Friday, January 13, 2012

9 comments Bottom-of-the-Barrel's Pickoffapalooza 2012: Division

Sorry we posted this so late on Friday. We wanted to use the lines that Bill Simmons used and he tends not to post his Friday picks until Friday evening.

Here's your menu for this weeks football...


This week, people either think the Saints win by multiple touchdowns, or lose, more of this and two of our contributors go head to head on every game on the board. Let's go to the roundtable and the respective knights contained therein.



Sorry San Fran, your return to the playoffs is the wrong game at the wrong time. Home field won't count for much against the red-hot Saints and the unstoppable Drew Brees, who shook off a tough first half against Detroit last week and was particularly dominant in the fourth quarter. The 49ers' defense is superb, but there's just one problem: they were average against the pass, ranking 16th in yards per game. The Niners were a great story this year and the team plays hard for Jim Harbaugh, but how do they keep up with the high-powered Saints offense? Expect to see Sean Payton's defense take Frank Gore out of the game and force the game into Alex Smith's hands. I think we all know how that'll turn out.


For as bad as New England's defense is, I don't see Tim Tebow shaking off the ass kicking the Broncos were handed the last time they faced the Patriots. Tom Brady and company can score on anybody, and although Denver's defense is solid, they aren't solid enough to keep the Pats from moving up and down the field at will. For all the hype about Tim Tebow's "great game," he only completed 10 passes (of 21) and, while he threw for 316 yards, he picked up 80 of them on one play in overtime. Do the math: In regulation he was 9-for-20 for 236 yards. Not only that, but 179 of those came on four passes of 51, 30, 58 and 40 yards each, all in the second quarter. In fact, in the other three quarters in regulation, he was 4-for-11 for 57 yards, and the Broncos scored three points. Don't be fooled by Tebow; the big second quarter and storybook ending was sufficient to mask his general lack of aptitude throwing the football, and don't think the Patriots aren't going to pack the box like the Steelers did and challenge Tebow to win with the deep pass again. Even if they land a few blows, the Broncos can't keep up with New England, and they won't.

HOUSTON (+7.5)

Baltimore's stubborn refusal to commit to the run will make this game far closer than it needs to be. Can we all just cut the shit and call out Joe Flacco for being the terrible quarterback that he is? If the Ravens ask Joe Flacco to throw the ball 40 times, this game will be far closer than it has any right to be. Houston's defense is fantastic and will keep them in this game. The question is if T.J. Yates can be good enough to put the Texans over the top? I can't sleep at night if I pick them to win, but I do think they'll cover the spread and shed even more light on Joe Flacco's mediocrity.

GIANTS (+7.5)

I get the feeling this will be less of a shootout than I imagine most people are expecting; I just have a hunch we'll see more of a ground attack than these teams normally feature. Green Bay is facing an emotional week with the death of Michael Philbin, the son of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin; that alone makes this a difficult game to pick, with the uncertainty of the team's response to tragedy and Joe Philbin's indefinite leave from the team. Clearly the outcome of the game is (and should be) a trivial matter to everyone in the Green Bay locker room, and if the Packers come out flat, who can blame them? Still, don't count on that with Aaron Rodgers leading this team. I do like the Giants to stay with the Packers though, largely because Green Bay's defense is so rotten.



New Orleans is not the same team on the road. And I know for a fact that they have a hint of doubt in the back of the heads that looks and sounds like Beast Mode. I'm sure that San Francisco will also be using "hell if Seattle could do it last year, we can" as a motivating factor heading into this game. On the other side of the coin, I'm sure the Saints will be determined to not let history repeat itself (not that the 13-3 49ers are anything like the 7-9 Seahawks of last year) but I'm just skeptical of their ability to do so. I'm sure the 49ers will give up a few big plays, but generally I don't see them having much of a problem stopping the Saints, since their defense is very good and very healthy. The Saints averaged 27.3 points on the road (as opposed to 41.6 at home) and the 49ers averaged 27.6 points at home (and 19.9 on the road). That's a pretty big discrepancy for both teams and one that plays right into San Francisco's hands.

DENVER (+13.5)

Tebow! Tebow! Tebow! Sorry, I had to get that out of my system. This Saturday we get to see Round 2 of Brady vs. Tebow and I have a feeling that the victor may be the same, but it won't be by knockout like last time. I know that Pittsburgh's defense was banged up, but letting Tim Tebow and his famous throwing motion go deep on them time and again had to surprise everyone. I have a feeling he will do well against the Patriots' defense (and I use that word lightly) as well. The Broncos were in the game (and even led) on December 18th. Then they turned the ball over three times in the second quarter and the Patriots, as they always do, capitalized. I think Denver will do a better job this time around, not only of taking care of the ball, but running better (in terms of luck) in recovering fumbles if they do happen.

This game comes down to the Broncos taking better care of the ball and also their ability to stop the Patriots offense. They will have to get to Tom Brady in order to stay in this game. New England is very hard to beat at home. While I think this spread is ridiculously high, I don't think it's out of the question that New England covers the spread. I just think it's improbable.


