Gregor’s Packer Analysis
Divisional Round Preview
In this issue:
View from the Recliner
The Saints head to San Francisco
The Ravens host the Texans
The Tebows head to New England
The Packers host the Giants
View from the Recliner: The Wild Card weekend provided four teams to take on the top 2 seeds in each conference this weekend. Some results were expected based on seed (Houston, New Orleans, and the Giants), one was an upset, even though they were a four seed (Denver) playing a five (Pittsburgh) in a very entertaining game.
This is the time of year where weather can dictate offensive play calling. A cold (below zero) or windy day (25 mph or higher) can make it difficult to pass and emphasize the running game. Good news for teams like New Orleans, San Francisco, and recently the Giants (even though on the season they struggled), bad news for the Packers in the NFC. In the AFC, Houston, Baltimore and Denver can all run, only the Patriots struggle. Ironic that cold weather teams Green Bay and New England are built to play in domes or warm weather.
But conditions aren’t expected to be extreme this weekend, so it’s a little premature to rule out two of the top passing teams in the NFL.
New Orleans at San Francisco. Contrasting styles meet as the up tempo Saints take on the defensive minded 49ers. This is where dome teams could struggle, but the weather looks good—high in the 60s. Both teams can run—Frank Gore for the 49ers, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas for the Saints. The differences are the 49ers defense is much better than the Saints, and the New Orleans passing game can accomplish in a half maybe into the 3rd quarter what the 49ers need 4 quarters and maybe overtime to do. While Alex Smith has been effective, he isn’t close to Drew Brees.
Brees has incredible numbers in domes, but only average numbers outside. So can the 49ers stop the Saints to win a low scoring game? Or will New Orleans find a way to put points on the board and make San Francisco play catchup? Both are possible, but if the conditions are good, Brees is going to score points. More than Smith. The line is New Orleans by 3. Saints by 7.
Houston at Baltimore. Earlier in the season, it looked like Houston might make a run. They beat Cincinnati easily last week, but that was at home. They really lost a lot when Matt Schaub went down, and are now on their third quarterback, rookie TJ Yates. They have a good defense and a good running game, but this is in Baltimore. And as long as Ray Lewis plays, they will have a top defense. They are also good in the running game. But Joe Flacco isn’t elite, and Wade Phillips does a great job as a defensive coordinator, so Baltimore could struggle in passing situations.
Baltimore is an 8 point favorite. They don’t have an explosive offense, and it’s hard to see them pull away. Houston should stay within 6.
Denver at New England. Denver’s not supposed to still be playing. But when the Steelers decided to let Tim Tebow beat them again and again (he averaged 31 yards per completion), including the game winner on the first play in overtime, it ended Pittsburgh’s season and kept the Broncos alive. Now, the Broncos are the ones with a chance to knock off the Pats. In the regular season, Pittsburgh beat the Patriots, while the Pats routed the Broncos in Denver. It was Denver turnovers that broke open a close game.
The weather should be cold, which could slow down the Pats offense. And their defense is one of the worst in the NFL. The Patriots have lost their last 3 playoff games, two of them at home. Denver needs a low scoring game, they can’t play catch-up from more than 2 scores down or win a shootout. Anything that slows down Tom Brady is going to keep Denver close. And if the Broncos are close, it could be Tebow Time.
The line is New England by 13. If the weather cooperates, the Pats win big (14 or more). If not, it’s within a TD and Denver might even have a chance to win. Let’s go with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to find a way.
New York Giants at Green Bay Packers. Before we look at the matchup, let’s take a look at a few stats from the regular season. Let’s consider Team A. This team had 353 first downs in 16 games, but gave up 358. Total yards for the season was 6482 to 6585 given up. The quarterback was sacked 41 times and they got to the opponent’s quarterback just 29 times. And time of possession was within a minute—30:29 to 29:31. If you saw that, you’d think it was a team around .500 or less. Maybe the Bears? How about the Titans? Nope, these are the numbers for the defending Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.
So how can they be essentially even in yards and first downs, have their quarterback under pressure week after week, and still find a way to go 15-1? There are a few more stats that explain why the Packers almost went unbeaten. Like 76 penalties to 122 combined for their opponents. Like 50% on 4th down conversions to 25% for their opponents. And the biggest stat: turnovers. Green Bay quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers andMatt Flynn threw 8 picks in 16 games, the opponents combined for 31. And the Packers lost 6 fumbles to 7 for opponents. Plus 24 in turnovers will win a few games. The other stat not included is special teams—Randall Cobb puts Green Bay in great starting field position. You don’t go on 80 yard drives when you start at the 50.
OK, back to the game. The Giants front 4 will give the Packers O line problems. New York’s running game has been playing well in recent weeks. And Eli Manning is going to the Pro Bowl, he’s having a great season. Watching the replay of the Week 13 game, it was clear that the Packers D line couldn’t stop Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. Hakeem Nicks dominated Tramon Williams even though Williams was usually in pretty good position. Very similar to the 2007 NFC Championship game when Al Harris was all over Plaxico Burress, but Burress kept making plays.
The Packers have to find a way to get to Eli and keep him from going deep to Nicks, Mario Manningham, or Victor Cruz. On the other side, the Packer’s don’t want to hear Chad Clifton’s number called (for penalties). The receivers have to avoid drops. The backs need to play well in pass protection and run effectively. The defense can’t give up easy scores. They’ll give up points, but will need a few stops. Ultimately, the game rests on Aaron Rodgers, with help from turnovers and special teams.
The “wild card” in this divisional round game is emotion. The Green Bay family had two funerals since the Lions game: TJ Lang’s dad and Joe Philbin’s son. Lang will play, Philbin is on indefinite leave. Maybe the team rallies around their coach and teammate and puts on a performance like Brett Favre did when his dad died. Or maybe a few players have a hard time focusing. It only takes one to mess up a play.
The line is Green Bay by 8. This is a tough call to pick the winner. The Packers could pull away, but this looks to be closer than 8. The pick is Green Bay by 4, but they’ll need to be at least plus one in turnovers to win. If the Giants don’t turn the ball over, they probably win the game.