I know, I know. The Saints are playing better than any team right now. But the 49ers are only marginally less efficient passing and far better defending the pass. They’re playing a home playoff game for the first time in a decade in front of a crowd that still remembers the glory days and will be hungry for at least one postseason one before their eyes. This is why I think they’ll win, but it’ll be close. In an upset, 49ers by 4.
Denver at New England
“Come on, you can’t honestly believe Tebow is going to “will” his 8-8 (in the AFC West) team to a come-from-behind victory over the big bad Steelers, can you?” That was I, last week. Turns out the Broncos didn’t need a come-from-behind victory; the Steelers did. But they fell short when Tebow threw a clutch touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play in overtime. (It turns out gradual death overtime is a lot like sudden death overtime.) Be that as it may…do I dare pick against them again…forgive me, Creator of the Cosmos…Patriots by 10.
Houston at Baltimore
Road upset of the weekend. That’s right: I’m looking at the Texans in the AFC Championship Game. The defenses are a wash; it all comes down to which quarterback you trust. At this point, I’ll take Yates over Flacco. Houston by 6.
New York Football Giants at Green Bay Packers
The Giants are on a roll! They’re peaking at the right time! They know what it takes to go into Lambeau and score an upset! They did it in 2008, they can do it in 2011! They almost beat the Packers earlier this season!
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s think critically. The G-Men have a small but speedy and effective defensive line that can disrupt the quarterback without blitzing. Their linebackers and defensive backs are average, however, and the Packers’ receivers are talented down to the last man. Once you cover Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, or Jennings and Jermichael Finley, you still have Donald Driver, Randall Cobb, and James Jones to account for. And you have the one quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, who rarely gets disrupted by any pass rush, and would rather take a stick in the eye than throw an interception.
The same cannot be said for Eli Manning. Consider this: Manning had ten fewer turnovers in 2011 than 2010, but he still had 20. Rodgers had six. Now, Manning will have an ample running game at his disposal, two lightning fast receivers (Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz), and he’ll be staring down a defense that surrenders huge chunks of yardage. Nevertheless, the Packers’ D gets turnovers – they had 31 this year, tops in the league – and hold passers to an impressive if not world-beating 80.6 rating. Certainly, the Giants have the talent and coaching capable of going toe-to-toe, score-for-score, and snagging another upset in Lambeau. But I wouldn’t bet on it. Packers by 7.
Last week: 3-1.