I am a believer in the Baltimore Ravens at home. On the road, not at all. They have a few things going for them. They head into this game with the knowledge that they have already beaten this Texans team (albeit without Andre Johnson) 29-14 in October. I'm sure that gives them a boost of confidence. The Ravens were also 8-0 at home this year, one of three teams to accomplish that this season (the other two being fellow playoff teams New Orleans and Green Bay). The Texans will have Andre Johnson this time around, but they have backup quarterback T.J. Yates under center. While it's not a huge dropoff, it's still a significant setback for a team that already lost by 15 points earlier this year to their opponent on Sunday. Yates will be under a lot of pressure (mentally and by way of pass rush) and I just don't see a rookie coming into Baltimore and defeating them. Houston's defense will have to do a better job (similar to the effort that shutout the Bengals in the second half of last week's game) if they want to compete.

GIANTS (+7.5)

Greg Jennings is back. Aaron Rodgers has to feel good about that. The Giants are playing some of the best football in the league lately and have a lot of momentum heading into this game. After the Packers' loss in Kansas City, I feel like everyone (including their opponents) realized that this is a team that can be defeated. I don't think anyone was thinking that around Week 8 or 9. And that's huge. The Giants usually show up against good teams, so they have that going for them and also they nearly won the matchup between these two teams a few months ago. Now that Green Bay is at home and rested, I don't have much faith in New York to march into Lambeau Field and win a playoff game. I do think that this will be a close game, however.



It's not that I think the 49ers will get a dose of reality in this game. No, I think the Saints will beat the Niners over the head, kidnap them, tie them to a bed with an intravenous drip of reality, shove a funnel down their throat, pouring down gallon upon gallon of reality and siphon reality gas into the room. That's how much of a nightmare I think this is going to be for San Francisco. It is not entirely fair to say San Fran have played no one on their way to 13-3, they beat Detroit, the Giants, Pittsburgh and lost to Baltimore. But Detroit and the Giants can't run, Pittsburgh can't block and Baltimore can't throw. There is absolutely no point trying to stop the Saints in a low, or even medium-low scoring game. This team had forty more yards a game than New England - New England! They have 279 points in their last seven games, forty plus in their last four straight. They are coming off a game where they had 626 yards, a playoff record, on the heels of the passing record. You need to at least get into the mid to high twenties (New Orleans has been beaten once in the last two years by a team scoring less than 26 points), even if this is the best defense in the league (which I don't believe it is) and probably more.

San Francisco ranked 26th in total offense and 29th in passing offense. Of course they did - it's Alex Smith! They were 11th in scoring (23.8), due to their opportunistic defense (38 takeaways, T-1st in NFL), and the one area where Brees is relatively mortal is in throwing picks (he threw 14), but it isn't enough to have to have your accountants work overtime to find ways to manufacture 24 points, you need to be able to score. Really, genuinely score. Another way they generated points was kick returns (1st in KR, 27.2)...New Orleans had touchbacks on over 64% of kickoffs, 3rd in the NFL. And don't rely on Frank Gore to save you - he had 9 yards on 7 carries against the Rams (31st in YPC against) in his last start. He has 3.5YPC over his last eight games. Plus, this defense isn't even that great against the pass. They gave up 6.9 YPA. They had 42 sacks. Those numbers are essentially exactly what Detroit had (1 less sack, 0.1 better in YPA for the Lions). I would take the Saints if they were laying 10 points, let alone a measly three and a half. It's a horrific read of the state of the NFL currently to suggest that the Saints are merely 6.5 points better than the tough, well coached, but hopelessly overmatched Niners. New Orleans are 19-7 away from Louisiana over the last three years. Am I worried about them playing outside? What the fuck? "Oh no, what is this soft feeling underneath my feet? What is this green, organic, brush like substance?...what's that? Griss? Grask?" Please. You'd think it was fucking lava the way people talk about it. Do I think they can survive snowy, cold, weather blasted San Francisco? Oh what's that? It's fucking San Francisco? Oh good. To those who would pick the Niners, just realise, there will come a point on Saturday when you realise you took Alex Smith against Drew Brees.


LOL. This game seems to be mocking me with its existence. I hate picking this game. Green Bay and New Orleans do not have good defenses, but as most are aware, often excellent teams, particulary offensive, passing teams, have better defenses than their numbers suggest. They get out to 31-7 leads and will give you basically however many yards you want, as long as you get them on eight yard throws in front of their safeties. This is probably at least partly the case in Green Bay and Norlans - they aren't that bad. This is not true for New England. They are every bit as bad as their 411.1 yards against a game looks. It really collapsed to another level against Washington in Week 14, a game where Brady was essentially burning holes in his linebackers chests with his eyes he was that furious. I watched all of their contest in Denver, and it was shockingly embarrassing. It reminded me of the Lakers sweep at the hands of the Mavs last year, when you just saw things you don't see in professional basketball games (players driving from the arc to the hoop without a hand on them for instance). New England's linebackers were running into each other. Their lineman were thrown down on the ground on almost every play. It was hideous, three stooges stuff, and only turnover after turnover seemed to get them out of jail. This is the worst defense in the league - by far. It's maybe one of the worst defenses in several years. In their last three games, the Patriots went down 16-7, 17-0, 21-0. They then responded with a 110-14 cumulative run. What the hell is going on here?

