By Kyle Soppe
A solid week last week sets the stage for an intriguing quartet of NFL games. Here is a preview of how each team can win this weekend, as well as my picks.
New Orleans Saints @ San Francisco 49ers
Why the Saints could win: They have the most statistically impressive QB of all time playing at a superior level. Drew Brees is on a roll better than anything we have ever seen, and last week’s beat down of the Lions only gave him confidence. The Saints established a bit of a run game last weekend, something they have never really attempted to do this season. Darren Sproles is a unique talent that fits this pass oriented offense perfectly.Their defense is an opportunistic one, with the potential to make a given Alex Smith pass six points.The 49ers were the worst team in the NFL (yes, the same league that has the Colts, Rams, and Vikings) in red zone efficiency.
Why the 49ers will win: I made the argument that the “Year of the Quarterback” is a a deceiving title for the 2011-2012 NFL season, and here is a chance to prove it. San Fran locks down opponents, and makes them one dimensional. While that one dimension will be Drew Brees, it still takes the guess work out of the defense. I love Patrick Willis patrolling the center of the field, and believe he can keep Jimmy Graham from dominating. The size of Frank Gore and Vernon Davis will provide mismatches in short yardage situations. Should win the battle of time of possession and won’t turn the ball over much, two key ingredients for winning in January.
Soppe Score: 49ers 24-20
Denver Broncos @ New England Patriots
Why the Broncos could win: They have Tim Tebow, and the mania that will not die. They have a solid run game that is led by Willis McGahee. Demarius Thomas has stepped up in the absence of Eric Decker, and has the ability to take any pass to pay dirt. Their defense has come a long ways since the Packers hung 49 on them early in the year. While they were beat by the Pats not long ago, they did get a look at them and an idea of what they are up against.
Why the Patriots will win: Tom Brady and Bill Belichek were given a week off. That alone gives them a six point advantage, but don’t stop there. Their offense is remarkably efficient, revolutionizing the game with their two TE sets. They will benefit from watching Pittsburgh fail last week. They have the ability to score on every single possession, and even with a porous defense, the Broncos don’t figure to score much more than 21 points.
Soppe Score: Pats 31-17
Houston Texans @ Baltimore Ravens
Why the Texans could win: They have the best tandem at tailback left in the postseason (Foster and Tate). TJ Yates appeared to be healthy and targeted Andre Johnson often in their first round win over the Bengals. Their defense isn’t like the Ravens, but it is one of the best remaining in the postseason. They have the ability to control clock and make this a low scoring affair. Thanks to their duo in the backfield, they are tough to beat when they jump out to an early advantage.
Why the Ravens will win: My preseason AFC champion have an advantage at QB, something they rarely have. Ray Rice’s ability to catch passes makes him impossible to shut down. Rice has tallied 15 touchdowns this season, a previous weakness. Vonte Leach is an animal at fullback and will create holes for Rice and Rick Williams. Torrey Smith has the ability to stretch the defense. Ray Lewis still mans the middle of the field.
Soppe Score: Ravens 20-16
New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers
Why the Giants could win: Despite the Packers 15-1 mark, the Giants are the team with the momentum. Eli Manning is playing as well as he ever has, and appears to have out grown the stupid mistake. Hakeem Nicks emerged last week as the great receiver that he is. Pro Bowl snub Victor Cruz has been a consistent weapon out of the slot. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs give them balance. They have the most talented front four in all of football.
Why my Packers will win: Aaron Rodgers has lit up defense all year, and is well rested after sitting out week 17 and the bye last week. Greg Jennings is back to full health and figures to find his groove as the game progresses. Jermichael Finley is to big/athletic when they approach the red zone. Jordy Nelson’s style fits the Packer offense perfectly, and should create openings for Jennings and James Jones. Opportunistic defense scored against the G-men last time they met. Home field advantage never hurt.
Soppe Score: Packers 34-24
Who ya got?