Thursday, January 12, 2012

TRG, Playoff Edition: Divisional

The wildcard weekend went well and now we get to look at some great matchups for the divisional round. This weekend should help answer some of the questions about how far the Packers, Saints, and Patriots can go with such poor defenses. Each of those three explosive offenses is squaring off against a solid defense, facing the Giants, Niners, and Broncos, respectively. Like I said, it should be a great weekend for football. Here's who I like this round:

SAN FRANCISCO +3.5 over New Orleans

The Niners have the league's best scoring defense (14.3 PPG).
This is the game of the weekend, I think. The NFL's best defense against arguably the NFL's best offense. I'm not sure who is going to win this one, but I get the feeling it will be a close one. The Niners have been phenomenal at home this year, going 7-0-1 ATS, with the lone push coming against Dallas in an OT loss. New Orleans has been a different team on the road, finishing 4-4 ATS on the year. The other factor that pushes me closer to San Francisco is that when looking at New Orleans season schedule, they haven't faced many good defenses at all. They hung 40 points on Houston in week 3, which is a noteworthy achievement, but that aside, they haven't had many tough matchups, and the Saints were stoppable at points during the season. The Niners will have their hands full, but I think the defense will perform well enough to keep it close. The Saints defense isn't good enough to shut down the Niners entirely, as the Ravens did, so I think San Francisco can score enough to keep it close as well. I like the points at home.

NEW ENGLAND -13.5 over Denver

And so will end the Tebow Magic. The Broncos pulled an amazing upset over the Steelers, but they won't be able to manage the same against the Patriots. I'm not ready to herald Tebow as an elite NFL passer after putting up 300+ yards against the Steelers. If he can do it again against the Patriots, then the Broncos very well may cover. I just don't think it's going to happen. It was only a few weeks ago that the Patriots beat the Broncos 49-23, and of course that was after the Broncos jumped out into an early lead. The Patriots have also had the bye week to prepare, and while they may have lost to Pittsburgh after their regular season bye, Bill Belichik still has an excellent record coming off of bye weeks. The Patriots defense is terrible, but Belichik is a great schemer, and given the time to prepare, I'm sure he'll have some success slowing down the Broncos offense. The Broncos front seven has been playing well, but the secondary isn't top notch. They finished 18th in the regular season, and surrendered 289 yards to a gimpy Ben Roethlisberger. Brady, Welker, Gronk, and the rest of the gang shouldn't have any problems moving the ball and scoring.

Flacco's critics will be plenty vocal if he loses this game.

BALTIMORE -7 over Houston

This line may be at 7.5, and if it is, I recommend buying the half point. I'm pretty confident that the Ravens will be able to effectively contain Houston's offense, but I don't have quite as much faith in the Ravens offense. The return of Anquan Boldin will definitely help Joe Flacco and the passing game, and hopefully that will help the offense find the spark its been missing in recent weeks. While the Texans managed to beat the Bengals, I'm not sold, as the Bengals have proven with remarkable consistency that they cannot beat winners this season. I still see the ending stretch run for the Texans, where they lost to Carolina, Indianapolis, and Tennessee. Maybe that's my fatal flaw in my view of this team, as they proved me wrong last week, but I really don't see how the Texans offense will overcome the Ravens D. T.J. Yates wasn't very effective last week, finishing with 159 yards and 1 TD completing 11/20. Houston was heavily reliant on their ground game last week and they are up against the league's 2nd ranked run defense. That will prove to be the difference this week. Houston will struggle to score and the Ravens will cover.

New York Giants +7.5 over GREEN BAY

The Giants are playing defense as well as anybody in recent weeks, and the return of Osi Umenyiora has really helped out the pass rush as he's manged to get 3 sacks over the past two games. They really need that success to continue because their secondary isn't good enough to slow down the Packers without it. The teams played each other in week 13, with the Packers winning 38-35. The good news is that if the Giants can get even a few stops, their offense is definitely good enough to keep up, especially since that Packers defense has been playing so poorly as of late. Green Bay ended up finishing dead last against the pass and 14th against the run in the regular season. They'll have a hard enough time stopping Manning, Nicks, and Cruz, but the Giants run game, which hasn't been there much at all this year, put up 172 yards last week against the Falcons 6th ranked run defense. I think Green Bay will find a way to win this game, but it will be another close one, just like the week 13 game. If the Giants defense plays a great game, then I think New York has a real chance at the upset.

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