I honestly think it's Belichick. I think he works things out in the game exactly how he can make this inept defensive team somehow put it together for this specific opponent, after he sees what they show. Perversely, I think the gulf between the Patriots and the Steelers defensively (basically an ocean) might actually help the Patriots. Pittsburgh were too proud against Tebow. They wanted to dominate defensively, hold the Broncos to something like 80 yards of offense, playing what looked like a cover negative three. New England will be happy to hold the run to 4.5-5 YPC, have Tebow complete sixty percent of his throws, get a couple of turnovers, make a couple of third down plays, force a couple of punts, hold them to field goals and score on nearly every drive. New England used this strategy to punch above their weight in scoring defense (15th) and red zone defense (23rd). Denver is predictable in the red zone, Tebow has only thrown one TD pass under 17 yards in his last nine games and New England can stack the line more or less safely. Even so, New England has only beaten two of their last five opponents by fourteen or more...and they were hardly a murderer's row; Indianapolis, Washington, Denver, Miami, Buffalo. Still, I'm going to take them. First, as I said with Seattle last year, I maintain that a fundamentally below average team only gets one of these, particulary at home. The emotional dropoff is going to be enormous. Second, Tom Brady (a healthy Tom Brady) versus Tim Tebow. Third, the Patriots are due, they have shockingly lost at home to the Jets and Ravens the last two appearances in the playoffs, I find it impossible to believe they will go 0 for 3. New England are 35-1 in the regular season at Gillette in their last thirty six. Fourth, turnovers - underdogs live on them. New England led the AFC in both takeaways and giveaways. They had a +17 turnover differential. Denver was -12. I tend to denigrate turnovers as lucky, but when it's 29 difference over a season, there's something to that. I don't care how bad New England's defense is, at home, if they win the turnover battle, they win the game. Fifth, the one hole in the Denver defense, with a busted Dawkins, is safety. Hi, Rob Gronkowski (1,327 yards, 17 TDs). Hi, Aaron Hernandez (910 yards, 7 TDs). Sixth, this is how the movie ends in real life when a pee wee team from Colorado plays one of the best teams in the sport. Finally, the difference between the home building and the road game for a team like Denver (or Seattle last season) is enormous, and when this gets ugly, expect it to be just as outrageously horrific as South Park's demonstration on the subject - no matter how many sick kids to whom Tebow has promised he will throw touchdowns. I'm not really comfortable sitting with New England, as I said, I hate picking this game, that's a lot of points and I do know just how atrocious defensively they are. But I'm not going to be with Tebow twice in a row, on the road, against Tom Brady - I'm just not.

HOUSTON (+7.5)

A liability at quarterback, to be sure, but a dominant front seven, underappreciated offensive line and strong running game; for these reasons I give Baltimore a chance. Obviously I am being cute here, but these two teams really are very, very similiar in their construction. The difference between Flacco and Yates really is close to negligible, I'm not sure people realise how bad Flacco has been this year. He's thrown for under 200 yards in four of his last six games and has four picks in his last four games, despite throwing less and less as the season has worn on. He also has a terrible playoff record. In seven games (not that small a sample), Flacco has 4 TDs and 7 INT's with a 61.6 rating. Baltimore's front seven is better than Houston's though both are elite. Suggs has been a force of nature the last two years with 25 sacks. This was a career year, forcing seven fumbles and even grabbing two INT's. Ngata's dominance on the run is well known, and he has developed into a handy interior rusher the last two years as well, with 10.5 sacks. He can simply run over guys. Houston lack the star power but all seven players are superb. Where Houston have the advantage is in the secondary. Reed was not selected as an All Pro this year, and rightly so - he wasn't the same force at the back, babysitting Baltimore's perenially questionable secondary. Reed, who is now 33, had just 3 picks, and he is a player where his ball hawking is his best attribute. Joseph is the best defensive back in this game and Manning may just be the second best. Considering also that Andre Johnson, after a rusty start, rounded into form against the Bengals, is clearly the best receiver (by miles) in this game, and there's not much to choose between the teams. Foster and Rice are basically a wash, especially when you put Tate against Ricky Williams in the running game and that the Houston line is better.

