Saturday, January 14, 2012

2012 NFL Playoff Preview: 'Divine Intervention'

Can the vaunted 49ers D get to Drew Brees?
NFC Divisional Playoffs
New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers
Saturday, January 14th, 2012 - Candlestick Park, San Francisco, CA

It's true test time for both teams Saturday when the New Orleans Saints (14-3) offense goes against the solid defense of the San Francisco 49ers.  The Niners (13-3)  have been slightly under the radar this year despite earning the No. 2 seed in the NFC under first year coach Jim Harbaugh and one of the most improved defenses in the NFL.  Quarterback Alex Smith went from possibly being on the trade block last year after being benched midway through the season to starting every single game for San Fran this year.  He has been efficient (17 touchdowns, five interceptions, 90.7 QBR) despite not throwing for 300 yards in a game at all this year.  On the other side, Drew Brees has thrown for 300 yards an NFL record 13 times this year.  The 49ers rush defense is the strong point, allowing only three rushing touchdowns all year, but the secondary will be tested.  Getting a solid pass rush from rookie linebacker Aldon Smith and veteran lineman Justin Smith will go a long way in slowing down Brees and the Saints offense.

Pick:  Saints, 34-20

Key to game for Saints:  Air it out.  Use the short passing game to running back Pierre Thomas and tight end Jimmy Graham as the run to get the linebackers moving laterally.  It will open up the intermediate passing game and the delayed draw that head coach and playcaller Sean Payton likes to take advantage of.
Key to game for 49ers:  Control time of possession.  Running back Frank Gore must have a good game on the ground as San Francisco's best defense will be keeping Brees and the Saints offense on the sidelines.

Brady is burning to lead the Pats back to the promised land.
AFC Divisional Playoffs
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots
Saturday, January 14th, 2012 - Gilette Stadium, Foxborough, MA

If there were ever a matchup more tailored for Tim Tebow to redeem himself as a starting NFL quarterback and shut up his critics once and for all, it is this game against Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the New England Patriots.  The Broncos had a 16-7 lead early against the Pats in the regular season matchup before two turnovers right before the end of the first half put them in a hole they could not climb out of.  Denver (9-8) get a second chance to see what might have been if it weren't for those fumbles.  The Patriots (13-3) have their own redemption story.  They've earned the first round bye in the AFC playoffs for the third consecutive year, but have not won a playoff game since the 2008 AFC championship game against the San Diego Chargers, the game before the New York Giants ended the Patriots undefeated season in that huge Super Bowl upset.  Both Belichick and Brady stand to take big hits in their overall legacies should the Patriots lose this game, so expect both the gameplan and quarterback play from New England to be on point.

Pick:  Patriots, 30-20

Key to game for Broncos:  Stay out of 3rd and long situations.  The Steelers dared Tebow to throw last week and got continuously burned by the deep ball.  The Patriots defense will mix it up alot more and play soft coverages to minimize big plays and keep Tebow in the pocket.
Key to game for Patriots:  Get points on the board early.  New England didn't do a good job in stopping the run in the first meeting (gave up 252 yards rushing, 8.1 yards per carry) and playing from behind could spell disaster.

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