Saturday, January 14, 2012

Divisional Round Preview: Sunday's Games

We're halfway there as two more teams were eliminated Saturday night. San Francisco lived on after knocking off the third-seeded Saints with a late game-winning touchdown from Alex Smith to Vernon Davis while the Pats blew out the Tim Tebow-led Broncos.

A full recap and review of Saturday's Divisional round games will be coming soon, but for now I will bring you my preview of Sunday afternoon's games as we find out who the other two teams will be playing next Sunday.

I went 2-0 in today's games, let's see if I can go 2-0 on Sunday and improve my playoff record to 6-2.

#3 Houston at #2 Baltimore--Sunday January 15, 2012 1 PM ET

Both of these two teams are so similar in style of play: hard-nose, smashmouth defense who can put up points on the board and be the difference in a game and an explosive running game. With a third-string rookie quarterback under center for Houston, I can imagine that Houston will run the ball early and often.

If I'm Baltimore's John Harbaugh, I'm not so sure if I can fully trust Joe Flacco with the ball in his hands considering how streaky and inconsistent he has been this season. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron needs to find as many ways as possible to get the ball to running back Ray Rice.

Flacco plays better when he isn't put under pressure and giving Rice his carries gives Baltimore a much better chance at moving the ball efficiently and getting points on the board. Fun for for you: in Baltimore's four losses this season Rice averaged just 9.0 carries per game without any rushing TDs (had one through the air). Why it has taken this long for Harbaugh/Cameron to realize this? I have no clue, but I'm sure they've picked up on it by now.
Arian Foster and Ben Tate, who is making his homecoming back to MD (grew up in Salisbury, MD), combined for the second-best rushing attack this season and will be game-changers in this matchup. Both defenses can stop the run, however, and rookies J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed, and Brian Cushing and Jonathan Joseph for Houston are sure to have big days against Flacco if Baltimore can't protect him adequately.

Bottom line: Houston has a great shot at upsetting the No. 2 seed on the road (Baltimore won meeting earlier this season, 29-14, at M&T Bank Stadium on Oct. 16), but I think Ray Rice will be too much, and Terrell Suggs will have a big day against the young T.J. Yates.

My Prediction: Ravens 28, Texans 17's Prediction: Ravens 23, Texans 19

#4 New York at #1 Green Bay--Sunday January 15, 2012 4:30 PM ET

I called the San Francisco game, which may count as an upset for some people, but this will be the bigger upset and I can sense it happening tomorrow.

New York Giants' Eli Manning is coming off a league-leading 25 interception season last year, but has thrown for a career-high 4,933 yards with 29 TDs. He's played well all season on his way to his second career Pro Bowl selection in eight years. He, along with breakout wideout Victor Cruz, is the reason New York's offense has been so efficient this season.

Between the fact that I have discovered the formula to beating Aaron Rodgers and the Packers and the level that New York's defense (particularly the front 7) have been playing as of late, I think we have a game.
New York was one of the worst running games in the league this season, but in the previous six games the Giants have surpasses 100 yards on the ground and have controlled ball games with a perfect balance between pounding the ball with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw and airing it out with Manning, Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. They really opened up the middle of the field last week against Atlanta, and they certainly have the ability to do so against Green Bay's 32nd-ranked pass defense tomorrow.

All Manning needs to do is protect the football, meaning no turnovers, and the NY defense needs to put as much pressure on Rodgers (the MVP favorite) as possible. How exactly did the Chiefs beat the Pack? Control the tempo and keep Rodgers off the field. Kansas City ran the ball 39 times for 139 yards and a touchdown against Green Bay, possessing the ball for 36 of the 60 minutes of play.

Now that's how you keep Rodgers off the field, and that's how you beat Green Bay. Tamba Hali pressured Rodgers all day long (3 sacks on the day), and I expect NY's Tuck, Umenyoria and Pierre-Paul have a field day against Rodgers. Don't forget: NY nearly upended the Pack in Week 13, losing just 38-35.

My Prediction: Giants 35, Packers 31's Prediction: Packers 28, Giants 23

Photo credit
Ray Rice: Rob Carr/Getty Images
Justin Tuck: Al Bello/Getty Images

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