I fully concede that Baltimore deserve favouritism. Houston in the Yates era certainly have not been overly convincing and Baltimore are 8-0 at home including, as has been well reported, a two score win over these Texans (with Schaub). But I have flown the flag proudly for Houston all year and will go down with the ship. I believe in this team - it has no holes. Even Yates has been presentable. Reading stuff around the net the last couple of weeks I kept hearing how Houston execute the best zone blocking in the league, they execute the best defensive stunts in the league, the best three tight end sets, the best play action etc. They are well coached, they execute, they are professional, they are tenacious and they are athletic. Baltimore were +77 in scoring differential after five games (culminating in the two touchdown win over this Houston team). They went +40 over their next eleven. Their biggest wins were over the Colts and Browns, by 14. Even reluctantly granting the Ravens favouritism, the spread of eight points (especially in an almost certain low scoring affair) again seems clueless to how good this Houston team is.

GREEN BAY (-7.5)

Certainly the Giants, by the end of the game, were absolutely humiliating a psychologically devastated Falcons team. They were dominant defensively (247 yards from Atlanta), even without much of a pass rush (2 sacks, 1 of which came in the final minute), which was a very pleasant surprise. Atlanta's offense was shut out. New York threw (3 TDs, 129.3 QB rating), they ran (172, 5.5 YPC), they did it all. So it's not surprising that everyone who watches football pursed their lips following the game with a prolonged "hmm", considering the Giants history as a lower seed. After all, Green Bay's offensive line, never that great, has been beat up and the Packers conceded eight sacks in their last three games. Including 4 at Kansas City, the supposed "blueprint" for beating the Packers (the Chiefs also have Brandon's Carr and Flowers to press, it should be said). No one seems better suited to get to Rodgers and stifle him based on this than Big Blue. But this is a tease. Green Bay wins their home games by nearly 19 points each. They knocked over the Giants in New Jersey, and then there's the matter of that secondary. Despite the gaudy total of 48 sacks (T-3rd, with Baltimore), this was a bad pass defense. They ranked 29th in YPG (255), 22nd in YPA (7.5), 20th in completion % (61.3) and even with 20 INTs, 21st in opp QB rating (86.1). And now the secondary might be without Aaron Ross and Deon Grant, and down to their squillionth defensive back. While it's easy to question the blocking or Green Bay's still terrible running game (3.9 YPC, 26th), the fact is you need to cover Finley, Nelson, Driver and Jennings. There's just no question whatsoever that the Giants literally can't do that with the personnel they have. You can't cover receivers of this quality with guys plucked from the stands. While it's nice that the Giants were great defensively without relying on the pass rush, the Packers are a different animal, and unless they are completely dominating the line (I mean to the tune of six or more sacks), there's no way they can stop, or even contain, Rodgers. When you find yourself saying "gee, the Giants are going to miss Aaron Ross", you're in trouble. Good luck hoping for turnovers to pull off the upset - Green Bay gave the ball up just 14 times this year, bested only by the Niners.

Green Bay has not lost at Lambeau since October last year. They are 19-1 (with the loss in OT) in Wisconsin over their last 20 there. I've read a lot about the 2007 NFC Championship game in Lambeau for some reason, but the last time they met the Giants in Lambeau, in late 2010, they won by four touchdowns. The Giants haven't played outside Jersey in a month. Their last road efforts were the miracle win in Dallas, a 25 point loss to the Saints and a loss by a TD to the Niners. I'm more interested to see Green Bay than any other team this weekend. Everyone seems to have literally gotten bored with their excellence. All you seem to hear recently about them is the Kansas City loss, as attention has moved to the Broncos and Saints. I expect Green Bay to respond, to remind everyone that they are the best team in the NFL, and did lose just one game all year. The Packers will be ok here.



The early game this weekend is easily the most intriguing matchup for me. The New Orleans Saints come into the contest after a decisive and unapologetic 45-28 victory over the Detroit Lions. Amassing an NFL playoff record 626 yards of offense, the Saints obliterated a mark that stood for nearly 50 years, further demonstrating why theirs is the most potent offense in pro football. Drew Brees, who threw for 466 yards and three touchdowns, refused to apologize for the Saints aggressive play calling at the end of the game, almost daring anyone to stop this irresistible force.

The immovable object opposing them this weekend will be the 13-3 San Francisco 49ers. A hard-nosed, unrelenting, blue collar team bred to win games the old fashioned way. The Niners resurgence back into NFL prominence is built on their eighth ranked rushing attack, sturdy run defense, and NFL best turnover ratio. The antithesis of their fast paced foes, San Francisco seems to be the perfect foil to the Saints. Just one of the remaining playoff teams threatening to render traditional playoff winning football a thing of the past.

I love teams with smash mouth defenses and punishing running games. So, it’s no secret that I favor the 49ers in this game. Let me rephrase that. I badly want the 49ers to win this game. In order for them to have any such chance of claiming victory, I think a couple of things absolutely have to happen. The first is, San Francisco must force turnovers. At least two, if not three. The Niners forced a league high 38 turnovers this season. Hooray team. Second and most importantly Alex Smith and their offense must convert said turnovers into points. And not just any ol’ points, but touchdowns. How they do either of these things, I don’t care. But, they must be done.


