NFL Playoff Predictions: 25 Surprises You Can Bet On in the Next Round

Matt Stein@MatthewJSteinCorrespondent IIJanuary 11, 2012

NFL Playoff Predictions: 25 Surprises You Can Bet On in the Next Round

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    To say that the NFL playoffs are full of surprises would be like saying that Peanut M&Ms are full of chocolaty deliciousness. It isn't just a statement—it's a scientific fact.

    The Wild Card Round was full of surprises, including Tim Tebow, the Houston Texans and the absolute shutting down of the Atlanta Falcons.

    Here are 25 surprises you can bet on for the next round of the 2012 NFL playoffs.

Tim Tebow Throws for over 350 Yards

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    When did Tim Tebow learn to pass the football?

    If he can completely tear apart the best pass defense in the NFL in the Pittsburgh Steelers, he should have a field day against the New England Patriots. I was almost tempted to put that Tebow would throw for 400 yards, but then I realized I need to slow down.

    However, 350 yards is certainly a task as Tebow looks to continue his brilliant season. 

Tom Brady Doesn't Throw for 300 Yards

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    While Ben Roethlisberger is no Tom Brady, the Denver Broncos did a fantastic job at slowing down Big Ben, and I fully expect them to do the same to Mr. Brady.

    This will mostly happen because of pressure (which I'll cover later), and the ability of a rather underrated secondary. Champ Bailey showed against the Pittsburgh Steelers that he is still extremely capable of making plays in coverage, and their young players have really stepped up.

    I still think the New England Patriots will win this game, but it will be an ugly and low-scoring win.

The Denver Broncos Record at Least 5 Sacks

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    Von Miller has been an absolute beast this year.

    Elvis Dumervil is one of the better pass rushers in the league.

    They combined for two sacks against the Pittsburgh Steelers, while the team recorded a total of five sacks. Don't be surprised to see them have similar success at getting after Tom Brady in the Divisional round.

There Are at Least Four Turnovers Between the Patriots and Broncos

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    First let me say that while I believe Tim Tebow will throw for over 350 yards, I also think he will throw at least three interceptions. On the road, away from away and against the top-seeded team in the AFC will cause a man to throw some interceptions.

    With that said, I also expect Tom Brady to throw at least one interception, and a fumble or two is also a definite possibility.

Rob Gronkowski Doesn't Catch a TD Pass

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    No tight end caught more touchdown passes than Rob Gronkowski did this year. Heck, no wide receiver caught more touchdown passes than Gronkowski.

    However, the Denver Broncos will stop him from finding the end zone Saturday evening. A big reason why Denver will have success against the heavenly red-zone target is because of their ability to get pressure on Tom Brady and because of D.J. Williams.

    Their pressure will cause Gronkowski to stay in protection more often than usual, and Williams is a talented linebacker in coverage.

There Are No Rushing Touchowns in New England/Denver Game

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    This is going to be an aerial game between the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos.

    While Tom Brady won't throw for 300 yards, and Rob Gronkowski won't catch a touchdown pass, I still expect every score to either come from a field goal, defensive touchdown or touchdown pass. 

    Brady will have numerous of them (at least four) and Tebow will only have one or two. Still, no team will have a rushing touchdown in the game.

Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers Combine for over 700 Passing Yards

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    In their Week 13 matchup, Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers combined for 716 passing yards. I fully expect them to surpass that total in their Divisional Round matchup.

    These are two of the hottest offenses in the playoffs, and they should combine to put up a ton of yards and points. If you want to see an offensive onslaught, look no further than the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants on Sunday.

New York and Green Bay Combine for Eight Passing Touchdowns

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    These two teams' first meeting saw Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers combine for seven touchdown passes, so one more isn't really that crazy.

    This is going to be a game that is won through the air, and both Manning and Rodgers have the ability to do that. It will also be a great showing of breakthrough receivers in Jordy Nelson and Victor Cruz.

    Whichever quarterback/receiver combo has the bigger game will likely come out on top.

Neither Aaron Rodgers or Eli Manning Throw an Interception

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    Not only will there be a plethora of touchdowns thrown in the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers game, but there will be a surprising absence of interceptions.

    We all know how good Aaron Rodgers can protect the ball, and Eli Manning has definitely gotten better this year in that area. Even with two good defenses at creating turnovers, I see these two teams and quarterbacks playing very clean football.

Clay Matthews Has More Sacks Than Jason Pierre-Paul

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    It wouldn't be out of place to say that Clay Matthews had a disappointing season in the sack category. Sure, his overall game improved, but we didn't see the double-digit sacks that we are used to seeing.

    On the other side of the field, Jason Pierre-Paul had one of the most impressive defensive seasons in the NFL. He was a constant bother to opposing quarterbacks.

    Even though Pierre-Paul was better during the regular season, Matthews is going to be more disruptive in this game. He's poised for a breakout game, and Matthews brings his best stuff during the biggest games.

No Running Back in Green Bay/New York Game Rushes for 50 Yards

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    This may no be surprising for the Green Bay Packers because of the fact that they run so little, but for the New York Giants, who use Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs frequently, it is extremely surprising.

    Since this game is likely to become a shootout, neither team will look to give the ball to their running backs on the ground much after the first quarter. It's going to be the "Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers Show", and all others will take a back seat, especially both team's running backs.

The Packers Win by Only a Field Goal Again

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    In their first meeting, the Green Bay Packers won by three points thanks to a last minute drive from Aaron Rodgers.

    In Lambeau Field, the outcome will be eerily similar. My final score prediction is 34-31, and while they may not win on a last second field goal like they did in Week 13, they will win by only three points.

