Giants vs. Packers Showdown: NFL Divisional Playoffs Picks and Keys to Victory

Michael Nargi@NargOnSportsSenior Analyst IJanuary 13, 2012

Giants vs. Packers Showdown: NFL Divisional Playoffs Picks and Keys to Victory

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    The Elite Eight is upon us in the NFL. After four games this weekend, we will have the Conference Championship matchups set.

    In the NFC, we have some of the best teams in football remaining, while the AFC has a few teams that are not used to playing in mid-Janaury. 

    Home teams should be on the lookout. There are potential upsets brewing in the divisional round.

New Orleans Saints vs. San Francisco 49ers

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    The New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers face each other in one of the most interesting matchups of the weekend.

    The 49ers lead the league in rushing defense. They have allowed only 77 yards per game on the ground.

    The Saints have one of the most dynamic offensive attacks in the league. They are first in passing yards, compiling 334 yards per game. They are explosive on the ground as well, ranking sixth in rushing yards with 133 yards per game.

    The Saints will need to break through the 49ers defense if they want to win on the road.

How New Orleans Wins

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    The Saints will need to execute in the passing game as they have all year. The Saints have mixed the running game in very well all season.

    Against the 49ers they have to step their game up while running the ball. San Francisco has the best rushing defense. Brees will have to throw screens to the backs to use his backfield effectively.

    Their rushing defense is 12th in the league, allowing almost 109 yards per game. Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter will test them on the ground.

    The Saints have to shut down the running game and force the 49ers to throw the ball.

    The Saints match up well with the 49ers because New Orleans has a bad passing defense but the 49ers do not pass for huge number. It will be hard for San Francisco to take advantage of it.

How San Francisco Wins

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    The San Francisco 49ers must continue to limit Alex Smith. They are 29th in the league with only 183 yards per game. However, the backfield averages 128 yards a game. 

    Frank Gore has been resting for quite some time now. He has not been used as much as he was during the main stretch of the season. Hopefully for the 49ers, he has his legs under him and produces as he did during the middle of the year. 

    San Francisco has to contain Chris Ivory, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles out of the backfield. The 49ers have a tremendous rushing defense and will have their hands full this week. If the 49ers stay true to the stellar defense that they have had all year, then the Saints will need to put it all on the arm of Drew Brees.

    Stop Jimmy Graham. The Saints tight end will need to be contained if there is any chance for the 49ers.

    Drew Brees will challenge the 49ers in the air. San Francisco has to defend the pass better than they have all year. They have allowed 231 yards per game passing this season. If they limit Brees to only throw for 231 yards, then San Francisco will be on their way to the Conference Championships.

Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots

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    When we look back at the matchup earlier this season against Denver, the Patriots fell behind early and were able to get back in the game due to Denver miscues.

    The Broncos lost three fumbles and allowed the Patriots to easily take the lead in the game.

    While still leading 16-14, Denver lost a fumble which led to a field goal to give the Patriots a 17-16 lead.

    On the following drive, they fumbled again, resulting in a New England touchdown to take a 24-16 lead, and New England never looked back.

    The Patriots have lost back-to-back games at home in the playoffs.

    What will the Broncos need to do to continue New England's losing streak?

How Denver Wins

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    The Broncos attacked the best passing defense in the NFL last Sunday. Denver will face the second-worst pass defense on Saturday.

    Tebow will look to have success passing as he did against the Steelers. If he can complete a few big passes early, then the running game will be more effective, and the Patriots will be on their heels on defense.

    Denver will try to keep the Patriots off balance on defense, in order to open up lanes for Tebow, Willis McGahee and Lance Ball.

    If Denver cleans up their play from the last time they faced each other, they will stay in the game longer which could set up another Tim Tebow game-winning drive.

    Denver's defense has to make plays in this game. They are certainly capable of making a few big plays. We have seen Brady implode this year and let things get away quickly, as he did against the Buffalo Bills in Week 3. By the time he turned it around, it was too late.

    If they can force mistakes, then it will take some of the pressure off of the Denver offense.

How New England Wins

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    Tome Brady needs to bury the Broncos quickly. He certainly is capable of it. If the Broncos stick around, then it will allow for the possibility of another Tebow comeback. The Patriots offense can put points up quickly and if they do, they could take the Broncos out of the game.

    The 17th-ranked rushing defense of the Patriots will have to contain the best rushing offense in the league. In the first matchup this year, the Broncos combined for 252 yards rushing and three touchdowns. 

    Although the Patriots are getting players back on defense, they will still be challenged to keep the Broncos rushing yards to a minimum. If they give up 250-plus yards again in rushing, they might not be able to pull off the win again.

    At times, the Patriots look awful on defense. If they allow the Broncos to pick them apart, as Tebow did last week against the Steelers, then it could be disastrous for New England. Defense will be key in this game. A good performance and New England can come out on top.

    For a more in-depth look at this game, visit here.

Houston Texans vs. Baltimore Ravens

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    These two teams met back in Week 6 and the Baltimore Ravens came out victorious, 29-14.

    The Houston Texans only trailed 16-14 going in to the fourth quarter, but the Texans struggled to get many yards as the clock wound down.