That is the lowest number of points scored by the Saints this season. Only four times in seventeen contests have they failed to score more than 25. Which means that New Orleans will score points. For all of the talk about the San Francisco defense, the praise is generally reserved for the front seven, and not the 16th ranked pass defense. Without question, opportunities in the passing game will be there for the Saints. Even if the Niners celebrated linebacker corp are able to neutralize Jimmy Graham, wideouts Marques Colston and Robert Meachem combined for eleven receptions and 231 yards against the Lions.

Personally speaking, I think the key will lie with the effectiveness of the Saints running game. If abandoned for any reason, it opens the door for additional turnover opportunities by the 49ers defense.

Another thing, all of this talk about New Orleans play outside the comforts of a dome is premature. Sure, wind could possibly be a factor, but I only see weather truly being an issue when the conditions are inclement. Say, in the frozen tundra of Lambeau field. But not in Candlestick, not this weekend.

I saw a stat that seemingly downplayed the Saints 23.8 scoring average in outside venues. As if 24 points a game were anything to sneeze at.


What we have in this AFC Divisional matchup is a telling of the classic story of David and Goliath. Save for a powerful passage in the King Goodell Version of the feat, in which Goliath has kicked David’s butt once already. Brady and Belicheck of course represent the Philistine giant who mocked the Israelites and eventually young David (played here by Tim Tebow) into battle. The legendary sling used to slay Goliath in the conventional telling of the story has been replaced by a rock carving of a kneeling figure that young David uses to crush the skull of hardheaded haters.

Last weekend the Denver Broncos did what I gave them absolutely no chance of doing. They won. I know the Steelers were besieged by injuries, but a playoff win is a playoff win, regardless of the circumstances. Ask the 2002 Raiders, or better yet, Tom Brady who was the recipient of a fortunate call in the now infamous “Tuck Rule Game”.

I don’t care how you win them, just win them. And you have to admit that the 80 yard, first play from scrimmage, game winning overtime catch and by Demaryius Thomas was a thing of beauty.

What worked last week may not work this week though. Sure, chances are the Broncos will have success running the ball against the same Patriots defense that surrendered 252 in their first meeting. Tebow may even connect consistently against the Patriots 31st ranked passing defense, especially if he can avoid fumbles in the pocket. But, if David is to slay Goliath in this NFL rendition, Tim Tebow might want to pray that the Broncos defense doesn’t retreat after seeing the whites of the Patriots eyes. Don’t expect the Patriots to fall behind early at home in the playoffs like the 16-7 deficit they faced in Week 15. Can defensive ends Robert Ayers and Elvis Dumervil put pressure on Tom Brady early and often? The defense combined for just two sacks in the first meeting, with both basically coming at inconsequential points in the game.

Thirteen of Brady’s twenty three completions in the 41-23 victory at Mile High went to Tight Ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. For 182 yards, I might add. I fully expect Wes Welker to be more involved in the offense this time around. The running game will provide just enough support, as the embattled New England offensive line continues to serve Tom Slick well enough that he is able to methodically pick apart a solid Denver defense. I think that the Denver defense would need to play out of its mind to win at Gillette, and I just don’t see it, as they won’t be facing a hobbled quarterback and offense beset by a host of injuries.

HOUSTON (+7.5)

The other matchup that I am really looking forward to this weekend is the Texans versus Ravens contest. One word comes to mind most often when I think about this game.


Houston scored 24 unanswered points last weekend against the Bengals for the franchise’s first playoff win, 31-10. As expected, the Texans were anchored by a 153 yard, two touchdown performance from Arian Foster, and four turnovers from its second ranked defense. The most impressive of those turnovers coming at the cat like reflexes of lineman J.J. Watt, who intercepted an Andy Dalton pass, returning it 29 yards for the pick six.

In following the script of what has become a gritty drama since the departure of many of the show’s main characters, the Texans allowed their quarterback, rookie T.J. Yates to perform on the big stage without the pressure of being the lead. Yates sputtered a bit early on, but removed any doubts of being camera shy after finding returning co-star Andre Johnson for a third quarter score down the sideline.

The Texans should shun any thoughts of improv this week if they hope to extend their show’s run. Stick to the script of running the ball and playing stellar defense. Pressure from its front seven will be the deciding factor, as Ravens QB Joe Flacco has yet to demonstrate the chops to win on the big stage and can possibly be rattled into a subpar performance.

Speaking of pressure, the Baltimore Ravens, veterans of quite a few playoff wars may bear the brunt of it this week. As the last of three playoff teams from AFC North, the Ravens are obviously battle tested and should be the favorite to make it to Indianapolis. Especially with the dismissal of arch nemesis Pittsburgh who have eliminated the Ravens from the playoffs in two of the last three seasons.

