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NFL Pro Football 2011 Divisional Playoffs Picks

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Fearless Rick's NFL Divisional Playoffs Picks - Early Games

Rick Gagliano | January 14-15, 2012

All times Eastern - Click here for late games.

Saturday, January 14

4:30 pm New Orleans Saints (-3 1/2, 47) at San Francisco 49ers - Here is a dream match-up between one of the league's most dynamic offenses (New Orleans) and the top defense in the NFC (San Francisco). Something has to give, and while the oddsmakers believe this is going to be a close game, the disparities between the two contestants are huge.

Everyone knows about the Drew Brees legacy, leading the Saints to a win in the Super Bowl two years ago, breaking Dan Marino's single-season passing record this year and taking dead aim at another trip to the Big Game.

The 49ers were likely the surprise team of the season, earning a bye last week as they finished the regular season with a 13-3 record (same as New Orleans) behind Green Bay (15-1) and had the tiebreaker with a superior conference record. They secured the #2 seed in the NFC and get home field advantage against the Saints.

The Saints have a prolific offense, starting with Brees and his talented receivers, but the big addition was Darren Sproles, the mini-back who handles kickoffs and punt returns as well as being a mainstay in the New Orleans backfield. He's the wild card that the 49ers must stop if they are to be successful.

While New Orleans was putting up an average of 34.2 points per game, the 49ers were not shabby, 10th in the league in scoring at 23.8, though their attack is more a pound and ground game than the high-flying circus act that is the Saints.

Defensively, the 49ers have a huge advantage, allowing just 14.3 points per game and leading the league in rushing defense, allowing just 77.3 yards per game. Their 230.9 yards per game passing allowed is a little bet skewed due to the fact that most teams simply couldn't run the ball against San Francisco or were behind and forced to go through the air. The 'Niners are also a ball-hawking bunch, second in the league with 41 takeaways (23 INTs and 18 forced fumbles). Amazingly, the Packers were the most opportune, with 43 takeaways.

The New Orleans defense allowed 21.2 ppg and have jelled down the stretch in the regular season and shut down the Lions quite effectively in the second half last week.

For the 49ers, stopping Brees is job one and it's a tough task that not many teams have been able to accomplish. If Brees and the Saints' offense is successful on just less than half of their possessions (about 5 or 6), they are going to win this game, especially if Brees has the ball in the final two minutes. While 49er QB Alex Smith has been good, he doesn't have the accuracy or experience to match up with Breese, but he does have the defense to lean upon.

Another interesting angle is New Orleans on the road, on grass, where they were just 3-2, with losses at Green Bay and at Tampa Bay, and all four of their ATS losses were on the road, with two close wins, 30-27, at Carolina and 22-17, at Tennessee.

This is a huge challenge for the Saints and something to be concerned about. Considering the quality of san Francisco's defense, the Saints - perfect at home - may meet their Waterloo in the City by the Bay.

Prediction: 49ers 34 Saints 31

--- Story continues below ---

Looking for the best NFL Handicapper? Good luck. Most of them suck.

8:00 pm Denver Broncos at New England Patriots (-13 1/2, 50) - Two huge trends will converge in this divisional showcase: the feeble Denver offense and the much-maligned (for good reason) New england defense.

The Broncos were 25th in the league in scoring, coming in at just 19.3 points per game. Opposite them this Saturday will be the New England defense, which allowed 21.4 points per game, but was second-worst in the league in total yards allowed (411.1) and second-worst in the NFL in pass defense, giving up an average of 293.8. Only the Packers were worse against the pass (299.8).

The idea that Tim Tebow doesn't throw well was put to rest in Denver's stunning, 29-23 OT win over the Steelers last week. Tebow was just 10-for-21 throwing the ball, but his receivers helped him rack up 316 yards, 80 of it on Demaryius Thomas' 80-yard game-winner on the first play from scrimmage in overtime.

Tebow will have to improve on his throwing mechanics, but that's an argument for next season. For now, suffice it to say that the Heisman winner out of Florida will have a game plan that provides him with opportunities downfield, though New England will likely counter with a nickel defense on third and long situations.

Still, it's first and second down that the Patriots should be more worried about. Tebow can run the option, throw or hand the ball off to Willis McGahee, who has been effective all season in traffic.

For the Patriots, their offense will be guided by the usually-strong hand of Tom Brady, who had another outstanding season, throwing for 5235 with 39 TD strikes and 12 picks. Brady was sacked 32 times this season, a high number for a team that relies so heavily on its quarterback, and Denver proved that they can apply pressure, sacking Ben Roethlisberger five times last week, though the Pittsburgh QB was hampered and hobbled by a high ankle sprain.

Nonetheless, Denver has plenty of motivation, though their defense (24.4 ppg) is not among the NFL's strongest.

Tebow's magic was nowhere to be found in the first meeting between these two teams, a 41-23 New England win on December 18 in Denver. In that game, Tebow was 11 for 22 for 194 yards with no TDs or picks, but Vrady hit on 23 of 34 passes for 320 yards and two TDs without throwing a pick. At home in Foxboro, Brady may be even more deadly against a defense he's already conquered.

There were three turnovers in that game, all by Denver. Tebow fumbled once, but backup running back Lance Ball coughed it up twice. If Denver can keep the miscues to a minimum, they should be able to keep the score close.

Two TDs (the likely line by game time) is a lot in a pressure-packed playoff situation and Tebow's desire and faith should make this one much closer than the two teams' previous meeting. In the end, however, the Broncos will go home losers while the Patriots advance.

Prediction: Patriots 30 Broncos 23

All times Eastern - Click here for late games

Copyright 2011, 2012, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.


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