NFL Playoff Picks Against the Spread: Divisional Round

Ralph Longo@https://twitter.com/RalphLongoAnalyst IIIJanuary 9, 2012

NFL Playoff Picks Against the Spread: Divisional Round

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    The Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs has arrived. We have a great matchup on Saturday afternoon, with the New Orleans offense facing up against the stalwart 49ers defense. On Saturday night, you have the media circus that is the Denver (Tebows) Broncos coming to Foxboro to face the Pats.

    Sunday, Houston faces Baltimore and the Giants, fresh off a big win over the Falcons, head to Lambeau Field to square up against Aaron Rodgers and the near-perfect Packers. It's a great slate of games, so here are my picks for this week against the spread.  

Pick NEW ORLEANS -3.5 vs San Francisco

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    I have to admit, this has been the toughest game for me to pick of all the games this weekend. Honestly, it's going to come down to whether or not Alex Smith can keep up with Drew Brees. I figure the Saints should score around 24-28 points against the 49ers defense, which has played very, very well all year. 

    What worries me is that I feel like the 49ers will fall behind in this game at some point, and I don't think that Smith will be good enough to rally them back. Smith could end up making mistakes down the stretch to cost the 49ers the game.

    The 49ers defense is perhaps the best we've seen in the last 10 years against the run, but they're only mediocre against the pass. Brees and the Saints don't need to run the ball; they'll throw 60 times if they have to. 

    It's very tempting to say this game will be decided by a field goal or less, which would mean taking San Francisco with the spread, but I just see the Saints pulling away late and winning by a touchdown in a competitive game.

    The 49ers turn the ball over at an extremely low rate, but I don't see them scoring enough to keep up with a New Orleans team that is really hitting its stride on offense right now and seems unstoppable at the moment. 

Pick NEW ENGLAND -13.5 vs Denver

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    This game should be labeled the New England Patriots against the Denver Tebows, because that's how the media sees it. Denver is coming into New England fresh off a monumental overtime victory against the Steelers in which they scored 29 points against an excellent Pittsburgh defense.

    However, they're about to run into a wall this weekend against the Patriots.

    Say all you want about the New England defense. Yes, they give up a lot of yards every game, but they are very good at forcing turnovers. I see Bill Belichick coming up with some sort of defensive scheme that will have Tebow's head spinning and will cause him to turn the ball over at least twice through the air, and perhaps more on the ground.

    If the Patriots defense steps up, which I expect them too, it's simply a matter of the offense playing the way they always do. Last time these teams met, New England scored 41 points.

    I think it's not out of the question that they'll score even more than that this time.

    They're fresh and well rested, and going against a Denver defense on short rest, which should decimate the Broncos. I think Brady will throw for 400 yards and 4 TDs, in a game that the Patriots will easily cover and win by three touchdowns in Foxboro.  

Pick HOUSTON +7.5 vs. Baltimore

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    This game is also very tough to pick. Houston is coming off the first playoff win in franchise history against the Bengals. I thought Houston looked great against Cincy. Their pass rush was tremendous and the offense was very solid. I also though their defensive backs played great. 

    The Texans are a very hard team to beat by more than a touchdown due to their solid defensive play and excellent rushing attack. Add a finally-healthy Andre Johnson in there and the Texans are tough to stop.

    Now, the Ravens are no slouches, either, and are going to be well-rested coming into this game. Ray Rice has been tremendous this year, and he should have a big game. 

    I think that it all comes down to whether Houston can defend well enough to force Joe Flacco to make bad decisions and turn the ball over, while taking care of the ball themselves. I see this one coming down to a last-second field goal for either team—I really think it's a toss-up game.

    Due to this belief, I'm rolling with the Texans all day against the spread. 

Pick NEW YORK GIANTS +8 vs. Green Bay

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    The Giants played awesome football against the Falcons this past weekend. The Falcons were flat out embarrassed in the Meadowlands, essentially shut out by the Giants defense.

    The main reason you should pick the Giants is for that reason; their defense has looked outstanding and is finally hitting their peak as the Divisional Round rolls around. 

    Yes, the Packers and Aaron Rodgers have a great offense, perhaps even better than the Saints'. Their defense has shown vulnerability, though, and with the Giants' receivers putting up huge numbers and the running duo of Bradshaw and Jacobs tearing through defenses, I think that a possible upset is brewing at Lambeau field this weekend. 

    If Eli Manning can continue to play as well as he has been, the Giants can definitely win and will easily cover the spread. If Manning plays poorly, the Giants risk being blown out. I'll take the former and say Manning plays well but the Giants lose by a field goal. Still, though, they'll cover this weekend against the Packers.