Obviously, their defense will carry the day for Baltimore, as it always has. What will be different this time around is that the Ravens will depend primarily on the dominating play of defensive player of the year candidate Terrell Suggs and Heloti Ngata instead of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to lead the team to victory. What hasn’t been consistent for the Ravens is their offense. Ray Rice must have a solid day for Baltimore to win this game. Flacco must also show immunity to pressure and find ways to get Anquan Boldin involved in the offense early on.

It should definitely be noted that the Ravens went undefeated in the toughest division in football, and is 6-0 against playoff teams this season. No pressure.

While their Week 6 matchup saw the Ravens post a 29-14 victory, I expect the outcome to be closer this time.

GREEN BAY (-7.5)

First off, I would like to give my condolences to the Packer football family and specifically to offensive coordinator Joe Philbin who lost his son Michael this week in a tragic drowning. There is no doubt that the team will open defense of their Super Bowl titles with a heavy heart.

While there is no question that the New York Giants empathize with the Packers organization during what must be an exceptionally difficult time, the games will go on. Aside from obvious feelings of empathy, I’m sure that every Giants players thoughts are on the 3 point home loss to Green Bay in early December. The Giants certainly gave a good showing of themselves, taking the league’s best team to the brink, losing on a last minute 80 yard drive, capped by a Mason Crosby field goal as time expired. The Giants were able to keep the game close by exploiting the Packers secondary and putting pressure on Rodgers, recording three sacks in the process.

I believe the formula will need to be very similar this weekend if the Giants are to give themselves a chance at keeping the game close enough to pull off a possible upset. The Packers secondary has struggled for much of the season, ranking last in the league, so I fully expect Pro Bowler Eli Manning to have another solid performance against this defense. What may be an even bigger factor this time around is the ground attack of the Giants. Ranked dead last during the regular season, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw totaled more than 150 yards in their victory over the Falcons.

As for the reigning Super Bowl champs, a simple return to normalcy would be welcomed. The last memories of the Packers are of Matt Flynn thrashing the Detroit Lions defense for single game franchise records in yards and touchdowns. Aaron Rodgers cheered from the sidelines, resting up for the moment at hand. The rest was much deserved as Rodgers put together what many consider to be the single greatest season of quarterback play in NFL history. Rodgers 45 touchdowns, 4,643 passing yards, 6 Interceptions and NFL record 122.5 passer rating support that claim. Thing is, the numbers probably don’t do his play justice. Watching Rodgers pinpoint accuracy, deft mobility, and unmatched focus on the field this season was certainly something special.

The return of Greg Jennings to the offense after missing three games with a sprained knee will be important for the Packers. Jennings is the leader of an exceptional receiving corp that includes Jordy Nelson whose 1263 yards led the Packers, and garnered his first Pro Bowl selection.

The key to this game will obviously be the matchup between the Giants formidable pass rush and the Packers ability to protect Rodgers. If the Giants are able to have similar success that allowed them to rout the Falcons 24-2, a repeat of their 2007 title run could be a realistic goal. If that pass rush is unsuccessful or non-existent against the Packers, expect Green Bay to pull away in the second half of this game.


San Francisco (+4.0)

San Francisco 27-20

I feel like many people have been somewhat discounting San Francisco all year. Maybe it is the East Coast bias, perhaps it is that many people can’t accept a team led by Alex Smith is 13-3 and must think the 49ers record is an apparition, or maybe the 49ers just get lost in the shuffle among the sexier teams who score a ton of points. Tough defense and a ball-control offense doesn't play to the public as well as an explosive offense does. A not-so-secret is the Saints really aren’t that great of a road team. Granted, they aren't terrible on the road, but they aren't the same Saints teams as they are at the Superdome (or Mercedes-Benz Dome...whatever it is called). All three of their losses this year have come on the road, including losing games to Tampa Bay and St. Louis. Granted, those losses were all in the beginning of the season and the Saints are on an offensive roll right now. Still, here are the scores for the Saints road games this year:

@ Green Bay 42-34 (loss)

@Jacksonville 23-10 (win)

@Carolina 30-27 (win)

@Tampa Bay 26-20 (loss)

@St. Louis 31-21 (loss)

@Atlanta 26-23 (win)

@Tennessee 23-17 (win)

@Minnesota 42-20 (win)

Notice something? The Saints play close games on the road, especially compared to their home games. I'm not sure if this means anything, but it tells me playing in San Francisco gives the 49ers a better shot of beating the Saints. The Saints are 5-1 against playoff teams this year. Of course the 49ers are 4-1 against playoff teams this year. So I’m not saying the Saints are overrated or anything of the like. I’m saying this isn’t going to be a runaway game for the Saints, despite the fact they look unstoppable right now. The key to beating the Saints is to get pressure on Drew Brees and the 49ers defense can do that. The 49ers have 42 sacks on the year. The Saints blitz a lot, in fact they had the second-most blitzes in the NFL this year, yet they only had 33 sacks on the season. I’m not sure how significant this is, but it at least tells me the Saints aren’t exactly comfortable their front four can get pressure on the QB alone. What this means is they will blitz Alex Smith and Smith has a 96.7 rating when blitzed this year.

