#3- New Orleans Saints @ #2- San Francisco 49ers - Saturday 4:30 ET (FOX) - Last season the 49ers weren't very good. In fact, for the past decade they haven't been very good. Alex Smith, the number one overall pick a few years ago out of Utah, hasn't lived up to expectations and many thought his days in San Fran were numbered, especially since the Niners finally decided to pick up a quarterback early in the draft with Colin Kaepernick being taken in second round. Mike Singletary got fired and Jim Harbaugh got brought in, but with the lockout drama he didn't get a chance to work with his team for very long at all before the season started, which typically wouldn't bode well for a first time NFL head coach. With all this as a background, if you were to tell me that the Niners end up 13-3 with the number 2 seed in the playoffs and a first round bye, I would've called you crazy. But it happened. And I think all the credit goes to Jim Harbaugh who should win coach of the year because of it. The Niners' offense has been good enough and Alex Smith has been efficient while the Niner defense has been outstanding. They didn't allow a rushing touchdown until Marshawn Lynch marched into the endzone in week 16 for the Seahawks. This is certainly a great story for this season that makes me personally happy because the Niners are one of my favorite teams. With all that said, the reward they get after all this is a match-up against the red hot Saints. Not what they wanted. Niners fans were Lions fans last week as a Lions win meant the Niners would play host to the Giants this week, but that didn't happen as the Saints won their 9th straight game and 4th straight game scoring over 40 points. As much as I like the Niners, I can't pick them in this one. I think their magical season is going to end with a one and done showing in the playoffs. I say this because the Saints have them beat in about every category. Drew Brees is on fire. 5,400 yards in a season is ridiculous. Jimmy Graham is a beast of a tight end and only in his second season. He was one of two tight ends this year to break the tight end receiving yards record (Gronkowski of the Pats being the other). Darren Sproles has been fantastic as he adds to what is now a great backfield where you have multiple threats that can break out with a fantastic game. Meanwhile, the Niners offense has been good, but when it comes to comparing them to the Saints's offense, they don't fare well at all. If the game came down to a shootout, the Niners would loose badly. Yes, Alex Smith has been efficient this season, but he's no Drew Brees. Frank Gore is one of the best running backs in the league, but he's a one man show in the backfield. One stat that stands out to me is that David Akers leads the league in points scored. That means the Niners have kicked a whole ton of field goals this season and if you are going to beat the Saints, you need to score touchdowns and not field goals. If all you can do is kick field goals, you will lose. The Saints also have more momentum, which is key in the NFL playoffs. Like mentioned earlier, the Saints are on a 9 game winning streak while the Niners sputtered a bit towards the end of the season. They ended the season by almost losing to the Seahawks and the Rams and also did lose to the Cardinals and the Ravens in the last six games. Finally, the Saints have experience. They won the Super Bowl two seasons ago so they know what it takes to win. The Niners on the other hand are full of a bunch of playoff newcomers, both in players and in coaching staff. That will hurt them. Now in addition to the obvious advantage of having home field, the one thing the Niners have going for them is their defense. If they are going to win this game, they will need to have their top notch defense stop the Saints' offense. Their defense is good, but is it good enough to stop one of the best offenses in NFL history? I don't think so. I don't think this game will be a blowout, but I think the Saints will win without much trouble. However, I would love it if I was wrong.