T.J. Yates Pees His Pants on the First Play

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    I'm only kidding here.

    But seriously, the thought of facing the Baltimore Ravens' defense as a rookie quarterback is pretty frightening, right?

Arian Foster Runs for 100+ Yards Again

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    Against the Cincinnati Bengals, Arian Foster proved that he has become one of the best running backs in the NFL. He had 153 yards and two touchdowns in the Wild Card round.

    With the Baltimore Ravens next on his plate, Foster will once again gain over 100 rushing yards. Unfortunately, he won't find the end zone (I'll explain later), but he will still have an impressive day running the ball against another stout defense.

Joe Flacco Throws More Interceptions Than Touchdowns

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    Joe Flacco has had quite the up-and-down season this year, and his struggles will continue in his first playoff game of 2012.

    He threw 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in the regular season, but against the Houston Texans' much-improved secondary, he will struggle mightily. 

    My prediction is that he'll finish with one touchdown pass and two interceptions.

Houston Scores More Touchdowns Defensively Than Offensively

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    I see the final score of this matchup ending 20-10 in favor of the Baltimore Ravens.

    Since Arian Foster won't be scoring the touchdown for the Houston Texans, I'm expecting it to come on the defensive side of the football.

    Whether that is J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing or Jonathan Joseph, I don't know, but I fully believe that Houston will be scoring one defensive touchdown and zero offensive touchdowns against the Ravens.

Ray Rice Has over 200 Total Yards on Offense

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    Not only is Ray Rice a dominating force on the ground, but he is almost as dangerous as a receiver. 

    With Joe Flacco struggling against the Houston Texans, look for Rice to be used quite frequently throughout the game. He'll completely dominate the game as his dual-threat ability is on full display.

    Two hundred yards, and one of the best individual playoff performances, will happen for Rice this weekend.

Andre Johnson Has Less Than 5 Receptions

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    In his first career playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Andre Johnson had five receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown.

    After waiting his entire career for this moment, Johnson took full advantage with a very impressive game. However, against the experienced Baltimore Ravens' defense, Johnson will be completely shutdown. 

    He will struggle to get open all game long, and will finish will less than five receptions.

The Baltimore Ravens Double-Up the Houston Texans

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    The Baltimore Ravens are clearly the favored team against the Houston Texans, and at home, in cold weather, they should have a dominant day against Houston.

    I'm predicting a final score of 20-10 in favor of Baltimore, thanks to previously-spoken-of Ray Rice and a suffocating defense.

New Orleans Rushes for Under 40 Yards

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    There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the San Francisco 49ers have the best defense against the run in the NFL.

    They are so good that even New Orleans' running-back-by-committee approach won't have success against them. Neither Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas or Christopher Ivory will be able to get their game going against San Francisco.

    Look for Drew Brees to throw early and often against the 49ers.

The San Francisco 49ers Hold New Orleans to Under 30 Points

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    With the New Orleans Saints having one of the most potent offenses in the NFL, holding them under 30 points would be quite the feat. Considering that they've scored more than 40 points in their past four games, I'd say that holding them under 30 would actually be extremely incredible.

    That is exactly what the San Francisco 49ers are going to do to New Orleans and Drew Brees. Their defense is as talented as they come. They can put pressure on the quarterback, and have the personnel on their roster to cause some major issues.

    While I still see New Orleans winning this game, they won't do it by scoring more than 30 points.

Drew Brees Passes for Twice as Many Yards as Alex Smith

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    During the regular season, Drew Brees threw for 5,476 yards. Alex Smith, on the other hand, threw for only 3,144 yards. Even though he didn't do it in the regular season, Brees will throw for twice as many yards in the Divisional round.

    There are two reasons why this is going to happen. The first reason is that the New Orleans Saints love to throw the ball, and they will do it early and often. And the second reason is that the San Francisco 49ers are going to try and run the ball to control the clock.

    Those to factors will have Brees throwing for over 300 yards, and Smith throwing for somewhere around 150 yards.

Frank Gore Scores All of San Francisco's Touchdowns

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    Even though Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree have been big-time targets in the red zone for the San Francisco 49ers, Frank Gore is still going to be the one scoring all the touchdowns for San Francisco in this game.

    The 49ers are going to try and pound the ball on the ground, and Gore is almost guaranteed to find the end zone at least one or two times. Since this game won't be high scoring for San Francisco, Gore will be the only one to score for the 49ers.

Darren Sproles Gains Under 100 Yards from Scrimmage

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    Throughout the course of the regular season, Darren Sproles was a well-oiled machine at gaining yards. He did it through kick and punt returns, running the football and as a receiver.

    However, against the suffocating defense of the San Francisco 49ers, Sproles will not reach 100 yards of total offense. Sproles is going to be keyed-in on all game as the 49ers absolutely know just how dangerous he is.

    Without Sproles doing much damage offensively, look for guys like Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem to have a big game.

Patrick Willis Records More Than 15 Tackles

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    Many consider Patrick Willis to be the next Ray Lewis at middle linebacker in the NFL. To be honest, those comparisons aren't that far off.

    Willis was easily having the best season of his career before an injury derailed him late in the season. But with a few extra weeks of rest, Willis should be back to full strength and ready to get back to dominating opposing offenses.

    With the New Orleans Saints loving to run screen passes and hitting Jimmy Graham in the open field, Willis is going to need to have a monster game to keep New Orleans out of the end zone so frequently.

    While he will have one of the most impressive defensive playoff games in recent memory, it still won't be enough for the San Francisco 49ers to advance.