While I don’t buy the notion the Saints can’t score points on the road, I also recognize the Saints have been hanging 40+ points on teams ranked 23rd, 28th, 12th, and 21st in defense over the past four weeks. I probably harp on this more than I should, but the 49ers have the formula I look for to beat a team like the Saints. There are three keys I see to beating a team like the Saints. Here they are with the 49ers corresponding strength in parenthesis:

1. You must get pressure on Drew Brees and not allow him time in the pocket to go through his progressions. (49ers have NFL’s 4th ranked defense and 7th most sacks on the season)

2. You have to keep the ball out of Drew Brees hands and make the Saints defense stay on the field. (49ers have a strong rushing game and enough offensive weapons to give Alex Smith the opportunity to make plays in the passing game)

3. You must control have disciplined and talented linebackers who can begin to limit Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles' touches. (The 49ers start Patrick Willis, NaVarro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks, Aldon Smith, Parys Haralson...all good linebackers)

Perhaps I have talked myself into this pick a bit too much because the 49ers meet some mystic “formula” I am looking for. Maybe I want the Saints to lose and I am picking against them for that reason. I believe the 49ers can slow down Drew Brees, control the ball on offense and take care of the football while causing Saints turnovers. The 49ers will beat the Saints on Saturday and for some reason I do feel a bit crazy even typing this. I shouldn’t believe it, but I do.

Denver (+13.5)

New England 35-24

Wow, this spread. I have been told by a couple of people the Patriots are going to blow the Broncos out in this game. I'm not as sure as others may be. Yes, the Patriots beat the Broncos by 18 the last time they played and this time the Patriots are at home. So all indications are this will not be a close game. I’m still kind of surprised at the spread in this game. This may be a game I am over-thinking a bit too much. I know ESPN has breathlessly reported Tom Brady is motivated to have a great game in order to beat Tim Tebow and I should expect him to be at his peak performance, but I’m not sure I can allow this to affect my pick. I have a lot of respect for John Fox and I can think of two examples of when Carolina (Fox’s old team) got beat in the regular season by a team and then Carolina came back to handily beat that team in the playoffs. The first is Dallas in the 2003 playoffs and the second is Chicago in the 2005 playoffs. Both times his team got handed their ass in the regular season and bounced back to beat that team in the playoffs. I have criticized Fox in the past, but he learns from what his team did wrong when they lose to a team. So I expect adjustments from the Broncos coaching staff in this game. I still expect the Patriots to beat the Broncos, but I think it will be a fairly close game.

On paper, I have no reason to believe the Broncos can win this game. The Patriots are at home, which despite recent history does mean something, and I believe Tom Brady can have success against the Broncos secondary. I also believe the Broncos can shorten the game by running the ball on the New England defense. As much of a defensive mastermind as Belichick has (had) a reputation for, the Patriots are going to have to stop the run and I’m not sure the Patriots will have success doing that. The Broncos showed an impressive downfield passing game last week because the Steelers left one man on the Broncos receivers. I can see the Patriots ensuring QB Broncos has to throw the ball into more traffic than that by keeping a safety back. Of course, this could inhibit the Patriots ability to stop the run, so that’s the Catch-22. Belichick knows he has an offense that can score, so he will want to make the Broncos work on offense and limit them to field goals. One other points...the Broncos secondary is somewhat banged up and John Fox defenses have traditionally struggled to stop tight ends and the Patriots have two great tight ends in Gronkowski and Hernandez. This game will be close, but I expect the Patriots to win. Though, at this point nothing the Broncos do will surprise me.

Baltimore (-7.5)

Baltimore 24-14

This is a playoff game between two similar teams. Both teams have very good defenses and quarterbacks I don’t completely trust. T.J. Yikes is a rookie who the Texans trust to be a game manager, but I’m not sure how much more than that he is capable of doing at this point. Joe Flacco seems to be regressing in some ways at this point in his career. He is not quite at the Mark Sanchez level in terms of receiving criticism for his performance, but I think many believe Flacco should be further along than he is at this point. The Ravens have tried to get Flacco weapons to work with and this year he rewarded them with a career low completion percentage and a career low quarterback rating. It’s not at the point he’s holding the Ravens back, but I still feel nervous betting he can win a couple playoff games. The Ravens beat the Texans earlier in the year without Andre Johnson, but with Matt Schaub. Now the Texans don’t have Schaub, but they will have Johnson for this game. I’m not sure that’s an even exchange.

To be honest, I’m not comfortable with this spread. I think it is too high. Of course, I am picking the Ravens to beat the spread, so perhaps the spread actually isn't too high. The Texans are going to try and pound the Ravens defense with the run and give T.J. Yikes some passing room to throw the ball. On defense, I expect the Texans to have a similar gameplan. They want to force Joe Flacco to throw the ball and take Ray Rice out of the game. If they remove Rice from the game, they have to believe there is a good chance to leave Baltimore with a win. I don’t really trust either quarterback, but I trust the Ravens defense at home to shut down the Texans running game and get pressure on T.J. Yikes. The Ravens are a much better home team than they are a road team, so I don’t know how I feel about them after this week, but I will worry about that next week. This week I think they take care of business at home and put a Texans team that was struggling at the end of the season and had their death rattle last week against a mediocre Bengals team.

