(Disclosure: The writer is a Green Bay Packers, Inc. stockholder.)
Sometimes you just gotta put your money where your mouth is. So, presented forthwith, are Frankland’s Fearless Forecasts for this weekend’s NFL action. Read on, my friends…
New Orleans (-3.5) at San Francisco
Saturday, 4:30 PM Eastern/1:30 PM Pacific
This is the only game this weekend which is not a rematch from the regular season. The Saints record-setting offense has plenty of weapons, starting with quarterback Drew Brees, who obliterated Dan Marino’s mark for passing yardage in a single season; his 46 touchdown passes this season were good enough for fourth all time. The prime recipients of this passing largesse, Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston, were top-15 leaguewide in receiving yards and in TD receptions. One intangible thing the Saints have, also, is plenty of momentum; having won nine straight (including last weekend’s playoff game), and have broken the 40-point mark in each of the last four games.
For the 49ers to win in their first visit to the playoffs since 2003, they will have to contain the Saints’ passing game; the Niners’ defensive backfield combo of Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, and Dashon Goldson will really have to step up their coverage. Quarterback Alex Smith will also have to take advantage of the Saints’ primary weakness, pass defense; New Orleans was 30th in the league in yards allowed.
Prediction: New Orleans WIN. Saints’ defense will be the difference maker, allowing the offense to not be worried about putting up enough points on the board.
Denver at New England (-13.5)
Saturday, 8 PM Eastern/5 PM Pacific
This game is a rematch from Week 15, when Tebowmania was running rampant and the Broncos were riding a six game winning streak. Though the Broncos got off to an uncharacteristic fast start, a turnover-filled second quarter proved to be Denver’s undoing, as the Patriots went on to claim a solid 41-23 win. With their win against the Steelers in the wild-card round, the Broncos were able to quiet a few naysayers; however, if the Broncos are to have a puncher’s chance at winning this weekend, Tebow and his mates are going to have to take better care of the football.
With Tom Brady at the helm, the Patriots and their No. 2 ranked passing offense will have no problem putting points on the board, even if leading receiver Wes Welker is currently listed as “questionable” for the game. While New England’s pass defense will not have to worry so much, since Denver is very much a run-oriented attack, the run defense will have to continue to contain Tebow and running back Willis McGahee, even going so far as to dare the Broncos to try to win through the air.
Prediction: New England WIN. Unless it’s close and the Broncos have the last possession…
Houston at Baltimore (-7.5)
Sunday, 1 PM Eastern/10 AM Pacific
These two teams met in Week 6, where the Ravens cranked out a 29-14 win in Baltimore; on paper, they are very similar: both are extremely strong on the defensive side of the ball, and both rely on a strong ground game (Ray Rice vs. Arian Foster). However, the biggest difference will be at quarterback. Baltimore QB Joe Flacco is an experienced post-season signal-caller, while the Texans are breaking new ground in their first postseason run in team history; and are doing it with rookie T.J. Yates under center, who replaced Matt Schaub in Week 10.
If the Texans want to win, running back Arian Foster will have to have a better game against the Ravens defense than he did in the regular season, when he was held to 49 yards on 15 carries. Backfield teammate Ben Tate was no more successful, collecting 41 yards on just nine carries. The Ravens found the end zone just twice in their previous meeting, but were able to convert their other visits to the red zone into five Billy Cundiff field goals.
Prediction: Baltimore WIN. Flacco will be the difference-maker in this tilt, because of his experience and skills.
New York Giants at Green Bay (-7.5)
Sunday, 4:30 PM Eastern/1:30 PM Pacific
When these two teams squared off at MetLife Stadium in Week 13, the Packers were still talking about an undefeated season, while the Giants were in the midst of a losing streak. Nevertheless, they played one of the more thrilling games of the season, won by the Packers on a last second field goal. Green Bay would lose unexpectedly two weeks later, but finished strong to clinch the first-weekend bye, while the Giants went down to the wire to clinch their playoff berth.
The Packers are hoping to reverse the finish they had when these two teams last met in the postseason, a 23-20 overtime road victory by the Giants in the 2007-08 season. Brett Favre was the Green Bay signal-caller at that time; Aaron Rodgers has since taken the reins and is leading the team’s effort to defend their Super Bowl win from last season. Both Rodgers and Eli Manning of the Giants had solid, impressive years in the 2011 regular season, though arguably Rodgers had the better season.
Prediction: Green Bay WIN. This one should be a shootout and come down to whoever has the ball last – most likely, the Packers.