With this being the final playoff weekend with four games, this will also be the final NFL survivor pool picks column for the 2011 NFL season. Thanks again to all who have e-mailed/written in. Definitely would like to hear from those of you who win: I accept dollars, yen, pesos, euros, krones, francs, you name it, in terms of gratitude!! (just kidding).
Last week my top choice of the four wild-card games was the Saints beating the Lions in New Orleans, and after a shaky first quarter the Saints pretty much dominated that one. Unfortunately, that’s their last home game of the season unless the Giants stun the Packers in Green Bay this Sunday (and obviously Saints win at 49ers). In the dome New Orleans seems invincible and Drew Brees is just a freak. The Saints easily covered the 10.5 points vs. Detroit, which I didn’t quite expect.
I also picked the Giants to win and cover against the Falcons last week and the G-Men were defensively dominant in a 24-2 victory. I can’t remember ever seeing that score before. It was the Giants' first postseason victory since Super Bowl XLII and their first home playoff win since the 2000 NFC Championship Game.
I wasn’t so wise on the AFC side. I thought Pittsburgh would beat Denver, but did expect the Broncos to cover. Clearly all those injuries caught up to the Steelers, who were stunned by Tim Tebow’s epic touchdown pass in overtime. And I also thought the Bengals would upset Houston. And they might have if not for that terrific interception and return for a touchdown right before halftime by Houston’s J.J. Watt when the game was 10-10.
Back to the Steelers’ loss for a minute: I think that’s huge for my Super Bowl pick, Baltimore. Now the Ravens know they don’t have to deal with their nemesis in these playoffs. And that defense could certainly slow Tom Brady and Co. in a potential AFC Championship Game next week. Remember what Baltimore did in its last playoff game at New England? And the Ravens took the Pats to overtime in Foxboro last regular season.
New England (-14) vs. Denver, Saturday, 8 p.m.: I think this is the only week of these playoffs I would feel totally comfortable taking the Pats. I wouldn’t against, presumably, Baltimore next week or in the Super Bowl against really any of the four remaining NFC teams. I will walk to Denver if Tebow throws for more than 300 yards against the Patriots after shredding the Steelers last week. New England already knows how to game plan for Tebow, having beaten the Broncos, 41-23, in Week 15 in the Mile High City. He was 11-for-22 for 194 yards in that game. No way the Pats lose their home playoff opener for the third year in a row, although I probably wouldn’t give 14 points (my guess is a 31-20 New England win).
Baltimore (-9) vs. Houston, Sunday 1 p.m: The Texans got the first playoff win in franchise history last week but, again, didn’t look great until Watt’s pick took the life out of Cincinnati. That Ravens defense probably is licking its chops to face Houston rookie QB T.J. Yates. He didn’t play a snap when Baltimore beat visiting Houston, 29-14, in Week 6 because Matt Schaub was still around. To be fair, Houston didn’t have star receiver Andre Johnson in that game, but the Ravens held Texans RB Arian Foster to just 49 yards on 15 carries. Foster was the main reason the Texans won last week, rushing for 153 yards and two TDs with Yates just managing the game. That’s not happening again for Foster vs. Baltimore’s No. 2 run defense, a unit that will dare Yates to beat it. I would also give the points here.
Too Even To Bother
New Orleans (-4) at San Francisco, Saturday, 4:30 p.m.: As good as the Saints look right now, having won nine in a row and scoring 45 points each in the past three games, they are usually a different club out of the Superdome (or any other dome). That dynamic Brees offense put up only 23 points at Jacksonville, 20 at Tampa Bay (a loss) and 22 at Tennessee. Not having injured running back Mark Ingram might catch up to that New Orleans ground game this week against the NFL’s No. 1 rush defense. For what it’s worth, the Saints only won 25-22 in San Francisco last regular season and obviously these Niners are much better. Plus the 49ers had an extra week to prepare.
Stay Far, Far Away
Green Bay (-9) vs. N.Y. Giants, Sunday, 4:30 p.m.: This is starting to feel an awful lot like 2007 for the surging Giants. Remember that year the G-Men played the offensively record-setting and unbeaten Patriots to a near draw in a 38-35 loss at the Meadowlands in the regular-season finale. Then in the Super Bowl, New York pulled off the big upset.
Now flash back to Week 13 of this season when the Giants played the unbeaten Packers essentially to a draw in, ironically, a 38-35 loss in the Meadowlands – a game Green Bay won on the final play.
Other than a trap game stinker against the Redskins, New York has played terrifically since that Packer loss. The defense played its best game of the season against the Falcons last week and all of a sudden the Giants’ running game has taken off.
Want more 2007 karma? This is the Packers’ first home playoff game since a loss in the NFC title game that season to these Giants, a game that proved to be Brett Favre’s last in a Packer uniform and got New York into that Super Bowl against the Patriots. I think one road team wins in the divisional round after none did last week and it could well be the Giants. Take the points for sure.
Good luck the rest of the postseason and I’ll be back in September.