My Pick: New Orleans Saints
#4- Denver Broncos @ #1- New England Patriots- Saturday 8:00 ET (CBS)- You know the Tim Tebow "They Said" commercial? The one where he states that the words of all his doubters is what fuels him to do what they say he can't? Well, add to that the following, "They said I couldn't win a playoff game. [brief pause] Thanks." Well, you are welcome Tebow. I suppose I am among the crowd that helped you beat the Steelers because I didn't think you could do it. And now I am going to do it again. I am not going to pick Tim Tebow and the Broncos to win this game against the Patriots. And maybe Tebow would prefer people to continue doubting because playing the Patriots in Foxboro is much different than playing the Steelers in Denver. Now I expected the Steelers to pull it together for the playoffs because they are always a good playoff team, but the cold hard facts are that they were banged up and without much momentum. And I think Mike Tomlin is to blame for their loss. Big Ben was hurt and needed to rest those final weeks. Now the man has a heart of gold and is very competitive and his desire to play through his injury is admirable, but because he decided to do so he wasn't at full strength and underperformed in Denver last week. Mike Tomlin should've known better and should've made him stay on the bench and rest. That's how Denver won last week. Call me what you want, but even a playoff win hasn't convinced me to bow down and worship Tebow quite yet like much of the nation has. He got lucky last week, but against the Pats is where it ends for him and the Broncos this season. Now I'm not a complete believer in the Pats to make it to the Super Bowl because their defense is just not great and that is where Denver could take advantage and win this. If the Broncos play good enough defense to slow down Tom Brady and the Pats offense, then the defense is weak enough for them to win. But I don't see it happening. The Pats destroyed them a few weeks ago and I think they will do so again. And now Bronco fans will thank me because my doubting might propel them forward.
My Pick: New England Patriots
#3- Houston Texans @ #2- Baltimore Ravens- Sunday 1:00 ET (CBS)- Personally I am already looking forward to the Patriots and Ravens game. Both teams have issues and will lose to whoever comes out of the NFC, the Ravens offense lags a lot at times while the Patriots have had poor defense this year. But I think neither team will have much of a problem this week. Now if the Texans had Matt Shaub healthy at quarterback, I think this would be a great game that the Texans would actually win. But as it stands, they are with TJ Yates, the fifth round pick this past draft out of North Carolina. Now the kid has done a decent job in filling in for Matt Shaub and has certainly proved that he will stick around in the league as a backup at the very least, but he's not good enough for him to beat a playoff experienced team like the Ravens. The Texans limped into the playoffs on a four game losing streak and got lucky when they were placed against the Bengals who were 0-7 on the year against playoff teams and ended the season 0-8. Now the Ravens have had their times this season where they have lost to teams they shouldn't have lost to, but all of those games were on the road. The Ravens have been perfect at home and should keep that up this week. Now this is the NFL playoffs where anything can happen and if the Texans do win it will be a great story that I will remember for a long time, but I'm not daring enough to call the upset.
My Pick: Baltimore Ravens
#4- New York Giants @ #1- Green Bay Packers- Sunday 4:30 ET ( FOX)- Now this game is the hardest for me to pick. You would think that the Packers would be an easy pick being that they are the team that is 15-1 and the team that everyone has been picking to return to the Super Bowl for the longest time. Aaron Rodgers is a stud and has been the favorite to win the MVP, but like I said last week, I think the Giants are the dark horse this year. They have been up and down during the season, but when they are up they are a good team and they have been playing good towards the end of the season. And despite what I predicted, they carried that on into the playoffs and completely dismantled the Falcons in the first round. The Packers are still a very good team and are thus hard to pick again, but yet they haven't been as strong towards the end of the season as they were at the start. And if you remember, the Giants and the Packers played earlier in the season and the Giants were extremely close to handing the Packers their first loss of the season. It took a clutch game winning drive for the Packers to beat them and I think that this game will be much of the same. Whoever ends up with the ball last may turn out to be the winner in this. And do you know what? As I am typing this, I have switched my opinion on who I think will win the game. Up to this point I have picked the obvious team and have avoided any crazy upset picks. But sometimes in life you need to take risks and I am going to take one right now, even if it causes people to mock me later. If the Giants play like the bad Giants that they do a lot, then this could be a blowout in favor of the Packers and that wouldn't surprise me, but at the top of their game, the Giants are the team that could pull this upset off and I am going to close my eyes and do it. I am picking the major upset in this one. I'm going for the Giants.
My Pick: New York Giants