    After Houston tallied 42 yards in the first drive of the fourth, they were only able to gain 26 yards on their final three drives. All while the Ravens put up 13 points in the final quarter.

    Ray Rice ran for 62 of his 101 yards in the fourth quarter.

    This week, the Texans will look for different results.

How Houston Wins

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    The Texans can win this game if they control Ray Rice. They will need to limit his damage out of the backfield. In addition to the 101 yards rushing, he had 60 yards on five catches in their first matchup.

    Houston needs to flex Wade Philips' defensive muscles this week. The Texans went from being one of the worst defensive teams to being one of the best in the entire NFL. They have the third-best passing defense and fourth-best rushing defense. If they stay true to these numbers, they will beat the Ravens.

    Arian Foster and Ben Tate need to step up their game and find a way past Baltimore's defense. In a game that the Texans kept close, both running backs were held to under 50 yards rushing apiece. Although Foster added 52 yards receiving, it is imperative they play a bigger role running the ball, especially now that T.J. Yates is the quarterback.

    T.J. Yates has to be smart with the football. Last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, he only threw 20 times, completing 11 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown. If his running backs are productive, then he won't have to worry about throwing the ball more than he should. He has a good arm, however, so if he needs to make a play he should be able to.

How Baltimore Wins

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    Baltimore needs to stop Foster and Tate. I question the ability of their defense, even though they are second in the league in rushing yards allowed. If they limit the running backs to under 100 yards, then they should win this game easily.

    Ray Rice needs to be Ray Rice. Rice's rushing touchdowns have all come in Baltimore wins this season, so he is clearly pivotal to the team's outcome.

    He averages 4.7 yards per attempt rushing and 9.3 yards per catch receiving. If he lives up to these numbers, against a very good defense, then the Ravens win.

    Joe Flacco has to step up. In Baltimore's wins, he has 15 touchdowns and six interceptions, compared to five touchdowns and six interceptions in their losses. An efficient Flacco depends greatly on Ray Rice's productivity. With one comes the other and if the Ravens have both working then good things will come.

New York Giants vs. Green Bay Packers

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    The rematch from Week 13 is set. The New York Giants look to avenge the loss at home in early December to the Green Bay Packers.

    The previous game was thrilling as Aaron Rodgers stormed downfield and the Giants defense collapsed in the final 58 seconds.

    The Giants defense is healthier now and they have one of the best defensive lines in the league. If they were healthy in December, perhaps the three-point margin might have went the other way. 

How New York Wins

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    The Giants can win this game if Eli Manning matches Aaron Rodgers. Manning is pivotal to the Giants success.

    In New York's 10 wins this season, he has had 21 touchdowns and four interceptions. In their seven losses, he has 11 touchdowns and 12 interception.

    He clearly carries the team when they win and shoulders the blame when they lose.

    New York's running backs need to help balance the offense. Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw have been complementing each other well in the last month of the season.

    Jacobs, the more physical runner, ran for 92 yards on 14 carries last week. If he does this again, along with a good performance by Bradshaw, they can win this game. Especially if there is bad weather during the game.

    The Giants defense has to contain Rogers. They will be able to get to Rodgers and sack him. If they can force a turnover, they will be in good shape.

    New York has a superb defensive line that will be able to get through, it will just be a matter of how often.

    For more on why the Giants can win the Super Bowl, visit here.

How Green Bay Wins

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    Aaron Rodgers needs to alter the game plan early, if they are not getting it done. When they lost to Kansas City, they looked to have been out of sync and it was not fixed until the fourth quarter. If they have difficulties against the Giants, they need to address the issues sooner than the fourth quarter.

    If there is snow in the forecast, they might need to try the running game.

    The running backs for the Packers will need to have a good game. Starks is still dealing with an ankle injury meaning that Ryan Grant will have to take the reigns. Grant will have to keep the offense balanced if Starks is limited.

    The Packers biggest objective for Green Bay's defense will be to limit big plays. They lead the league with 71 plays allowed over 20 yards.

    Eli Manning and the arsenal of receivers will benefit tremendously if the secondary does not contain them. Last time they played, the Giants had four big plays. This will need to be fixed this week.

    For more on why Green Bay may fall short, visit here.

Divisional Round Picks and Spreads

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    The Conference Championships next week will be settled by Sunday night. When all the dust settles, I think there will be the potential for upsets throughout the NFL.

    There are plenty of points being given this weekend with the spread and I will take the points in all of the games.

    New Orleans Saints (-4) are going to be challenged. I think that they win this game, but it will be settled by a field goal.

    Denver Broncos (+14) are not being given enough credit. They are in the second round of the playoffs. To be two-touchdown underdogs shows no respect for what they have done this season.  

    Houston Texans (+9) are the most likely to pull of the upset this weekend. I think they go in to Baltimore and win.

    New York Giants (+7.5) can get it done on the road as well. They will keep this game closer than the nine points they are being given. New York should win this game. They are the hottest team in the playoffs right now and can get it done in Lambeau.

    My Picks: 49ers (+4), Broncos (+14), Texans (+9), Giants (+7.5)