First off, we'll start with the 49ers of course. As I said yesterday, we're going to keep it mostly to what the 49ers have to do to win this game, and win it they certainly can if they play the style of football that got them here. What has to happen is the 49ers have to dictate the tempo of the game early, they can't let the Saints control the ball and let Drew Brees drop back and throw 40 times. They have to keep the Saints offense off the field with good running and sound short-route passes and screens, then take your shot's deep, cause they have to be aggressive and show confidence early. Go conservative early, but surprise the Saints with some deep balls too, and open up the playbook, but the Saints are a blitzing team and Smith is going to have to make good, quick decisions in order to avoid turnovers, just as he's done all year. They're going to have to put up some points, so I wouldn't hesitate to bust out some trickery on offense, and pull out some plays that we haven't seen all year, plus the Saints secondary is average at best, so Smith can pick them apart if he makes smart choices. The 49ers will most likely have to score 24-30 points to win this, at least.
That brings us to the defense, just like the Saints will do to Alex, the 49ers have to have pressure on Brees all day long. Play Aldon Smith! Play Aldon Smith in as many snaps as he can take whether it's as a down D-end or an outside backer, they need his pass-rush. Also, they need to take away the Saints two secret weapons in Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles. They need to matchup players onto those two that can keep up with them. I suggested putting Goldson on Graham all day, and put an extra DB on the field every time Sproles is out there. If the 49ers get the early lead, and can play with their defense, they can win this. If Brees get's the ball frequently and has open receivers and little pressure, then the 49ers probably won't be able to keep up. My Prediction, 49ers pull it out in a close one, 27-24... Here is the rest of our playoff weekend predictions.
NFC Divisional Round Predictions:
San Francisco 49ers 27 - New Orleans Saints 24
Again, most of the talk about this game is above and in the previous post, but the 49ers have the defense to disrupt Drew Brees and give him problems, plus the 49ers have the home field advantage as the Stick will be rockin. Drew Brees has a career 107 QB rating and 12 TD's and 2 Int's vs. 49ers' defenses, but he's never faced one like this and could have issues with the January gusts at Candlestick Point.
Green Bay Packers 31 - New York Giants 27
I think this one will be closer than people are thinking and the Giants should pose some problems for Aaron Rogers and the Packer passing attack which hasn't been quite as crisp the last few weeks of the season. I still think the Pack pull it out in Lambo and conditions they're so used to. The thing is, the Packers defense has so many holes right now, that the Giants should be able to keep up with them offensively, especially if Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs can get going like they did last week and that defense plays lights out like they did vs. Atlanta (only 2 points allowed came on a Safety caused by Eli Manning's intentional grounding in the endzone). If they bring that against the defending champs, then I doubt the Packers will just have their way with the Giants defense like they've had their way with so many D's this season.
AFC Divisional Round Predictions:
New England Patriots 35 - Denver Broncos 17
As much magic as Tebow pulled out vs. the Steelers rock-solid defense, I just don't see him being able to keep up with a healthy Tom Brady and the top passing attack in the league. Denver can get burned through the air, as they showed last week allowing a broken down and beat up Roethlisberger to throw for 282 yards and a TD, though they did sack him 5 times (again though, his mobility because of the ankle was basically nil). The Broncos had the home field and did pull off a huge upset in round one, no doubt about it, but now they travel to the loud, frigid Northeast where the Patriots play so darn well in Foxboro. Unless the Broncos pull can win the turnover battle and rattle up the Pats passing game, they don't have much of a chance. If it were in Denver, then maybe they have a shot, but not away in a notoriously tough place to play, I don't see them pulling out another one. Especially after seeing the Pats defense finish so strongly vs. the Bills (2 sacks, 4 picks, one for a TD), the Patriots don't have the best defense, but they have some speed to keep up with Tebow and Demaryius Thomas.
Baltimore Ravens 20 - Houston Texans 13
It's really too bad the Texans lost Matt Schaub, cause with him, and Foster and Andre Johnson healthy like we saw last week, they are legit Super Bowl contenders. But in enters rookie T.J. Yates, who if this team was playing any other playoff team besides a very green Bengals squad last week, probably loses. Yates' play was sporadic, his TD toss to Johnson was spot on, but for the most part, he showed he's still a rookie and missed some easy reads and open receivers. Now he faces a defense that will not only bring more heat than Cinci, but they have better coverage and a much tougher front-7 and I expect that front to eat Yates alive while still containing Foster enough to pull out the W. The only way the Texans win is if they pull out an early lead and can play with a lead, cause their defense, while not Raven-good, is very formidable. The Ravens also struggle to come back in games, and if you have them down early, you can beat them. All in all though, with the rookie traveling into the cold climate of Baltimore in January, I just can't see them taking it to the ferocious Baltimore defense.