Saturday, January 14th
New Orleans @ San Francisco - 4:30 p.m.
The Saints will take their high-octane offense to San Francisco where they will face probably the NFC's toughest defense. The 49ers bring a very "old school" approach to the table under rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh. In a time when offense dominates the game, San Francisco wins with defense. They rank first in total defense as well as rushing defense in the NFC. The Saints possess the conference's number one offense to set up the ultimate strength vs. strength matchup. New Orleans is virtually unstoppable in the Superdome, but struggle on the road. All three of their losses came away from home, including losses to Tampa Bay and St. Louis, two teams who fired their coaches after the season. This should be a very close game throughout, and in a game like this, it comes down to quarterbacks and experience. Drew Brees has been an elite quarterback for several years, while Alex Smith, in his seventh year, is just now playing like a number one overall pick after many disappointing years. Much like how I didn't trust Matt Ryan last week, I don't trust Smith this week. The Saints have been through the playoffs a couple times now, San Fran has not.
Prediction: New Orleans, 27-24
Denver @ New England - 8:00 p.m.
I doubt this will be the best game of the weekend, but I can almost guarantee it will be the highest rated. Just when you think Tebowmania is about to come to an end, it ends up being bigger and better than ever before. Tebow almost broke the internet last Sunday when Dmaryius Thomas hauled in an 80-yarder from him on the first play of overtime to beat the Steelers. For New England, coach Bill Belichick and the Patriot fanbase have to be thinking that this is a must-win. The Patriots have lost their last two playoff games, both at home, under Bilichick. Going back to Super Bowl XLII, he has lost three in a row in the postseason. I hesitate to say that his squad "caught a break" by playing the Broncos after seeing what happened last week, but this should be a much easier matchup than Pittsburgh would have been. The Pats won 41-23 four weeks ago in Denver and it looked like Tom Brady and company were taking that game personal and had had enough of the Tebow talk. I can see Tebow making this one very interesting considering how bad the Patriots defense is, but in the end, New England knows how important this one is and will put an end to Tebow-time. Maybe. Possibly. I think.
Prediction: New England, 38-24
Sunday, January 15th
Houston @ Baltimore - 1:00 p.m.
You have to feel a little bad for these two teams because nobody wants to talk about this game very much, if at all. The Texans are coming off a convincing victory over the Bengals in the franchise's first playoff game. In a matchup of the league's third and fourth ranked defenses, points will be at a premium. Houston could very well miss Matt Schaub more than ever as T.J. Yates will have to face the aggressive Raven defense with Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs coming after him every play and Ed Reed spying him in the secondary. He will need a ton of support from Arian Foster, but the Ravens run defense ranks second in the NFL, surrendering just over 90 yards per contest. For Baltimore, Ray Rice has turned into one of the best running backs in the game. H ran for 1,364 yards and caught 76 passes for 704 more. Rice's game-breaking talent should be enough for the Ravens against a Houston team that could really struggle to move to the football.
Prediction: Baltimore, 24-13.
New York Giants @ Green Bay - 4:30 p.m.
These two teams played a thriller back in week 14 with the Pack getting a game-winning field goal as time expired. It's important to understand that most of Green Bay's starters, including Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, and Charles Woodson, have had almost three weeks off. The Giants, on the other hand, have had to play theirs every week since the bye. Also, left tackle Chad Clifton, who was not available in the first meeting for GB, made his return in week 17 against the Lions and played very well. All of this time off will help the Packers tremendously and has allowed guys like Clifton and Greg Jennings to get back to 100 percent. With the return of Clifton and how this Packer offensive line seems to be gelling, the Giants vaunted pass rush will have a hard time getting to Rodgers, which is a huge problem for New York. The weather looks pretty solid for Sunday, a high around 30 and no precipitation. The Packers offense is more explosive than New York's and as long as the defense does not give up the big play too often, the Packers will host the NFC Title game next week.
Prediction: Green Bay, 38-30.