Packers (-7.5)

Green Bay 31-17

I’ve heard a lot this week about how great the Giants front four is and how the Giants are going to rush four and flood Aaron Rodgers passing lanes. I’ve also heard how this Giants team is so similar to the 2007 Giants team. Unfortunately, there are no second acts in American lives (deep and a rip-off of a famous line, I know). This is a good Giants team, but the Packers are running like a well-oiled machine. They proved this in Week 17 by putting up 45 points against the Lions without Aaron Rodgers and with Matt “I’ll Take My Free Agent Payday in Straight Cash” Flynn as the quarterback. The Packers defense stinks. They give up a ton of points and yardage. While knowing this, I also will recognize much of the Packers defensive problems through the air are the result of teams passing the ball to catch up with them. I’m not making excuses for the Packers defensive deficiencies, just acknowledging that passing ranking may be a bit overstated. The ranking of 14th against the run is not overstated. I’m not confident the Packers can stop teams from running the ball, but the game has to be close in order for their opponent to run the ball. This hasn't always happened this year.

As I stated last week, I believe the Giants can run the ball still. Bradshaw/Jacobs are still a good combination and Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are fantastic receivers (Where is Ian O’Connor talking about how the Giants screwed up by not re-signing Plaxico Burress? He’s strangely silent about his overreaction to Burress’s first preseason game where he claimed the Giants needed to re-sign Burress) on the outside. I question whether the Giants will commit to running the ball like they possibly should. The Giants would have beaten the Packers the first time around in New York if it weren’t for the Packers marching down the field swiftly to win the game. I don’t believe this game will be quite as close as that game was. While the Giants looked good against the Falcons last week, that Falcons team wasn’t able to test the Giants defense like the Packers offense will. The two week layoff will probably not affect Aaron Rodgers very much and as great as the Giants front four is, it has to be good because otherwise Rodgers will be able to pick apart the Giants secondary. I see the Packers possibly allowing a tight end to stay in to help block the Giants pass rushers having full confidence Rodgers can put the ball in his receiver’s hands with seven defenders back in coverage. I can’t deny the similarities between the 2007 Giants and the 2011 Giants, but I think the similarities will end here. The Packers offense is too strong and the Packers defense will not allow Manning to beat them with big plays in the passing game. I believe the Packers will win by trying to slow down the Giants front four pass rush and testing the Giants weakened secondary. My wife’s parents are Giants fans and are in town this weekend, so I probably hope for a Giants victory…though I don’t think it will happen.

SEAN: NO -4.0, NE -13.5, HOU +7.5, NYG +7.5
JON: SF +4.0, DEN +13.5, BAL -7.5, NYG +7.5
JIMMY: NO -4.0, NE -13.5, HOU +7.5, GB -7.5
CHRIS: SF +4.0, NE -13.5, HOU +7.5, GB -7.5
BEN: SF +4.0, DEN +13.5, BAL -7.5, GB -7.5
Bill Simmons: SF +4.0, NE -13.5, BAL -7.5, GB -7.5


Ericb said...

Saturday was not a good day for TMQ curses.

Bengoodfella said...

Eric, not at all. Crabtree did drop two straight passes but he also had a TD. I bet Gregg will claim the Saints lost b/c they ran up the score on the Falcons and Panthers. I actually am glad the Saints lost b/c they ran the score up on the Falcons, but Gregg hasn't ever mentioned this before. He only mentions how great the NO offense was, but I'm betting he'll create a retroactive curse to explain the loss...despite not having said anything about a curse before the game.

J.S. said...

Bill Simmons has got to be stopped...

Murray said...

Note to NFL

DO NOT piss off Tom Brady

Bengoodfella said...

I picked terribly this week. The end.

rich said...


The officiating this post-season has been downright pathetic.

A clear fumble is ruled down by contact. Osi picks up a "blow to the head" penalty despite not hitting Rodgers in the head.

Then you add in the fact somehow Baltimore didn't commit a single penalty in their game plus the two god awful calls last week in the wild card games... it's a problem.

In summation, Bill Levy sucks.

Anonymous said...

Had Denver played bump-and-run coverage against New England, it would have thrown megabucks QB Tom Brady off his rhythm. Instead, by playing conservatively as they did, they allowed unwanted sixth round draft pick Tom Brady to sit back and pick them apart.

J.S. said...


If Easterbrook makes any argument that begins "if Denver..." then he should be taken out and shot.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, that was great. You can write a fake TMQ this week.

I re-read what I wrote a/b Packers-Giants. What little I was right a/b w/ other games, I completely blew the GB-NYG game.