2012 NFL Playoff Predictions: Upset Odds for Every Divisional Playoff Game
Many people assume the NFL Final Four will be Packers vs. Saints, and Patriots vs. Ravens.
But how likely will there be an upset this weekend?
In an earlier piece, I opined on who I thought would have big postseasons. It's time to take the next logical step in the progression by predicting this weekend's results.
What are we waiting for? Let's dive in.
New Orleans over San Francisco, 24-17
All of the Saints losses have been on the road, including to the 2-14 Rams and the 4-12 Buccaneers. The Saints will play this weekend against the 49ers on the road.
While the 49ers are just 16th in the NFL in passing defense, they actually rank fifth in the NFC.
Combine the Saints road play with the 49ers solid pass defense and you get a game that won't be the runaway scoring binge that most people predict for the Saints.
San Francisco is tied for second in interceptions and tied for seventh in sacks, so don't be surprised if the Saints offense encounters some speed bumps.
That said, the 49ers offense will be challenged to put points on the board.
Frank Gore is the only sustaining element for the San Francisco attack, and if the Saints—who rank a respectable 12th in rush defense—can contain Gore, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith will be hard-pressed to outscore the Saints.
New Orleans scoring will be down compared to the average 44.3 points they've put on the board the last four weeks. But it still won't be down enough for San Francisco to outscore.
Upset odds for the 49ers: 15%
New England over Denver, 27-24
The last time these teams met, the Patriots came from behind to cruise past the Broncos 41-23 in Week 15.
But anyone who understands football knows the past is not a reliable predictor of the future.
This time, Denver will be missing wide receiver Eric Decker. This should make it easier for the Patriots to focus on Demaryius Thomas in the secondary.
So why do I expect this game to be closer?
Despite all the focus on quarterback Tim Tebow, the key for the Broncos attack will be Willis McGahee. New England is an average rush defense (17th in the league) and if the Broncos can sustain drives with McGahee, they can keep the Patriots offense off the field longer.
And Tebow made several big-play, professional throws last week against the top-ranked defense in the league in Pittsburgh. That bodes well for Denver's rematch against the 31st-ranked pass defense.
Speaking of defense, Denver can contain Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker with cornerback Champ Bailey. And the Denver defense will be more prepared to game plan for the short drops that Patriots QB Tom Brady used in Week 15 to neutralize Elvis Dumervil.
The reason the Patriots will still prevail is that the Broncos still won't have a solution for the New England tight ends.
In Week 15, the Patriots exploited Denver's choice to put rookie safety Quinton Carter often on Aaron Hernandez. This time, expect Rob Gronkowski to give the Broncos matchup problems.
Upset odds for Denver: 35%.
Houston over Baltimore, 20-13
As I mentioned in my article on 5 Stars Due For Monster Postseasons, I know Baltimore made Arian Foster a non-factor in their Week 6 matchup.
But this time, the Texans have stud wide receiver Andre Johnson, which will key in preventing the Baltimore defense from loading up in the box to stop Foster.
You can bet the Ravens will try to bring the heat on rookie Houston quarterback T.J. Yates to try and create turnovers. But Yates is a fundamentally-sound quarterback, and better than your average rookie QB.
In that Week 6 matchup, Ravens RB Ray Rice ran wild. This time, expect the Texans, ranked fourth in rush defense, to emphasize putting the clamps on Rice. This will force underachieving Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to bail out the offense.
While rookie Baltimore wideout Torrey Smith is very talented, so is Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green, whom the Texans were able to control.
Upset odds for the Texans: 75%
Packers over Giants, 31-27
These teams met in Week 13, with the Packers narrowly winning 38-35 at the Meadowlands. But as we astute football analysts know, the past is not a reliable predictor of future performance.
This time, the Packers will have left tackle Chad Clifton and right tackle Bryan Bulaga. Receiver Greg Jennings will be back from his knee injury as well, so Green Bay will be at full strength.
The Giants have the offensive weapons to keep up with the Packers. Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham can match Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley.
New York has an advantage in the running game, which could prove to be an important factor in keeping Rodgers and Co. off the field—if the Packers cannot contain Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs.
That said, the Packers run defense (14th overall) is much stronger than their pass defense (dead last in the league), so it's not certain the Giants will be able to run the ball effectively.
The G-Men have a stronger defense, as New York demonstrated by shutting out Atlanta's offense last week with an aggressive pass rush.
However, the Packers at full strength are a very dangerous offensive team against any defense. And home field advantage could possibly be the deciding factor.
Upset odds for the Giants: 45%.