Well, THAT was interesting. Well, the wild card weekend delivered a couple of genuine surprises, one mild surprise and one not surprise at all. Obviously Tim Tebow’s continuing crusade to bring Jesus and the single wing to towns like Pittsburgh (and now Foxboro and the rest of the 6-state region of New England) has left many football fans perplexed in its wake – not the least of which is simply being perplexed by why Pittsburgh had no deep help at all in a non goal-line situation. But I’d also add the way the Texans laid waste to the Bengals in the surprise category. I know I thought it would be a close game, but yet that rugged running game of the Texans pounded the Bengals into dust. On the bright side, the Bengals have pieces – now it just has to get better.
The Giants executed a mild surprise in how easy it was to dust Atlanta. On the other hand, we should have seen it coming to a degree – Atlanta’s ceiling was so much less than the Giants. Yeah the Giants have been inconsistent, but their best is so much better than Atlanta’s best, and they brought it. Finally there was New Orleans rallying to blow away Detroit – but they have been breathtaking on offense under the Dome the last month and change. In any case, now the big kids show up to the playground. How does it go? As always, we’ll use the adjusted scoring margin as a starting point.
4:30 New Eauxrleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers
Well, with LSU delivering its stink bomb against Alabama last night, someone has to carry the banner for competent Louisiana football. New Orleans has been just marvelous down the stretch with the most exciting offense in football. Yeah, Green Bay, New England, Detroit all bring various levels of comparable thunder, but no team has the same cornucopia of formation and personnel variety. Sean Payton thinks of ways to run plays that nobody else does – it is fun to see what they come up with.
Of course this matchup is an irresistible force-immovable object clash with the 49ers hard core defense and meat and potatoes offense (or quinoa for the vegans). It is also a test of the indoor team going outside for a big game – which is always a challenge. Yeah, San Francisco is no frozen tundra, but the grass will slow the Saints down a little – maybe? Really fascinating to see who prevails here. In the rankings this is our #2 vs #5, good anyway, but you take the adjusted scoring margins and it gets better. The Saints +13.0 vs the 49ers +12.3 implies the 49ers as a field goal favorite or so when home field is considered. Can the 49ers keep this close, slow down the Saints enough for their great kicking game to finish it off?
8:00 Divine Providence at City of Providence
I did not think I would be typing words pertinent to this matchup. Yep, it’s Tebow and Brady – your Week 15 matchup redux. The Patriots, as you recall, got gashed early, but then did a really good job on the Denver zone option. Their strategy of ignoring the pitch and hitting Tebow created a couple of ghastly turnovers that sent the snowball down the hill. Also, in a game plan designed to take the great Rob Gronkowski away, the Patriots ended up getting a huge performance out of the pretty darn good Aaron Hernandez.
The Patriots of course have not won a playoff game in 4 years, This team is not ideally suited to go long. At the same time, if they could get to the Super Bowl – the overwhelming likelihood is that it would be against a team that could facilitate a track meet – where their defensive deficiencies are less dire. The Patriots have traded in stiff yardage defense for takeaways and touchdown prevention. Hardly shutdown – but there have been few big numbers either. The Patriots +12.9, Denver -0.7 sets up New England as a 17 point favorite. Denver could win this by just outpossessing and crushing the Patriots physically. But New England will not make the same mistakes Pittsburgh made defensively – they will force Tebow to be patient and to make the sorts of decisions and throws that he is less comfortable with. Plus, there is that offense – and can Denver really stop it enough to be a factor? It is hard to envision the Patriots losing (ducking lightning bolt) …
1:00 Houston Texans at Baltimore Edgar Allan Poems
THIS looks like a playoff game. Two rough and tumble defenses, two rugged running games. Baltimore has not hosted a playoff game in forever – despite having teams whose status would warrant something, life with the Steelers. Last week, Houston was able to beat Cincinnati with a running hammer and a powerful defensive performance. However, Baltimore the skill level in the running game is better – and Flacco is at least as dangerous as Andy Dalton when his offensive coordinator is not neutering him. The Dickson-Pitta TE combination is no Gronk-Hernandez, but is very very productive in its own right. I know last week I said a lot about the Texans being a very average team in the TJ Yates incarnation, but yet little came to fruition against the Bengals. Of course maybe I should have seen the Bengals as a team that had issues beating good teams all season. Baltimore of course has no such problem. The scoring margins place this as Ravens +10.4 vs Texans +9 (or +1.5 or so with Yates). The with Yates number implies a 13 point favorite, compared to the 4 point or so gap with the entire season. Frankly those margins sort of seem to indicate my view of wear the teams stand. Baltimore ain’t losin this.
4:30 Northern New Jersey Giants at Green Bay Communists
If you came from outer space and watched the Giants play the last three weeks, you’d have had no idea that they were a fairly mercurial lot the 14 games previous. The Giants went 9-7 this season, but as Giants commenter expert Roger Fox noted, three of those losses came in games 9-12 before they jelled, and as sk7326 noted, against the 49ers and Saints, their two toughest opponents (considering the road). Their loss to Green Bay stands as the most entertaining game of the season – and their destruction of Atlanta showed what happens when two teams of widely differing ceilings meet in the playoffs. Atlanta’s consistency masked an inability to really be better while the Giants inconsistency revealed a really good team hiding in there somewhere.
Of course, none of this considers the Packers, a team more beaten up in the offensive line than in the first meeting. If the Giants can pressure with four, their improving but still not exactly a percentage play secondary can be best handled. If you saw how quickly the Packers marched for the winning score in their first game, or how their JV squad torched the Lions in Week 16, the offense is very, very good. The defense has given up tons and tons of yards, but it is a big play outfit – like the Patriots and Saints, they clearly value possessions more than yards. If you look at the numbers, GB = +15.1, Giants = +4.1 … but there is no way the Packers are a two touchdown favorite, though at Lambeau a blowout possibility is there. However, the Giants have swagger now – and that counts for a lot. I am enraptured.