jimmythegreek Posts:12598 Followers:392
On 01/14/2012 02:40 PM in NFL


Flip flopped my weekend last week. Unbeaten on Saturday followed by a rare winless Sunday. Let's see if we can turn the tide in the second round.

New Orleans at San Francisco:
History, not the resurgent San Francisco 49ers, might be the biggest obstacle facing the surging New Orleans Saints in their NFC divisional playoff game this weekend. In order to move closer to their second Super Bowl appearance in three seasons, the Saints must win their first-ever playoff road game Saturday against the 49ers, who return to the postseason for the first time in nine years. After winning its final eight regular-season games then overcoming a four-point halftime deficit to beat Detroit 45-28 in last weekend's wild-card round, New Orleans (14-3) looks very much like a Super Bowl contender as the NFC's No. 3 seed. The Saints have averaged 37.6 points while winning four of their last five postseason games, including the 31-17 victory over Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV. However, New Orleans' lone defeat during that span came when they were upset 41-36 at Seattle last season.

New Orleans is 0-4 in playoff road games, joining Cincinnati (0-5) as the only teams to lose all of their postseason contests away from home. New Orleans was 5-3 away from the Superdome in 2011, but nothing seemed to come easy. The Saints rallied to beat Carolina 30-27 on Oct. 9, then lost 26-20 at Tampa Bay a week later. They also lost 31-21 to the then-winless Rams in St. Louis. New Orleans needed overtime to win 26-23 at Atlanta and 22-17 at Tennessee on a red-zone stand that ended with a sack. Now, they must face a San Francisco team that gave up 10.9 points per game while going 7-1 at home in 2011.

The 49ers (13-3), who won the NFC West and earned the NFC's No. 2 seed under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh, are back in the playoffs for the first time since losing 31-6 at Tampa Bay in 2002. Though this is the first playoff meeting between the teams, New Orleans has averaged 31.0 points during a six-game winning streak over San Francisco that dates to a 38-0 home loss Jan. 6, 2002. Two of those victories came at Candlestick Park, including 25-22 on Sept. 20, 2010, in the most recent matchup.

Drew Brees has completed 67.4 percent of his passes for 1,475 yards with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions while going 5-0 against the 49ers. Brees, who needs one TD pass to match Johnny Unitas' record of at least one in 49 straight games, was 33 of 43 for 466 yards and three touchdowns as New Orleans set a playoff record with 466 total yards against the Lions. Darren Sproles rushed for 51 yards and two TDs while Marques Colston caught seven passes for 120. Brees will certainly take that aggressive approach on the road where he's completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 758 yards with four TDs and one interception in playoff losses at Chicago and Seattle. While the Saints' high-powered offense is likely to provide the stiffest test of the season for San Francisco's daunting defense that ranked fourth in the NFL allowing 308.2 total yards, their own defensive performance could be the difference this weekend.

The Saints have allowed at least 34 points in each of their last three road playoff games and yielded an average of 165.5 yards on the ground all-time away from home in the postseason. Behind Frank Gore, San Francisco ranked eighth in league averaging 127.8 rushing yards. With 7,625 career yards, Gore is the NFL's all-time leading rusher without a postseason appearance. Though Gore ran for 1,211 yards and eight touchdowns this season, he averaged 53.6 and scored three times in his final eight games. He's averaged 68.8 yards and scored once in four games versus New Orleans.

San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith set career highs in completion percentage (61.4), passing yards (3,144) and passer rating (90.7), but faces a Saints defense that had the second-most blitzes in the league with 365. He's posted a 65.0 passer rating while throwing three touchdowns and five interceptions in three games against the Saints. The Saints are typically efficient in the red zone. They scored TDs at a 58.7 percent clip in the regular season. But those numbers decrease dramatically when they play outdoors; New Orleans only holds a 31.8 percent rate for TDs in the red zone in its five outdoor games. If the Saints score TDs in the red zone, they should be tough to handle. The Niners pride themselves on running the football and ball control. It’s not so long ago that Smith was a punchline in San Francisco, so Saints DTs Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers have to shut down Gore. In his first ever playoff game, Smith may revert back to his old ways if he’s forced to throw the entire game.

New Orleans -3 (bought half)
over 46.5

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jimmythegreek Posts:12598 Followers:392
01/14/2012 03:02 PM

Denver at New England:
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have formed one of the best coach-quarterback partnerships in NFL history, so it's a bit surprising they've gone nearly four years since their last playoff win. To end that drought Saturday night, they'll have to put a stop to Tebowmania once again. After Tim Tebow helped Denver pull off a breathtaking upset in his postseason debut, the Broncos will be even bigger underdogs in this divisional-round showdown in Foxborough, where Josh McDaniels' return to the New England staff adds further intrigue to a rematch of the Patriots' rout in Denver four weeks ago.

