NFL Playoffs

NFL Divisional Storylines and Predictions: Faith Kneelers and Lambeau Leapers

NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 28:  Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 28, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Jeffrey BoswellAnalyst IJanuary 12, 2012

Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.

New Orleans @ San Francisco (+3½)

The Saints piled up 626 yards of total offense, including 466 passing from Drew Brees, in Saturday's 45-28 rout of the Lions. That earned New Orleans a visit to Candlestick Park, where the No. 2-seeded and well-rested 49ers await.

"There's only one thing that can stop our offense," Sean Payton said, "and that's the goal line. We're in more end zones than goal posts. The only thing that can slow us is an act of God, and since all of God's power is currently tied up in the Denver Broncos, I think we're safe. Who's more mighty? The potent one, Brees, leading our offense, or the omnipotent one, God, leading the Broncos? No offense to the Almighty, but Brees is the Saint of saints.

"To say our offense will be slowed by Candlestick's turf is absurd. It's apparently true what they say — grass does impair your judgment. We're not going to change anything in San Francisco, except our shoes."

The 49ers head man, and likely coach of the year Jim Harbaugh, will have to considerably slow the Saints offense to have any chance of advancing to the conference championship game. San Fran will also need to score more than the 24 points per game it averaged during the regular season.

"Compared to the New Orleans offense," Harbaugh said, "our offense is fairly rudimentary. Not only could Vince Young run this offense, he could coordinate it. There are those that say watching our offense is like watching grass grow. Ironically, growing grass may be our best weapon against the Saints offense. Not only are some players growing a playoff beard, our field is, too.

BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 24:  Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers looks on from the sidelines durnig the second half against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on November 24, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Ima
Rob Carr/Getty Images

"Among defensive coordinators, Gregg Williams is one of the most aggressive play callers in the NFL. Of course, it's easy to be aggressive defensively when you're playing with a double-digit lead. It will be different when they're the ones trailing. We plan to find out how the Saints react to being down 3-0, or 6-0, or 9-0, or 12-0."

The Saints/49ers clash promises to be a tale of two halves. No, I'm not talking about Ronnie Lott's left pinkie finger and Tom Dempsey's right foot. But a first half controlled by the 49ers, and a second half controlled by the Saints. San Fran has the best kicking game in the NFL, with all-pro kicker David Akers and all-pro punter Andy Lee. However, the more the 49ers can keep these two off the field, by limiting punts and scoring touchdowns instead of settling for 21-yard field goals, the better their chances.

San Fran draws first blood, scoring on its first possession when Alex Smith finds Vernon Davis for an 11-yard TD strike. The 49ers take a 13-10 lead into halftime.

To start the second half, 'Frisco tries an onside kick that fails miserably, covered out of bounds by Payton himself, giving the Saints a short field. Brees capitalizes quickly, hitting Marques Colston from 31 yards out. New Orleans keeps the 49ers at 'Bay' from there.

Saints win, 26-20.

Denver @ New England (-13½)

The Broncos shocked the Steelers on the first play of overtime, winning on Tim Tebow's 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas, giving Denver a 29-23 win and another shot at the Patriots. For the game, Tebow was 10-of-21 for 316 yards and two touchdowns.

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 08:  Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos looks to pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 8, 2012 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Im
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

"That took the wind right out of Pittsburgh's sails," John Fox said. "The Steelers have the 'Immaculate Reception.' Now, we have the 'Emasculate Deflation.' I'm at a loss for words, if for no other reason than I've eliminated blasphemy for my vocabulary recently. Wow! Eighty yards in one play. A few weeks ago, that would have taken two games.

"I'm not sure why people are so surprised by our resurgent offense. It's not uncommon for a team to add a new wrinkle in the postseason. Who knew that new wrinkle would be a passing game?"

The Patriots have the offense to score on anybody, complemented by a defense that anybody can score on. New England averaged 428 yards of offense per game, second in the league, while their defense surrendered 411 yards per game, 31st in the league.

"We've heard the terms 'bend' and 'break' much too often," Tom Brady said. "In our case, the defense does the bending, and our offense does the 'breaking.'

"I'm familiar with the concept of the 'hand of God' influencing games. There should be a rule against that. I believe in the separation of church and the state of Colorado. Heck, the NFL made the "Tuck Rule,' which banned the 'hand of Charles Woodson' from influencing games. And since we're playing an AFC West opponent, in Foxboro, in the divisional round, I think it's a good time for another rule that benefits only the Patriots.

