In the opening round all four home teams captured victories, but this weekend I expect things to be a bit different. Here's a preview of Saturday afternoon and evening's two match-ups according to my football knowledge.
#3 Saints at #2 49ers--Saturday January 14, 2012 4:30 PM ET
The New Orleans Saints defeated Detroit with 45 points thanks to a flawless passing attack (Brees: 466 yards, 3 second half TDs) and an equal rushing attack (167 yards, 3 TDs) to surpass a 49-year old playoff record for most total yards in a game, with 626.
On defense, they allowed 5,000 yard passer Matthew Stafford and Pro Bowl wideout Calvin "Megatron" Johnson to throw all day long, totaling 380 yards and 3 TDs through the air (211 yards/2 TD to Johnson), but Detroit ran the ball for just 32 yards on 10 attempts (3.2 YPC).
This week will be much different in several different areas, however. New Orleans' second-ranked offense will be matched up against San Francisco's second-ranked defense. A match set in heaven, if you will. Brees had no difficulty against Detroit's 22nd-ranked pass defense, a unit that managed to surrender 24.2 points/game in the regular season, but will have to go up against the swarming SF defense. In the regular season the Niners 14.3 points/game (second in league) and ranked first–along with Green Bay–in turnovers with 38.
The No. 1 rank in defending the run belongs to San Francisco, as well, giving up just 1,236 yards and 3 TDs throughout the season. This will make Brees' offense one-dimensional and put even more emphasis on the passing game. Brees hasn't had much problem with that this season, but if the Niners force a couple of turnovers at the hands of Brees then the Niners have a real shot at knocking off New Orleans.
Now, Alex Smith is no Matt Stafford and the 49ers don't have targets equal to Detroit's Johnson, but they do have a top tier rushing attack with Frank Gore and were 10-0 this season when running for 100 or more yards, and 6-2 when Gore gets in to the end zone. What, then, must the Niners do on offense to win this game? Run early and often. The Saints allowed 1,738 yards and 5.0 YPC this season, and Gore is back in Pro Bowl shape.
My Prediction: Niners 28, Saints 24
Whatifsports.com's Prediction: Niners 17, Saints 16
#6 Broncos at #1 Patriots--Saturday January 14, 2012 8:00 PM ET
Many are still in shock that Tim Tebow was able to pull off the impossible yet again, and in such dramatic fashion coming off a three-game losing streak to end the regular season. Tebow
Denver's passing attack was 31st in the league this season, yet Tebow set a career-high with 316 yards passing against Pittsburgh's No. 1 passing defense–it was Tebow's second career 300-yard game. Pittsburgh's pass rush struggled mightily against Denver's strong offensive line, as well. This makes me worry for New England, who ranks 14th in turnovers and second-to-last in yards.
But what scares me with New England's offense, is that Tom Brady and Co. doesn't seem to be affected when they turn the ball over. On just three occasions have the Pats turned the ball over multiple times, and they actually managed to win one of those games, despite four turnovers.
Even with a flawless game from Tebow against Pittsburgh, Denver managed just 29 points. Yes, that's quite a few points, but playing against New England's offense (32.1 points per game in regular season, third-most in league) puts up quite the challenge for Denver.
Luckily for Denver, they do have one thing going for them: New England had a rather weak schedule this season as they played just two teams with winning records (New York Giants and Steelers) and lost both games. That and, not to mention, the fact that Tebow always seems to get everything together towards the end of games (five 4th-quarter comebackers and six game-winning drives this season).
As much as fans and experts have jumped on the Tebow bandwagon this season, I may have to jump off it this week. New England's offense is much more potent than that of Pittsburgh's, and I don't expect the Pats to start off quite as slowly as the Roethlisberger-led Steelers last Sunday.
My Prediction: Patriots 38, Broncos 28
Whatifsports.com's Prediction: Broncos 31, Patriots 24
Niners D: Jay Drowns/Getty Images
Tom Brady: Elsa/Getty Images