The Broncos' 29-23 overtime win over Pittsburgh on Sunday gave Tebow more playoff victories than the Patriots have in the last three seasons combined. Belichick and Brady combined for a 14-2 postseason record and three Super Bowl wins before New England was denied a perfect season by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. The team missed the playoffs the next year following Brady's knee injury, then lost its playoff opener at home each of the next two seasons. Just like they are now, the Patriots (13-3) were the AFC's top seed last January when they were upset 28-21 by the New York Jets.

The Steelers seemed to attack Tebow by guarding against the run and daring him to throw the ball deep, something the left-hander had struggled to do during a three-game losing streak that began Dec. 18 with a 41-23 home loss to New England. After a six-game win streak, Tebow was 30 of 72 (41.1 percent) for 439 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions while losing the final three regular-season games. Denver (9-8), though, backed into the AFC West title based on other results. John Elway urged Tebow to "pull the trigger" Sunday, and the controversial quarterback obliged.

He stunned Pittsburgh with four passes of at least 30 yards as the Broncos scored 20 straight points in the second quarter, then landed the ultimate blow with an 80-yard touchdown strike to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime. Both Tebow and Thomas, who had 204 yards receiving Sunday, were drafted in the first round in 2010 by McDaniels, the Broncos' head coach at the time. McDaniels' tenure in Denver got off to a rousing start with six straight wins to begin the 2009 season, but he was fired after the team lost 17 of the next 22. After serving as offensive coordinator for St. Louis this season, McDaniels was rehired this week by New England, where he worked from 2001-08. He'll become offensive coordinator again next season after Bill O'Brien's departure for Penn State, but McDaniels rejoined the staff immediately. Without McDaniels, New England racked up 451 yards in Denver last month. Brady threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns in that game, rushing for a third score.

The Patriots recovered three Broncos fumbles and didn't turn the ball over. However, their defense was vulnerable early as the team fell behind 16-7, allowing 167 rushing yards in the first quarter. The struggles of the 31st-ranked unit have prompted doubts about whether the Patriots can seriously contend for a title. New England won its final eight games, but its last three opponents took sizable early leads - Miami 17-0 and Buffalo 21-0 - before the offense rallied.

The Patriots got safety Patrick Chung and linebacker Brandon Spikes back in Week 17 after extended injury absences. Spikes, a friend of Tebow's while the two were teammates at Florida, figures to help against Denver's top-ranked rushing attack. The Broncos look like the more banged-up team now. Wide receiver Eric Decker isn't expected to play after suffering a sprained knee last weekend, and safety Brian Dawkins may remain out with a neck problem. Defensive end Elvis Dumervil (right ankle) also missed practice time this week. Defensively, Denver managed to contain Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski last month, but Aaron Hernandez - another former Tebow teammate with the Gators - stepped up with nine catches for 129 yards and a touchdown.

New England -13.5
over 50

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bobalou Posts:5399 Followers:148
01/14/2012 03:53 PM

GL JTG... Great write-ups as always! Love your picks as well :)

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jimmythegreek Posts:12598 Followers:392
01/15/2012 11:46 AM

Houston at Baltimore:
The well-rested Baltimore Ravens claimed their first AFC North crown since 2006 thanks in large part to going undefeated at home for the first time in team history. While home playoff games have been few and far between, the only time they won one led to a championship 11 years ago. Seeking to end that drought and begin a run back to the Super Bowl, the Ravens look to improve to 6-0 all-time against the Houston Texans in a divisional playoff matchup Sunday.

Baltimore (12-4) is looking to win its playoff opener for the fourth straight year. The last three came in wild-card games, but the Ravens didn't even have to play in that round this year because they claimed a first-round bye and the division title with a 24-16 win at Cincinnati in Week 17. Each of Baltimore's seven postseason games during Harbaurgh's tenure have been on the road, going 4-3. The Ravens haven't hosted a playoff game since falling 15-6 to Indianapolis in the divisional round after the 2006 season, and their only previous postseason victory at home was a 21-3 wild-card win over Denver on Dec. 31, 2000. That sparked their path to winning Super Bowl XXXV, and the Ravens believe Sunday could be the start of another memorable run.

Much of the Ravens' success can be attributed to taking care of business at home, where they've won 10 in a row while outscoring opponents by an average of 11.2 points. Their defense has allowed 15.0 points per game in that span - only two visitors this season scored more than 17.

The Texans (11-6) know all too well about that home-field advantage, losing 29-14 in Baltimore on Oct. 16 - and that was back when Matt Schaub was still playing. Houston gave up that game's final 16 points to fall to 0-5 in this all-time series, getting outscored by 10.8 per game. The Texans, in the first postseason in franchise history, claimed their first playoff victory with a 31-10 rout of Cincinnati last Saturday. Rookie T.J. Yates completed 11 of 20 passes for 159 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown to All-Pro wideout Andre Johnson.

