I am back with expert picks for the Divisional Round after a respectable 3-1 Wild Card Weekend (and really, did anyone other than the Denver faithful think the Broncos could beat Pittsburgh, even with all the injuries?) Things are a bit more decisive amongst the experts this week with a clear majority in all the games. Let’s start with the one we care about most.
No surprise that the Giants are the underdogs on Sunday. Most are predicting Packers/Saints conference showdown next weekend, with the Packers taking care of business against New York. But not so fast, because most can agree that this will not be a cake walk for the home team. Their week 13 matchup came down to the wire when the defense lost steam and couldn’t stop that impressive game-winning drive. But the Giants are a better team than they were a month ago, and while much of their game plan should stay the same, they will be able to execute it more effectively.
The Giants defense is stronger now than it has been all season, and that front line is finally playing like we all knew it could thanks to healed injuries. They need to pressure Rodgers and shut down the rushing game. Even still, the Packers will be able to score because Rodgers is just that good. So it will be on the offense to score early and often. The running game was a huge factor against the Falcons last week, and that was against a better defense than the Packers. The Giants can’t afford to have a slow start like they did last weekend, and if they can come out strong, they can win this game. Now, onto the rest of the Division games.
Texans vs. Ravens
In the only unanimous decision amongst the experts, Baltimore is expected to win this one at home. I have to agree, because even though Houston’s first playoff win was a good one, the Ravens are just a better team right now. The ground game will rule Sunday for both teams, out of design (Ravens) and necessity (Texans). Both have strong defenses, so this game will come down to which defense can play shut down football. But I think the Ravens will take this one because of that home field advantage, experience at the quarterback position, and past success in the playoffs.
Broncos vs. Patriots
Most believe the Patriots will win this one, and I agree, but I have learned that you can’t completely count the Broncos out of any game. This one should be no exception, because it has been a long time since the Patriots have won a playoff game. Yes, the Patriots are a better team so they should win this game, but as we have learned time and again, they need to play a full 60 minutes and not give Tim Tebow and company any sliver of hope to stage a comeback.
Unlike the Texans/Ravens game, whose powerful defenses will be the highlight of their game, Denver and New England have weak defenses that can easily be picked apart by the offenses. I expect both quarterbacks to put up big numbers. In the end, however, the Patriots have more weapons, even if Brady can’t run like Tebow. And unlike the Steelers, injuries aren’t plaguing this team, so I think the Patriots will win its first playoff game since the 2007 season.
Saints vs. 49ers
I am a bit surprised that of all the games this weekend, this one is the most contested among the experts. The majority pick the Saints but the 49ers are not counted out. I, too, think the Saints will win this one. In fact, if I weren’t a biased Giants fan, my money would be on the Saints to win the Super Bowl.
Other than the Giants game, this is the one that I am most excited to see. Both teams have been impressive this year, with the Saints offense and 49ers defense among the elite units in the league. This one will be a serious power struggle, and I don’t think Brees will enjoy the same gaudy numbers he has enjoyed all season. But if he does, all the more reason to consider him to be the best in the league right now. Home field advantage will be a factor, but I don’t think it will be enough to shake the Saints, and in a close game I think New Orleans wins this one.