"I urge all Patriots fans to generously liquor themselves up for Saturday's game. If the 'spirit' can move the Broncos, then, by all means, the 'spirits' should move the Patriots. Obviously, the best way to combat Tebow and the Broncos is to 'give 'em hell.'"

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 1:   Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Suffice it to say Bill Belichick won't defend Tebow the way he did in New England's Week 15 41-23 win in Denver. That would be too obvious. Belichick always has a trick up his sleeve, not to mention several bootleg videotapes, courtesy of his new best friend Josh McDaniels.

The Broncos strike first after forcing a Wes Welker fumble, when Tebow scores on an eight-yard quarterback sneak. It's 7-0 Denver, and Tebow-mania reaches its peak, proof of which comes when the skies open up and it rains cats and dogs, all wearing Tebow jerseys.

However, the Patriots score the next 17 points, and maintain a comfortable cushion thereafter. Brady throws for 316 yards and three touchdowns, and Tebow and company are cast out of New England.

New England wins, 34-23.

Houston @ Baltimore (-7)

The Texans captured their first playoff victory with a commanding 31-10 win over Cincinnati last Saturday, led by 153 yards rushing and two touchdowns from Arian Foster. Sunday's divisional showdown is a rematch of Baltimore's Week 5 29-14 win over the Texans.

"We were a different team then," Foster said. "We were better. And so were the Ravens. But we don't fear the Baltimore defense. Ray Lewis may look and sound the same, but he's not playing like the old Ray Lewis. He's playing like an old Ray Lewis. Ray's lost a step, but only on the field. His pre-game dance routine is still top-notch. Of course, I wouldn't tell him that to his face, but I can surely depict that in my new hairdo."

The Ravens host a playoff game for the first time since 2007, and, with a win, could host the AFC championship game should the Broncos upset the Patriots.

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 07:  Arian Foster #23 of the Houston Texans celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the AFC Wildcard Playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals on January 7, 2012 at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Get
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

"Should the Broncos beat the Patriots," John Harbaugh said, "we'd be the last line of defense to prevent a Broncos/Texans AFC title game. That should earn us thousands of fans. That's what I call 'incentive to win.'

"Make no mistake. We plan to make T.J. Yates beat us. We just hope he's the only quarterback that plays like a rookie on Sunday."

The Ravens bring the pressure, blitzing Yates from all angles, and true to his inexperienced nature, he freezes and forgets to move his feet, proving that he truly is a Tar Heel. Yates is overwhelmed and underwhelming.

Baltimore sacks Yates three times, takes an early lead, and rides the Ray Rice ground attack to the AFC title game.

Ravens win, 27-13.

NY Giants @ Green Bay (-9)

The Giants dominated the Falcons 24-2 to advance to face the Packers at Lambeau Field for a rematch of Green Bay's Week 13 38-35 victory in MetLife Stadium. New York's offense is clicking, their defense is bullying opposing offenses, and the team is brimming with confidence.

"Indeed," Tom Coughlin said. "We're hitting on all cylinders, which is great in everything except Russian roulette. But please, let's keep the references to firearms to a minimum, although a comparison between 'one in the chamber' and Plaxico Burress would be super-awesome.

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 01:  Terrell Suggs #55 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates a defensive play during the NFL game against  the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

"Jason Pierre-Paul has already predicted a Giants victory. Of course, we know all about guarantees made by New York teams—they're not worth the paper they're not written on. In other words, they're worthless. Finally, there's something to thank Rex Ryan for. But now we all have no choice but to follow Jason's lead now. That makes him the 'Pierre'd Piper.'"

The 15-1 Packers open defense of their 2010 Super Bowl crown with a healthy and rested squad supported by the faithful of Lambeau Field, where temperatures are forecast to be in the teens on Sunday.

"I don't mind the elements at all," Aaron Rodgers said. "And speaking of 'elements,' my favorite ones on the 'Aaron Rodgers Periodic Table' are 'M,' 'V,' and 'P.' Sure, there's no 'M' on the real periodic table. Likewise, there's no Drew Brees in the real MVP vote.

"I understand the Giants think they can beat us. I give them credit for what they've accomplished this year. Nine regular season wins is impressive, but people were telling us that in early November. I'll also happily give them use of my 'title belt' touchdown celebration. Heck, I'll gladly offer them State Farm 'Discount Double Check' policy review. They'll need it, when their bandwagon hits a wall."

Indeed, Rodgers is a success, commercial and otherwise. But can he avoid the New York front four's rush? Of course he can. Rodgers may be the NFL's best at throwing on the run. But he can't do it all. Otherwise, he'd be playing defense for the Packers, as well. Offensively, though, he can't be stopped.

Green Bay wins, 30-24.

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