While Yates, thrown under center after season-ending injuries to Schaub and Matt Leinart, has held his own, it remains to be seen how he'll respond in a very unfriendly environment against a vaunted defense. Baltimore led the AFC this season with 48 sacks. Another strong effort from star running back Arian Foster would surely make things easier on Yates. Foster, fifth in the league with 1,224 rushing yards this season despite missing three games, had 24 carries for 153 yards and two TDs last weekend. Foster, though, was held to 49 yards on 15 attempts at Baltimore earlier this season.

Baltimore ranked second in the NFL with 92.6 rushing yards allowed per game. The Texans weren't far behind, surrendering 96.0 per contest, but could have their hands full with Ray Rice. He gashed them for 161 yards from scrimmage during the last meeting. Rice recorded an NFL-best 2,068 yards from scrimmage this year and ran for 191 in Week 17. Joe Flacco has had his share of problems in the postseason despite being the only quarterback in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first three seasons. He has four TD passes with seven interceptions and two lost fumbles in seven playoff games, throwing for less than 190 yards and completing below 58.0 percent in six of them. However, all of those games were on the road. He has a 96.1 quarterback rating over his last four home games. Flacco is expected to have Anquan Boldin (knee) at his disposal after the star wideout missed the final two games of the regular season. Boldin had a season-high eight receptions for 132 yards versus the Texans in October.

Baltimore -7 (bought half)
over 37

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jimmythegreek Posts:12598 Followers:392
01/15/2012 11:59 AM

NYG at Green Bay:
The New York Giants wanted a rematch with the Green Bay Packers after losing to them in the regular season. Only this time around the matchup takes place at the unfriendly confines of the frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field. The defending Super Bowl champion Packers who went unbeaten at home, however, may have their minds elsewhere leading up to this NFC divisional playoff matchup. Green Bay will have heavy hearts heading into Sunday's home meeting with the Giants after the tragic death earlier this week of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin's son.

MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers and fellow Pro Bowl selection Eli Manning will meet in the playoffs for the first time. Rodgers threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns and Manning had 347 and three scores in last month's meeting between Super Bowl MVPs. The Packers improved to 12-0 with that victory before suffering their only loss two weeks later in Kansas City. Rodgers, 2-0 against the Giants, threw for 45 TDs and 4,643 yards with six interceptions and an NFL-record 122.5 passer rating this season. Manning fell 67 yards shy of 5,000 before completing 23 of 32 passes for 277 yards with three touchdowns in last Sunday's 24-2 win over Atlanta in a wild-card game.

The Packers have won 13 straight at home. This is the first postseason game at Lambeau Field since the Giants' 23-20 overtime win in the NFC title game four seasons ago, when Manning outplayed Brett Favre in his last game with Green Bay. New York is starting to resemble that 2007 team, which knocked off previously undefeated New England in the Super Bowl. The Giants' pass rush has been led by the emergence of Pro Bowler Jason Pierre-Paul and bolstered by the return of fellow defensive end Osi Umenyiora two weeks ago. After a solid effort against Dallas in a 31-14 NFC East clincher in Week 17, the Giants' defense held the Falcons' offense scoreless last week.

A New York defense that ranked 28th in the regular season has gained confidence since being shredded by Rodgers. The Packers have noticed the Giants' improvement. Green Bay will use a different offensive line than the group that limited New York to two sacks in the last matchup, with left tackle Chad Clifton expected to start. Clifton practiced Wednesday along with right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who is nursing an ankle injury. New York got good news when cornerback Aaron Ross practiced Wednesday after leaving Sunday's game with a concussion. Ross will be needed to help slow down a Packers receiving corps led by Pro Bowler Jordy Nelson (1,263 yards) and Greg Jennings (949), who is set to return after missing three games with a sprained left knee.

The Giants (10-7) will be trying to exploit a Green Bay defense that ranked last in the NFL in the regular season, although the unit produced a league-high 31 interceptions. Green Bay (15-1) and their defense will go up against a Giants passing attack that has seen Manning hook up frequently with Victor Cruz (1,536 yards) and Hakeem Nicks (1,192). New York had the league's least productive running game in the regular season before gaining a season-high 172 yards on the ground last week. The Giants are visiting Lambeau for the first time since last season's 45-17 loss, in which Rodgers threw for 404 yards and four TDs. New York could have clinched a playoff spot, but was eliminated the next week while the victory started Green Bay's 19-game win streak.

The Giants will need that newly discovered running attack to continue to be successful in order to keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense off the field. With both teams having dynamic receivers, this game will be decided by which group makes more big plays. While New York seems to be playing its best at the right time and Green Bay has dominated virtually all season, the Giants cannot afford to turn this one into another shootout and must capitalize on big plays on defense. Otherwise it will be cheese featured in next week's NFC Championship.

Green Bay -7 (bought half)
over 53.5

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