By Chris Lehman
After coming within two points of calling the Saints vs. Lions game, and missing the Texans vs. Bengals outcome by a six point swing, my Saturday predictions were fairly accurate. Sunday, however, was another story. The Atlanta Falcons followed the “safety first” rule that we are always taught and the Denver Broncos stunned the world.
Just like ESPN analyst, Skip Bayless, I have supported Tim Tebow and the Broncos since day-one of his starting campaign. But just like the rest of the world, I was shocked to see him step up and take down the Steelers. Tebow throwing for 316 yards brings up an interesting thought. Everyone knows that at Florida, Tebow wore John 3:16 on his eye tape. Does this mean anything or was this game all a coincidence? Perhaps it was also a coincidence that Ben Roethlisberger threw that interception on 3rd and 16, or that Tebow averaged 31.6 yards per completion that game. It’s not a conspiracy, but just a thought. As much as I support and respect this Broncos team, what everyone wants to overlook is what made them win. Big Ben was still severely banged up. The Steeler’s starting running back, Rashard Mendenhall, was out. Isaac Redman stepped up nicely in the backup role, though. But more importantly, their starting Safety, Ryan Clark missed the game. You have to think that had he been there, he would not have bitten so hard on the play action allowing Demarius Thomas to break that 80 yard touchdown pass in overtime. Once again, just a thought. With everything that happened last weekend, we now have four games to look at for next week.
Here are the divisional round predictions:
Starting in the AFC
Denver Broncos @ New England Patriots – With it seeming more and more likely that Tim Tebow is receiving some form of divine help, Tom Brady, who has been referred to as “God’s nephew,” might be the one to get in the way. Even if Tebow puts up great numbers this week, it will not be enough to out-play Tom Brady. It’s one thing to outscore a Steelers team who has never been known for scoring the ball. The Broncos have made a name for themselves by hanging in games and keeping it close and coming up clutch at the end. But when you’re down by several touchdowns early, it’s hard to do that. There’s not a team in the league that knows how to contain Tom Brady and this offense, John Fox included. Look for the Patriots to score early and often, forcing Tebow to outscore Brady, which won’t happen considering they have the 25th ranked scoring offense.
Patriots Def. Broncos 34 – 24
Houston Texans @ Baltimore Ravens – This is my favorite matchup this week. The Ravens were my preseason pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. I changed my pick about a month ago to the Patriots. Baltimore has one of the most dominant defenses in the league as well as a very capable offense led by Ray Rice, arguably the best running back in the league. The Texans are a very similar team in that they boast one of the top defenses as well as one of the best run games in the league. If I had it my way, this game would end 3-0, but considering both teams have a very good running back, a decent amount of points will end up being scored. Everything on paper is telling me that the Texans should win this game. The teams are similar except Houston has a more effective quarterback and possibly the best receiver in the NFL. While everything tells me the Texans will win, I see T.J. Yates playing like a rookie and making too many mistakes. I can’t bet against the Ravens just yet.
Ravens Def. Texans 23 – 17
Over to the NFC
New Orleans Saints @ San Francisco 49ers – As I’ve said all year, the Saints will win the Super Bowl. I’m still not 100% sold on the Niners either. They are a good team who benefited from a very favorable schedule. Sure, they beat the Steelers towards the end of the year, but the Steelers are not what they used to be. I don’t see San Fransisco, or anyone for that matter, being able to slow down the Saints’ relentless offense. The 49ers only scored 30 or more points in two games this year. The Saints did so in ten games. They also scored 40+ points in six games, seven if you count the playoffs so far. As far as I see it, if the Saints score 30 points, they will win this game. Drew Brees has been on a tear this whole year, and I don’t see him slowing down now that the games are more important. Plus, Darren Sproles has been completely unstoppable leading their ground attack. While the 49ers DO have a solid defense and a great run game, they are not a team designed to compete with an offensive juggernaut like the Saints. Once they get ahead, there’s no looking back, and as good as Frank Gore is, he cannot come back against New Orleans by himself, making Alex Smith make plays. The Saints will score 30+, the 49ers won’t.
Saints Def. 49ers 34 – 23
New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers – This matchup actually intrigues me quite a bit. The New York Giants have been here before. In 2007, they won the Super Bowl while playing on the road all through the playoffs and ultimately played David and took down Goliath (the Patriots). This is their chance to take down Goliath again. The Packers are the consensus best team in the NFL and have destroyed teams all year, recently beating the Lions while starting their backup quarterback. While I don’t see the Giants beating the Packers, it is an interesting idea. The main difference is that, when the Giants’ front seven got to Tom Brady, he wasn’t mobile enough to move. Aaron Rodgers is very good at evading blitzers and will be able to scramble and make plays. Both teams boast high-powered offenses and will have no trouble scoring. While their hype has died down, the Packers still are the best team in the NFL. If the Giants are going to win, it will be because the Giants’ big-play receiver, Victor Cruz, will find himself Salsa-dancing in the endzone early and often. In this one, however, Aaron Rodgers will “Discount Double-Check” his way to the win.
Packers Def. Giants 38 – 31