New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers
Saturday, Jan. 14 – 3:30 p.m. CT
The 13-3 San Francisco 49ers enter its home contest with New Orleans this afternoon with the NFC’s top defense, limiting opponents to 308.1 yards and 14.3 points per game. The Saints, meanwhile, have the conference’s 12th-ranked defense. On offense, New Orleans comes in producing a blistering 7,474 yards per game (467.1 per game), tops in the NFC. San Francisco has the conference's 14th-ranked offense, posting a mere 310.9 yards per game. It will be an intriguing contrast of extremes when the teams square off at Candlestick today. In the Niners’ favor, the team is playing on its familiar grassy turf (where the Saints are far less effective than on artificial) and its strength meshes incomparably to the traditional football adage, “Defense wins championships.” Unfortunately for San Francisco, however, is that offense may be the new defense - which could especially be true considering the impeccably accurate Drew Brees and his vast assortment of offensive weapons. The Saints have rolled up more than 600 yards in each of its past two games (617 on Jan. 1 vs. Carolina and 626 vs. Detroit last week) … Behind the play of its elite inside linebacker Patrick Willis, San Francisco’s stingy defense will undoubtedly slow down the Saints’ production today. On offense, the Niners will hope to dominate the clock by giving the rock to stalwart running back Frank Gore. But it won’t be enough. Brees spreads the ball among his many targets and connects with favorites Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston for touchdowns, as New Orleans conquers and advances. Saints win, 27-10.
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots
Saturday, Jan. 14 – 7:00 p.m. CT
There could be a major letdown this evening in New England when the Patriots host Tim Tebow’s Denver Broncos. Despite the Patriots being 13 ½-point favorites, this game is being billed as the most anticipated playoff game … ever. Why? What else? Tebow. Tebowmanina, Tebowing, Tebow Train, etc. The Denver quarterback is arguably the most polarizing player in NFL history, certainly this season at least. Just when it seemed Tebow’s mystifying flair for dramatic victories evaporated on Denver’s home turf in the wake of a 41-23 loss Dec. 18 – a loss followed by Tebow’s two worst games of his career (40-14 at Buffalo, 7-3 to Kansas City) – the Miracle Man has risen again. Tebow had his best game yet last week versus Pittsburgh, throwing for 316 yards, including a jaw-dropping, 80-yard game-winning touchdown to Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime ... Miraculous as that play, and Tebow’s season, might be, what about Tom Brady? Brady was the main reason for Tebow’s Dec. 18 demise. He passed for 320 yards and two touchdowns in that game, and rushed for a key late-second quarter TD followed by an emphatic spike in front of the Mile High faithful. So what about that guy who delivered Denver its first loss since Oct. 30? All the seven-time Pro Bowler has done is engineer eight straight wins and led to New England to the AFC’s top seed and home-field advantage for the playoffs. Brady is brimming with confidence and eager to put another dagger into Tebow fever. Patriots win, 34-20.
Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, Jan. 15 – 12:00 p.m. CT
Baltimore is looking to extend its perfect 8-0 home record to nine against Houston tomorrow. The Texans hope to build of its stunning 31-10 win at home last week in the team’s first playoff appearance ever. It will be an interesting battle, the NFL’s second-ranked defense (Houston) against the third-best (Baltimore). It’s also a battle of two of the most potent dual-threat running backs in football – Balitmore’s Ray Rice (1,364 rush yards, 76 recs, 704 rec yards) and Houston’s Arian Foster (1,224 rush yards, 53 recs, 617 rec yards). Houston also bears one of the league’s top receiving weapons in five-time Pro Bowl wider receiver Andre Johnson. This game will be a nip-and-tuck tussle, but home-field advantage and experience ultimately gives the edge to Baltimore. Ravens win, 20-17.
New York Giants at Green Bay Packers
Sunday, Jan. 15 – 3:30 p.m. CT
Coming off a dominant 24-2 win last week against the Falcons, New York is riding high and has suddenly become a fashionable upset pick in tomorrow’s game against the 15-1, Super Bowl defending Green Bay Packers. Added reasons for this is the Giants’ near upset of Green Bay earlier this season (a 38-35 loss on Dec. 4) and its resurgent pass-rush attack since then. Also, Eli Manning is having a banner year, passing for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns, and Victor Cruz has become an unexpected sensation at wide receiver - catching 82 passes for a franchise record 1,536 yards … But let’s not forget about Aaron Rodgers. For all the Drew Brees’ MVP talk, Rodgers passed for 4,643 yards and 45 touchdowns in 15 games this season, while completing 68.3 % of his passes with just six interceptions. Rodgers’ 122.5 quarterback rating this year is the best in NFL history. Plus he gets back his No. 1 weapon in wide receiver Greg Jennings – 67 receptions for 946 yards and 9 TDs before suffering injury in week 13. Rodgers and Jennings revamp their pass-and-catch chemistry tomorrow as the two lead Green Bay by New York in Lambeau. Packers win, 34-28.