Flanny's Picks: NFL playoffs divisional weekend

Flanny's Picks: NFL playoffs divisional weekend

Published Jan. 12, 2012 6:39 p.m. ET


SEASON VS. SPREAD: 137-120-3

SAINTS (-3 1/2) AT 49ERS

Very intriguing matchup.

Everyone wants to know how you slow down the Saints. The answer? Get them outdoors.

The Saints were 9-0 inside this season, and no team plays dome ball better. The Saints put up over 600 yards last week while running away from the Lions.

In pristine conditions, it's almost impossible to stop the timing of Drew Brees' offense. Outdoors, in tougher conditions, it could be different.

Brees and Co. were 5-3 outdoors this season, and they are 16-14 on grass since Brees became the starter. That, my friends, is significant.

Nothing messes up a track team like the Saints more than some wind and a sluggish turf.

So will the conditions in San Francisco halt the Saints? Hardly. There's still too much talent on the Saints offense to imply it will be shut down. But the Saints looked awfully pedestrian last year at Seattle.

The key for the 49ers is to play keep-away. They can do that with a ground game against a Saints defense that gives up an average of 5 yards per run.

What the 49ers can't afford to do is get behind early and then abandon the ground game.

It's all about tempo. The 49ers must slow the pace with solid defense and a sustained ground game, then hope Brees gets frustrated with the wind and slow turf.

If that happens, I can see the 49ers pulling off the upset here.

49ers 21, Saints 20


Here we go again, having to explain the Tim Tebow factor. I have to admit, it's an entertaining story.

What I don't understand about how teams defend Tebow – and my pal Steve Cameron and I chatted about this the other day – is why they don’t blitz the guy from his left side the whole game?

Like a basketball player who struggles to go to his right, Tebow rarely even attempts passes going to his right -- let alone completing them.

I'm guessing Pats coach Bill Belichick has figured it out and will force Tebow to his right.

I can't even begin to make a case for the Broncos winning, not on the road against a rested Patriots team.

Granted, the Pats defense is leaky, but Belichick will come up with some schemes that should totally baffle Tebow and force him into picks.

In fact, if Tom Brady and the Pats' offense gets up early, and Tebow is forced to throw 30 or 40 times, this could get really ugly.

Patriots 38, Broncos 10


Perhaps the least interesting of the weekend's games with precious little sex appeal.

But if you like defense, and I do, this should hold your interest for awhile.

The Texans' 31-10 dismissal of Cincy last weekend wasn't the blowout it appeared. The game turned on two plays – the Texans, right before the half, got an incredible "Pick-6" from a rookie defensive end -- while the Bengals' chance at the same thing early in the third quarter was dropped.

The Ravens already handled the Texans quite easily at home this season, and that was with Matt Schaub at quarterback. This time, T.J. Yates will venture into a hostile environment. He will be consumed by a rested Ravens defense.

Joe Flacco has been whining lately that he isn't getting enough credit – so here's his chance to earn some. The Texans will gear up to stop Ray Rice and with the safeties tight, Flacco should have a few opportunities downfield.

The Ravens will open up the Texans' defense and control this from start to finish.

Ravens 27, Texans 13


Another intriguing matchup.

There has been probably too much hype coming out of the Big Apple about how the Giants are built to mess with the 15-1 Packers, but at least some of that is true.

The Giants can control the tempo with their ground game, along with the accuracy and decision-making of Eli Manning.

Let's face it, the Packers defense is leaky. But at its best, the Packers' defense can create turnovers. That's what beat Eli when the two teams met earlier – Clay Matthews’ interception for a TD in the first half.

Can the Packers come up with a big turnover or two? I don't see it. Manning will be too smart and too cautious, and the Giants will control the tempo with their ground game.


The Packers are finally healthy on offense, and while they may start out rusty, eventually Aaron Rodgers will find some holes in the Giants' secondary to do some damage.

The Packers are beatable, but Rodgers -- like Brett Favre often did in Green Bay – can simply will his team to a win.

Special teams also will be a factor. Randall Cobb may play a big role, and look for both teams to take some chances with fake punts or field goals.

In the end, Rodgers will come through with a big fourth-quarter drive and the Packers' defense will rise up at the end to knock down an Eli pass to save the day.

Packers 27, Giants 26