2012 Divisional Preview: New Orleans vs San Francisco

This is the first of four posts this week examining the Divisional matchups in the NFL Playoffs. Check back during the next few days for more previews:

After a poor 1-3 showing by me last week with my predictions, I’m doing it all again for the Divisional round. First up, the Saints visit the 49ers at 4:30 ET on Saturday on Fox. This is a huge matchup between two teams that both finished the year 13-3. New Orleans and San Francisco did not face each other this year so they’ll be working off game film entirely to prepare for Saturday. Here’s a look at the matchup:

Offense: The Saints have a lethal passing game with Drew Brees, who set an NFL record this year for passing yards in a season. Not much more needs to be said for New Orleans’s passing game: it’s tremendous. But the Saints’ running game is underrated with Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomsa offering different options in the backfield. New Orleans tore up the Detroit Lions last week, putting 45 points on the board against the Lions’ tough defense.

For the 49ers, quarterback Alex Smith is still young but he has the luxury of playing in a system where he’s not the focal point. Running back Frank Gore is one of the league’s best backs and ran for over 1200 yards this year and fumbling just twice all year. Smith threw just five interceptions as well as the 49ers excelled at not giving up the ball. However, while San Francisco did not turn the ball over often, it also gained only 311 yards per game, seventh worst in the league. Continue reading “2012 Divisional Preview: New Orleans vs San Francisco”

2012 Wild Card Preview: Pittsburgh vs Denver

This is the last of four posts this week examining the Wild Card matchups in the NFL Playoffs. Thanks for reading:

The last Wild Card matchup is in the AFC when the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Denver to face the Broncos at 4:30 ET on CBS. The Broncos snuck into the playoffs even though they lost their past three games while the Steelers have won six of their past seven games. Denver has the home-field advantage even though they lost twice as many games as the Steelers did because they won their division. As with the Falcons and Giants, the Steelers and Broncos never faced each other during the regular season.

Offense: For the Broncos, Tim Tebow mania continues. First, experts hated him. Then he shockingly led Denver on a series of fourth quarter comebacks to win seven of eight games. Finally, he lost the last three games with dismal numbers and barely made the playoffs. For the year, Tebow’s numbers are pretty mediocre – less than 2000 yards in 14 games played (11 started) with 18 touchdowns (12 passing, six running) while turning the ball over 13 times (six interceptions, seven fumbles). Tebow has been worse in the past few games and unless he turns it around drastically, it could be a long night for Denver fans.

For the Steelers, a lot hinges on the health of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. When healthy and able to play from under center, Roethlisberger is a very good quarterback but his recent injury has forced him to work from the shotgun position more where he has struggled. If he isn’t at full strength come Sunday, the Broncos can take advantage. The Steelers running attack is now in rough shape with the loss of Rashard Mendenhall last week with a torn ACL. On paper, Pittsburgh is much better offensively than Denver but the rash of injuries has given the Broncos a chance. Continue reading “2012 Wild Card Preview: Pittsburgh vs Denver”

2012 Wild Card Preview: Atlanta vs New York

This is the third of four posts this week examining the Wild Card matchups in the NFL Playoffs. Check back tomorrow for the final preview:

Sunday’s Wild Card games get going when the Atlanta Falcons head up to New York to take on the Giants at 1 pm ET on FOX. The Giants ended the year with a huge win-or-go-home victory over the Dallas Cowboys to the NFC East and earn a playoff spot while the Falcons have won five of their past seven, with their only losses coming at New Orleans and at Houston. However, they haven’t beaten anyone that good in that stretch either. The teams did not face each other during the regular season so both will be preparing using lots of video team instead of analyzing a previous meeting. Here’s a look at the matchup:

Offense: Eli Manning has had a much better season than experts have given him credit for. He threw for just under 5000 yards with 29 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. The interceptions number is a bit high, but he’s had one of his best years this season and has come through in pressure situations. The emergence of star wide receiver Victor Cruz has helped Manning tremendously as well. Neither Ahmad Bradshaw or Brandon Jacobs were particularly adept at running the ball this year (the Giants as a team were dead last in the NFL in yards per carry) so the onus will on Eli Sunday to lead his team to victory.

For Atlanta, quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner offer the Falcons a two-headed offense that can beat both through the air and on the ground. Ryan through for over 4000 yards and 29 touchdowns and threw just 12 picks while Turner rushed for 1340 yards and 11 touchdowns himself. The Falcons will show the Giants a couple of different looks and have the luxury of attacking New York’s secondary or trying to wear down its defensive through a hard-nosed running game. Continue reading “2012 Wild Card Preview: Atlanta vs New York”