Saints at 49ers
Russ' Take: It feels good to be back. After eight years of nothing better than an 8-8 record and four different head coaches, the Niners are relevant again in the NFC and playing in what was been billed the most even matchup of the weekend. A classic matchup pitting the irresistible force against the immovable object, with the Niners ranked best in the league against the run and in total takeaways against the Saints who have one of the most prolific offenses in the league's history. That being said, these three stats will be the reason the Niners win this game.
1) SF offensive turnovers on the season: 10. Best in the NFL
NO defensive takeaways on the season: 16. 31st in the NFL
Observation: The Niners won't beat themselves with mistakes that will help the Saints already potent attack. Saints only caused five turnovers in their eight games on the road. The Niners will either score or punt, pinning the Saints back with the best punter in the game, Andy Lee.
2) Out of the Top 10 offenses in the NFL this season, the Saints lost more production on the road than any other team. Saints scored 42 points per game at home but only 27 points on the road, more than a third of a decrease.
Observation: Obviously, the Saints aren't as dominant an offense on the road, on the grass, out in the sun. Combine that with the best defense they've played this season, and I don't see them reaching 27 points.
3) Drew Brees' road QB Rating: 100.3
Alex Smith's home QB Rating: 99.8
Observation: This stat is more about Alex Smith's underrated performance at home, where he threw seven more touchdowns than on the road. He is a better QB at home and against a mediocre defense he will be able to make some plays with his arm.
Conclusion: Niners will make the Saints play their way. Gore will rush for over 100 yards and a TD. Alex Smith will make enough plays with his arm and legs. Niners defense slows down Saints enough to win a close one.
49ers 25 - Saints 24
|Two opposing philosophies vying for supremacy|
Then you have the Saints, who have become a cerebral extension of Drew Brees' mind, who is probably one of the most underrated, and underappreciated, quarterbacks in the game. He has the statistics and rings to be mentioned in the same breath as Brady and Manning, for what he's done over the last decade. But Rodgers, Brady, and Manning have nothing to do with this game and, for the record, Alex Smith doesn't really either. This game is between the science of defense and the faith of Drew Brees, which means it could be as gripping to watch as the early seasons of Lost, when it was unclear whether we were supposed to be focused on Jack Shephard or John Locke.
Broncos at Patriots
Russ' Take: Rematch of a Week 15 matchup where the Patriots handled the Broncos 41-23 where the Broncos committed 3 second quarter turnovers which completely swung the momentum to the Patriots after they were down in the first quarter. Couldn't be a more perfect matchup for the Patriots terrible pass defense as they play the most anemic passing offense left in the playoffs in the Broncos. Any factors that helped the Broncos win last week (home field advantage, injuries) are gone against the Patriots. Unless the Broncos can bring relentless pressure with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, Tom Brady will pick them apart consistently with an array of weapons at his disposal. Patriots pound the Broncos.
Patriots 48 - Broncos 21
Harvey's Two Cents: I already said earlier this week that I no longer know where I stand on the issue of Tim Tebow. When he was in college, I thought he'd be an NFL fullback--I was wrong. Still, I'm skeptical of his miracles. I keep looking for hidden props, bits of string, and hidden mirrors. I also think that it's harder to hide those things on the road, especially when all the good hiding places are already being used by Bill Belichick. I don't think it will impact the game much, but doesn't it just feel dirty that the guy went and hired Josh McDaniels solely for his knowledge on Tim Tebow? In keeping with the Biblical overtones that surround Tebow, isn't this move by Belichick a bit like Joseph being thrown down a well by his own brothers? Won't Tebow eventually be some other team's prophet? How long can this thing last? For this year, I don't see it going past Saturday night.
Texans at Ravens
Russ' Take: Rematch of a Week 6 game where the Ravens won 29-14 with Matt Schaub under center for the Texans. Most people think it's a foregone conclusion that the Ravens will win this week handily. Rookie 5th round pick TJ Yates going on the road where the Ravens are undefeated this season against the tough and vaunted Ravens D. I agree with those people. The Texans will have Andre Johnson back as he did not play in the week 6 game and looks to be near 100 percent based on his performance against the Bengals. But I just don't think Yates will make the plays that a QB needs to make in the playoffs as a road underdog to win. Unless Flacco self destructs, Ravens win this by two scores or more.
Ravens 27 - Texans 14.
|Not quite Tebowing|
Giants at Packers
Russ' Take: There are three things to consider when predicting the outcome of the Giants/Packers game.
1. Taking into account the league's quarterbacks, Tom Brady may be the hot one who dates supermodels. Matthew Stafford may have the cute baby face advantage, and Alex Smith may have the allure of the quiet guy in the corner who you thought would always make a a good bf, but Aaron Rodgers is the dreamiest guy in the NFL. Period. Eli Manning does pose the adorable little brother threat. But dreamy wins over adorable every time. For example, 1998's dreamy movie, What Dreams May Come is much better than the Parent Trap remake of the same year despite the adorable young Lindsay Lohan.
2. Lambeau Field is covered in snow. Fans are shoveling it out as I speak. Advantage Packers. Their fans are badasses.
3. So the Packers' defense makes us fans a little nervous. But I believe in miracles and I have seen Angels in the Outfield about 100 times, and there is a part when Roger, the kid who sees angels can't go to the game and his friend PJ tries to see one, but instead just sees one of the players shaking his locks of hairs on the sidelines. Clay Matthews lives in that moment. Here it is, 5:42 into this clip.
Now, in the movie PJ doesn't really see an angel, but I'm pretty sure the Claymaker has some divine powers cause he looks like that baseball player every time he's on the sidelines. And like PJ, I don't know what a real angel looks like, but that doesn't mean they're not there. And I imagine they have necks as big as my waist, like Matthews.
So in conclusion, the Packers have dreamy, awesome fans, and almost an angel. So they will win.
Packers 45 - Giants 38
Harvey's Two Cents: Russ is right: Clay Matthews is an angel.
However, as a Packer fan, the weird mix of confidence and nervousness is not sitting well in my stomach. I believe that Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL right now, if only by a distance so small it can not even be measured. I also believe that the Packers have the best receiving corp, when healthy, in all of football, and I think the running game, with a healthy combo of James Starks and Ryan Grant, has the potential to put away games, if McCarthy chooses to call running plays. In other words, the offense is good, which it proved consistently at home and on the road all season with the exception of the Kansas City game. But then I start thinking about the defense and I start thinking about the Giants.
|"At least Peyton's your brother--Favre was just some stranger. . . ."|
These principles are what I base my confidence on, but they are undermined by the fact that this Giant team must be like looking in a mirror for this Packer team, for this Giant team is last year's Packers. They've been swamped with injuries and they've overcome. They have a stable of young, unheralded receivers who have emerged to create a prolific passing attack. They have a quarterback, who like Rodgers, has always existed in the shadow of great quarterbacks. They have a coach who trusts his system, and a man running the front office who finds talent anywhere in the draft. I look at the Giants and I fear them not because they are the Giants but because they are the Packers wearing blue. Plus, January 20, 2008 doesn't seem that long ago.