Gregor’s Packer Analysis
Divisional Round Preview
In this issue:
The Ravens head to Denver to play the Broncos (again)
The Seahawks fly east (again) to Atlanta
The Patriots host the Texans (again)
The Packers play the 49ers (again)
In déjà vu weekend, three regular season games are being re-played although the location is changing in two of them. The other game isn’t a re-match, but the Seahawks had to go to the eastern time zone (Washington DC) last weekend, and are back in the East, this time in Atlanta. The fans and the networks want Peyton vs. Brady and that should happen. In the NFC, you could see either team win in both games. Gotta love playoff football.
In the first re-match, the Baltimore Ravens try to change the results of the first meeting against the Denver Broncos. That game was in Baltimore, and the Broncos had no problem in a 34-17 win in week 15. This time, they play in Denver. A few things that could make the game closer—Ray Lewis will play for the Ravens this time. And the temperature is expected to be in the 20s. Peyton Manning isn’t usually as effective in cold weather—no surprise there since most quarterbacks aren’t. But the neck injury / surgery has reportedly had an impact of his ability to grip the ball in the cold, he has been practicing in gloves, including his throwing hand, and played wearing gloves in week 17. As well as he has been playing it’s hard to see him having a bad game, but keep in mind he is 0-3 in playoff games played below 40 degrees with one touchdown and 7 interceptions.
The line is Denver by 9. Peyton Manning is going to have to have an awful game for the Ravens to stay close. The Broncos have won 11 in a row, and they have been solid on defense, the running game is still doing fine with Noshon Mareno taking over for Willis McGahee. But Manning is the key. If he’s on the Broncos roll. If he struggles the Ravens hang around. There was a bye week because the Broncos are the 1 seed so he could be a little off, it is cold, he’s playing with gloves on. Things could go against the Broncos, but even if they do the Ravens scored 32 points at home and just 18 on the road during the regular season. This is a road game. Peyton Manning versus Joe Flacco. Broncos by 8.
The Seahawks continue to rack up the air miles as they head to Atlanta to play the Falcons after beating the Redskins in Washington, DC on Wild Card Weekend. The Falcons are the 1 seed and are coming off a bye. For much of the season, Atlanta was winning, but some games were closer than expected. Still, they managed to put together the best record in the NFC.
Weather won’t be a factor in the dome. Seattle is on a roll and is the “hot” team in the NFC. Atlanta is good at home, but hasn’t been stellar in the playoffs. Mike Smith is 0-3 in the playoffs as head coach of the Falcons. Both teams can throw, but Seattle is a better running team. At home, Atlanta scores 24 and give up 18. Seattle on the road scores 21 and gives up 19. The line is Atlanta by 2 and a half. It’s hard to go against Seattle and it’s easy to see them winning this game, maybe big. But I’m going to play a hunch and take the Falcons in a close one. Atlanta by 4.
The New England Patriots host the Houston Texans Sunday afternoon. The first meeting was also in New England and it was all Patriots, 42-14. What’s changed? Well, it’s 2013 now. Oh, and Gronk is playing again. So we have a dome team from Texas that got blown out the first time come to the Northeast in January to play the second seed with one of their go-to receivers back.
There really isn’t a way Houston wins this unless they are at least plus two in turnovers, and Tom Brady is abysmal. Don’t think that will happen. But they did look bad against the 49ers when they committed 4 turnovers and trailed 31-3. And came back to tie it, before eventually losing. Without turnovers and with Gronk, this might not be 42-14, but it’s an easy win for the Pats. The line is New England by 9. Pats by 13.
The Green Bay Packers head to San Francisco to take on the 49ers in a week 1 rematch, this time in San Francisco. The 49ers won 30-22, but there have been some changes. Quarterback Alex Smith missed some time with a concussion, and when he was cleared to play medically, he wasn’t cleared to play by his coach. Jim Harbaugh elected to stay with Colin Kaepernick. The Packers look a little different with Cedric Benson no longer the running back. The defense is playing better, and Charles Woodson returned last week from a broken collarbone.
The 49ers are similar to the Giants, the type of team the Packers have trouble with A good defense, a good running game, and an efficient quarterback. Now a running quarterback. The key to the game is pressure. Can the Packers contain and get to Colin Kaepernick, and can the 49ers put pressure on Aaron Rodgers. With Justin Smith back and rookie Don Barclay starting at right tackle, it’s tough to say the 49ers don’t have the advantage. But Clay Matthews will disrupt the San Francisco offense.
The Packers have a bad matchup, but have shown that they can put things together. The defense has looked good (except for the 37 points the Vikings put up in Week 17), and while Charles Woodson isn’t as good in coverage as he once was, as a safety he can blitz and stuff the run. That’s key because the 49ers will try to run Frank Gore like the Vikings did Adrian Peterson. The big question is can the Packers O line give Aaron Rodgers time. With Justin Smith back, the guess is no. But with some help, probably a tight end staying in to block, the receivers will get open and make plays. And DuJuan Harris and others (maybe James Starks or Ryan Grant) have to move the ball and Mike McCarthy has to stay with the run.
The line is San Francisco by 2 and a half. This is such a coin flip, a great case can be made either way. Unless one team is plus 2 turnovers or more, it’s hard to see either team win by more than 7. But it’s hard to ignore the losses to the Giants (similar style to the 49ers) and the earlier loss to the Niners. I’ll be cheering for the Packers knowing this is a game they can win. But the pick is San Francisco by 3. I really want to be wrong on this one.