I'm feeling the pressure. I admit it. Not because it's the playoffs, but because I was 4-0 last week with my picks. How can you improve on dumb luck like that? And I even said Denver would win in OT on an 80-yard pass! (Not really. If you read last week's Viewer's Guide, you'll remember I actually said a 98-yard Matt Prater field goal, which honestly was about as likely as a Tebow TD that covered 4/5ths of the field.)
Analyst Picks: Divisional Round
With one weekend of playoff football in the books, the top four seeds in both conferences are still alive. NFL.com and NFL Network analysts offer picks for the divisional round. More ...
So am I still on the Tebow Train this week? The Brees Bandwagon? The Eli Greyhound? The Yates Tricycle? Let's find out.
The game where the irresistible force meets the immovable object:Saints-49ers. There won't be any phone calls between the teams about strategy this time around. (Oh wait, there wasn't one in preseason either ...) The Saints are humming along, while the 49ers have had a week to figure out just how Kellen Clemens put 27 points on the board against them. But what bottom-lines it for me is this: The Saints are a bad matchup for the 49ers. What San Francisco does best is stop the run. Well, New Orleans may not even have a rushing attempt on Saturday. They'll keep spraying it all over the field until they break through, and I think the biggest game comes from Jimmy Graham. San Francisco faced just one elite tight end this season, and Jason Witten had over 100 yards receiving in that game (a Cowboys victory). I'm not sold on New Orleans playing away from home, but playing in San Francisco isn't like playing in the adverse conditions of New York or Green Bay. I think traveling Saints fans will enjoy the Ghirardelli restaurant and a trolley ride just as much as they will the game. Now I want chocolate.
The Boyz II Men "End of the Road" game:Broncos-Patriots. Said we'd be forever, said it'd never die. How can you love me and leave me and never say goodbye? I feel like Tim Tebow is one of my family members who is doing great things but lives far away. All my conversations with everyone I know involve him. I just hope next Christmas he remembers my daughter Zoe and sends her a jersey. Hopefully he's not reading this, but all good times must come to an end. I know what you're thinking: "The first time the game was closer than expected and it's hard to beat a team twice in one season." To that, I say this: The Steelers are not the Patriots. Last week I said they were flawed ... and they were. Troy Polamalu and the rest of the Steelers played defense like they were playing two-hand touch in the street and the quarterback was someone's little brother who nobody thought could throw the ball. I mean, come on -- Tebow averaged over 31 yards a completion. As bad as the Patriots' defense is, they're not going to fall for the banana in the tailpipe. The Pats are going to score 40 points in this game, as they've been doing for most of the season, and they'll score on defense at least once. Tebow isn't going into Belichick Field and outdueling Brady and Co., who learned last year what it meant to underestimate a playoff opponent after ripping them apart in December (see: Patriots over Jets 45-3 ... and then 21-28).
The biggest blowout:Texans-Ravens. This will be the game where you can take most of the fourth quarter off to do yard work (so you can watch Giants-Packers uninterrupted). Nothing in this one tells me Houston is going to have a chance. A rookie QB against a defense that eats rookie QBs for breakfast. A strong running game against a team that doesn't give up anything on the ground. A team making its first playoff appearance on the road, in a hostile environment. In fact, Ray Lewis just looking at you is a hostile environment. Houston will be nervous and sloppy. Baltimore is veteran enough, even against a stingy defense like Houston's, to slowly pull away and win this one. I anticipate the Ravens pounding Ray Rice until he breaks the Texans, and Joe Flacco finding Torrey Smith for some big gains. With less than 10 minutes remaining, they'll have at least a 17-point lead and should win it by a final of 24-10. So tell your wife that's how much time you have to do whatever she needs done, unless she's watching the game next to you, eating chips and queso dip. (And if that's the case, kiss her and tell her how lucky you are.) If you're looking for a reason why Houston can win, you'll have to look somewhere else. And Flacco can spend all next week exasperated that entities still routinely criticize him. He must empathize with Mark Sanchez at least a little bit. And now I want queso dip.
The game that has upset written all over it but won't actually happen:Giants-Packers. Yes, the G-Men played Green Bay before and nearly pulled the upset. Yes, it looks very 2008-esque for the Giants, who went into Green Bay and won the NFC title game that January. However it's not 2008. The differences between now and then? The Packers are coming off a bye to get healthy. They're without a doubt the best team in the NFL, unlike in 2007-08 when they were not. Aaron Rodgers is playing at a higher level than Brett Favre was. Green Bay has heard all week about how the Giants will come in and pull off the upset. (Giants aren't sneaking up on anyone this time around.) But more importantly, there's this: Green Bay's defense is talented enough to make things miserable for Eli Manning. Remember, the Packers led the NFL in interceptions during the season, so they're very opportunistic. As time goes on, I think this weekend is going to be a rude awakening for the Giants. But hey, at least this New York team won't have to worry about benching its star wideout for insubordination; pushing out its offensive coordinator and having the most popular player in team history question that decision; and dealing with its quarterback being anonymously ripped by his own teammates.