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There was only one real surprise during last week’s NFL Wild Card playoff round: the Denver Broncos pulling off an astonishing overtime victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers because of Tim Tebow’s arm.The three other winners —Saints, Giants, Texans — were widely expected.
So could we see some surprises in this weekend’s divisional round? Possibly.
There could be some Tebow magic, Houston could somehow head to the AFC Championship game led by a third-string quarterback, and the Giants could play another excellent all-around game and defeat the mighty Packers.
Regardless of what the final outcomes are these will be the keys to each game:
New Orleans Saints vs. San Francisco 49ers
Yes, the 49ers defence ranked fourth best in the league this season, but did you know their passing defence is merely middle of the pack (16th)? So Drew Brees should have little trouble putting up big numbers. He should watch out for San Francisco’s interception-loving secondary, though, as Dashon Goldson, Carlos Rogers, and Tarell Brown each picked off four or more passes in 2011. For all the flak Alex Smith gets, the 49ers QB does a good job of holding on to the football and does enough to keep his team in games. San Fran will have to play keepaway to make sure it stays close.
Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots
These teams already met once before, with the Broncos keeping it close for most of the first half before the Patriots took a commanding lead and never gave it up. The big guys up front will make all the difference in their second matchup. Denver only sacked Tom Brady twice, while New England brought Tebow down four times in Week 15. If Von Miller and Elvis Dumervill can get to Brady, this will stay close much longer than their first meeting. If not, Patriots probably roll to victory.
Houston Texans vs. Baltimore Ravens
This is easily the least sexy matchup of the weekend. Third-stringer T.J. Yates versus Joe Flacco doesn’t exactly get everyone excited, but if you’re into tough defenses this one is definitely for you. The squads rank in the top five in the entire league in passing, rushing, and total defence. Baltimore beat Houston when they faced off early on in the season, but that was an entirely different Texans team with Matt Schaub still under centre. So does that mean Baltimore should win easily this time around? Not necessarily. The Texans are one of the best pass rushing teams in the league and Flacco was sacked more than 30 times in 2011.
New York Giants vs. Green Bay Packers
Yet another repeat matchup from the 2011 regular season. Green Bay’s 38-35 victory over New York in week 13 may have been the first time we noticed the Packers were actually beatable. Both Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning had huge days, thanks in large part to great protection from their lines. This is likely to repeat itself this weekend. Whichever team runs the ball better than the other one (they were fairly even in their first game with New York outgaining Green Bay by a few yards) will have a leg up.