Last week's NFL Playoffs picks were a success. Our picks went 3-1, and everybody made money. The key to last week was going against the public in the Steelers-Broncos game (Tim Tebow, y'all!) and not being scared to lay a lot of points with the Saints. Remember these lessons: lay the points when necessary and go against the public.
This week, the teams are one step closer to the Super Bowl. The games mean more, the hits will be harder, the plays more incredible and the action more scrutinized. All lines come from SB Nation. Clear your schedules, it's Divisional Weekend.
New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers (+3.5): The action starts Saturday afternoon out west. Candlestick Park hasn't hosted a meaningful playoff game since the days of Steve Young (yes I'm ignoring the Terrell Owens/Jeff Garcia years). This crowd will be loud, or as loud as a bunch of people from San Francisco can be anyway.
This game matches teams with opposite profiles. San Francisco plays tough defense and runs the ball. New Orleans plays little defense while quarterback Drew Brees throws the ball all over the place. Offensively, the Saints have been a juggernaut over the last 10 weeks, but San Francisco comes in rested and focused.
Some coworkers in my building were talking about their Super Bowl picks, and everyone picked the Saints. When everyone thinks one thing, it's usually a good time to go the other way. The Saints' road record is dotted with ugly losses, and that offense likes speed and playing indoors.
The smart money says Niners linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman hit Saints players Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham in the mouth, slowing the Saints offense down. The real question mark is Niners quarterback Alex Smith. Smith has never played in a game of this magnitude, and I think he responds (until the NFC Championship).
Pick: 49ers 24, Saints 19
I like Tim Tebow and I root for him, but he remains a limited quarterback. Tebow made some great throws in last week's upset over Pittsburgh, but the Steelers also played an arrogant game. The Steelers dared Tebow to beat them over the top, and he did over and over.
Bill Belichick will not make the same mistake. The Hoodie understands his team's weakness in the secondary, and will play a deep zone inviting Tebow to hit his recievers. This will probably not happen, and an improved Patriots pass rush will hit Tebow and force mistakes. The Broncos will move the ball and put up solid running stats, but too many field goals for Denver will doom the team against the Patriots' offense.
Tom Brady wants this win, he almost needs this win. Critics love to point out the Pats haven't won a playoff game since a Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants a few years back. Brady will hang 40 on the Broncos, book it. It's a big number, I know that, but Vegas wants you to take the Broncos. Be happy we made money with Tebow last week, and this week watch Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez do the scoring.
Pick: Patriots 42, Broncos 23
Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens (-9): I hate this game. I have no idea what to think here. The Ravens are maddening, their offense cannot be trusted, but they are playing at home where they usually play well.
Last week, I had the Texans losing outright, showing no faith in T.J. Yates or the Texans' run game. I was wrong about the run game, and the Texans defense showed they belong in the conversation with the Steelers and 49ers about best defense in the league.
You'll notice I left out the Ravens' defense from that list. For years the Ravens had one of the best, if not the best, defense in the NFL. That is no longer the case. The Hall of Famers from that defense are old. That means Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Announcers don't like to say it, and Lewis dives on enough piles that he seems involved, but the Ravens are no longer an elite defense.
I think Baltimore will win, but I think this will be an ugly, low-scoring game dictated by running backs Arian Foster and Ray Rice. Take the Texans and the points.
Pick: Baltimore 26, Houston 20.
New York Giants at Green Bay Packers (-7.5): In Week 13, the Packers traveled to New Jersey to play the Giants. The Packers barely escaped with a 38-35 win, and Eli Manning and the Giants looked poised to start a late-season playoff run.
But, as Redskins fans know, the Giants lost to a 5-11 Washington team just two weeks later. Can you really trust a team that lost to the Redskins in Week 15 in a playoff game in Lambeau Field? The answer is no.
Everyone is talking about the rejuvenated Giant defensive line, which is legit, and Manning's impressive quarterback play. The public notion that the Giants will take down the Packers seems to have some merit.
But think about it. If the Giants are in prime position to take down the Packers, why is Vegas begging people to put money on Big Blue? If the Giants were as good as everyone says, shouldn't this line be closer to four, or maybe five?
If something seems too good to be true -- like the Giants getting 7.5 against the Packers -- it usually is. Don't forget about a guy named Aaron Rodgers. He will light up the Giants' secondary, connecting with his deep stable of receivers Jordy Nelson, James Jones and the returning Greg Jennings.
This game reminds me of Thanksgiving Day. The Packers played the Lions that day, and everyone expected a tight game, even a possible Lion win. The Packers internalized the public sentiment, and came out and destroyed the Lions. I expect to see more of the same. Lay the points.
Pick: Packers 38, Giants 24.
Click the link for more on the 2012 NFL Playoffs from SB Naton.