This has been one of the most amazing years in pro football just because of how excellent offensive teams have done without a great statistical defense.
Defense is supposed to win championships, but we have our top seeds that have the No. 1 and 2 ranked offenses also with the No. 31 and 32 defenses. It will be interesting to see how this year’s version of the playoffs materialize because we have couple teams that are all defense with not a lot of offense that could surprise this week.
Saturday – 1:30 p.m.
New Orleans -3½ at SF (47): The Saints have won and covered nine straight games. New Orleans also has a streak of four straight of scoring 42 points or more, but one of their weaknesses is playing on the road and grass. The Saints went 4-4 ATS on the road and their last game on grass was a struggle at Tennessee even though they covered the spread.
The 49ers have the No. 4 defense in the league and allow an NFC low of 14.3 ppg. Their only loss of the season at home came to the Cowboys in overtime during Week 2. That game was a push ATS, and since then have won and covered every game at home.
The Saints haven’t faced a defense like this all season and it’s likely that Drew Brees will be frustrated just like he has been in many of his road games. Look for a close game to come down to the final minute with the 49ers controlling the pace in a low scoring game making the field goal and a hook attractive. Saints 23-20.
Saturday, 5 p.m.
Denver +14 at N. England (51½): When looking at their week 15 match-up, the key stat in the box score was three Denver turnovers. All three came in the second quarter and a 16-7 Denver lead quickly vanished into a 41-23 Patriots win.
Many experts proclaimed that game one of Tim Tebow’s best as Denver was able to dice through the Patriots No. 31 ranked defense all game, including 252 rushing yards. The Broncos last playoff win was against the Patriots in the 2005 season and while Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have an imposing playoff resume, they haven’t fared well together the last two seasons.
Home divisional losses to the Ravens and Jets sent the Patriots home early the last two seasons. In each of those early exits, the Patriots couldn’t protect Brady causing their record setting offense to sputter. The one thing Denver has going for it on defense is a good pass rush with Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. An upset may be taking it too far, but you never know. Denver will keep the game close. Patriots 27-24.
Sunday, 10 a.m.
Houston +7½ at Baltimore (36): The Ravens were a well oiled machine at home going 8-0 (4-3-1 ATS), but it’s hard to get their terrible road losses off many of our minds. Losses at Tennessee, Jacksonville, Seattle and San Diego – all non-playoff teams – weigh heavy showing they can be beat by anyone, but not at home.
The Texans have the league’s No. 2 rushing offense, but will be going against the AFC’s top rush defense which should negate any Texans advantage. Should the Texans find themselves in a lot of third-and-eight situations requiring T.J. Yates to make big conversions, it will be a long day for the Texans.
The Texans only hope is that Wade Phillips’ No. 2 ranked defense can fluster Joe Flacco enough to get turnovers and create short field opportunities for their offense. There isn’t enough firepower for Houston to make an impact here in what should be a very low scoring game. Ravens 20-6.
Sunday, 1:30 p.m.
NY Giants +9 at Green Bay (52): We saw these two teams play in week 13 with the Packers winning 38-35 at New York as 7-point favorites. Both quarterbacks were sensational piloting their teams to 896 yards of total offense.
That loss was the Giants fourth straight at that point with post-season play in serious jeopardy. One game prior to the losing streak they had beat the Patriots. After losing to the 49ers, Eagles, Saints and Packers, the Giants were desperate, but battle tested enough to go out and control their fate by beating Dallas twice.
In the last two weeks of the regular season, they also became healthy again which helped their pass rush. The thing that makes the Giants such a formidable opponent is their defense because they have the ability to continually get pressure on the quarterback with only a four man rush leaving seven players back in coverage. The only way to beat Aaron Rodgers is to get constant pressure on him and the Giants can do it.
Even though only 16 players remain from the 2007 Giants squad that won in overtime of the NFC Championship game in Green Bay, the coach, quarterback and a few key members of the defensive line still remain. The biggest variable between now and then is that Rodgers is quarterbacking the Packers and not Brett Favre.
I look for the Giants to give the Packers a scare and maybe pull off the upset. I’m not so sure all the time off for Rodgers is a good thing while the Giants come into Green Bay full of confidence and momentum. Giants 31-23.