broncos must adequately answer these two questions:
1. Will John Fox continue to be aggressive? I’ve been critical of the Denver coaching staff all year for their conservative approach to the game. Especially in today’s NFL, conservative football is a sure path to losing. Odds and percentages tell us overwhelmingly that these types of coaches leave countless amounts of points on the field, and a team like Denver simply can’t afford to leave even a single score out there. For whatever reason, Fox came out of his shell last Sunday night. Tebow was finally put in the shotgun and allowed to do Tebow things. The passing game was finally geared towards aggressive downfield throws. The play calling finally veered away from their predictable first down running plays. It was a wonderful thing to behold. Now, to be fair, it wasn’t as if Fox turned them into an Arena League team or anything. Still, the difference between the first down calls in the KC game and the first down calls against the Steelers were striking. Against Kansas City, 20 of 25 first down play calls were RB handoffs. (Note: This does not count play calls from Denver’s hurry-up offense at the very end of the game) Against Pittsburgh, just 17 of 26 first down play calls were RB handoffs. That’s still a large percentage, and it’s honestly still more conservative than I’d like, but it’s a big improvement over the week before. If Denver keeps their foot on the pedal, I’m convinced they can score a bunch of points on this Patriots defense. Tebow has a proven ability to get the ball downfield, and he can definitely create some big plays given the lack of talent New England has in the secondary. However, if Fox marries himself to the run game, as he did in their first meeting, then this could quickly turn into a route. Anything more than a 55-45 run-pass split will likely result in a crushing loss. Given his track record, I have no faith in Fox to come up with an aggressive, creative game plan two weeks in a row. Still, I’ll be hoping.
2. Can the defense consistently pressure Brady? While the coverages were pretty poor in their first meeting, the biggest issue I saw was the lack of a consistent rush. Given time in the pocket, Tom Brady is going to carve up even the best of coverages. But, with a heavy rush in his face, we’ve seen the Pats mighty offense crumble. In fact, this has been the exact formula the Giants, Ravens, and Jets have used to upset New England in their last three playoff games. One would think that a healthier Von Miller would dramatically alter this facet of the game. If not, then the Pats are probably going to score far too many points for Denver to hang around.
As I said, I don’t think the odds of an upset are particularly good. They must sustain their drives longer, control the clock more, hit on a few big plays, maintain a heavy pass rush on every defensive possession, and force a couple untimely turnovers. Still, the Patriots are far more vulnerable than most people realize, and Denver could DEFINITELY pull this off. I’ll have my Tebow jersey on, and I’ll be losing my mind if it happens.
Houston at Baltimore (BAL -7)
Jon: Baltimore (HOU +7)
Prince: Baltimore (HOU +7)
Really not much to say about this game. Baltimore is 8-0 at home and Houston is starting T.J. Yates, so there’s really no reason to think the outcome is in question. Still, the strength of each team’s defense and running game could quickly turn this into an old-school slugfest. Even though Baltimore has the better “old-school” reputation, I’m not so sure Houston wouldn’t have the advantage in that type of game. They certainly have a tremendous running game, and we got a firsthand look at the type of playmakers they have accumulated on the defensive side of the ball.
The real question for Baltimore is, which Joe Flacco will be showing up this week? Will it be the Joe Flacco who struggles to complete 50% of his passes and only gets the ball to his receivers 4 or 5 times? Or will it be the Joe Flacco who successfully goes through his reads and drives the ball downfield to his playmakers? We don’t call him ‘Checkdown’ Joe for no reason, and his recent performances give me no indication that Flacco is ready to step up in the big moments. Given that, I expect this game to be very sloppy and very close. Honestly, I wouldn’t be shocked if Houston hit on a few big plays and pulled off the upset.
New York Giants at Green Bay (GB -9)
Jon: Green Bay (GB -9)
Prince: Green Bay (GB -9)
The Giants seem to be the chic pick right now, and that honestly makes me a bit upset. Yes, the Giants nearly upended them in the regular season. Trust me, I remember that game very well. But that doesn’t mean that a 9-7 team that barely made the playoffs is all of a sudden a serious Super Bowl contender. They were 9-7 for a reason! They lost twice to Washington!
If the Giants are to stay competitive in this game, they’re going to have to play to near perfection, much like they did in their previous meeting (which was at New York…this is at Green Bay). Manning needs to avoid turnovers, which is something he has historically struggled with. Most importantly, the Giants front four needs to maintain a withering pass rush on every single possession. Even then, how much effect will that really have? Only five other QB’s were sacked more than Rodgers this season, yet he posted one of the greatest individual seasons of all time. The man is just not fazed by pressure! And even if they are able to get pressure without blitzing, are we supposed to believe that the Giants secondary is anywhere near good enough to cover the Packers glut of receivers? I think not. With a far more talented team, and with a decided home field advantage, I fully expect Green Bay to take care of business with little trouble.