Archive for the ‘New Orleans Saints’ Category

And thus begins another year’s NFL Playoffs.

Considering the defending champions (Baltimore Ravens) and defending NFC No. 1 seed (Atlanta Falcons) both missed the playoffs, this postseason presents big change opportunities. Saturday’s match-ups feature prime examples of such opportunities.

Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts – Saturday Jan. 4 (4:35 PM ET)

Chiefs vs ColtsThe No. 4 vs No. 5 seed match-up may be the closest game to call. It’s no surprise then to discover a litany of parallels between the teams.

Both teams feature a starting QB that was the No. 1 overall draft pick, Alex Smith from the 2005 draft and Andrew Luck from the 2012 draft.

Both the Colts and Chiefs went from last place in the NFL to securing a wildcard spot the following year, the Colts from 2012 to 2013 and the Chiefs from 2013 to this current season.

Thanks, in part, to a disastrous AFC South Division, the Colts seemingly coasted to the division title. Such was the not the case for the Chiefs’ AFC West, which features the No. 1 seed Broncos and both the Wildcard teams (Chiefs and Chargers respectively).

Terrible division aside, the Colts certainly boasted perhaps the most impressive out-of-division record, having beaten the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos and the Chiefs themselves. In fact, the Colts held the Chiefs to a season-low seven points.

Arguments may be made that the Chiefs had already locked up a playoff spot by that point and lacked luster. However, I believe the Colts, and more specifically Andrew Luck, have proven themselves true contenders.

Ultimately this game will come down to defense and which team can win the turnover battle.

Prediction: Chiefs win 27-24.chiefs

New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles – Saturday Jan. 4th (8:10 PM ET)

Saints vs Eagles

The second Saturday game brings a sense of resurrection.

In the Saints’ case, this comes with the reinstatement of previously suspended Head Coach Sean Payton. Payton’s absence was almost unanimously understood to be the cause of the Saints’ poor season in 2012-13.

The postseason resurrection of the Philadelphia Eagles is two-fold. One, the hiring of the former Oregon Ducks’ Head Coach Chip Kelly and two, the Dallas Cowboys’ narrow throat.

The most interesting aspect of this match-up, in my opinion, is that each team’s offensive strength is the other’s defensive weakness. The Eagles own the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL while the Saints’ rush defense ranks 19th. The Saints are the No. 2 passing team in the NFL while the Eagles rank dead last in pass defense.

I tend to give the edge to the team with the better run game in a cold atmosphere, which Philly will definitely provide. However, Drew Brees and Co. are hungry and I cannot see an NFC “Least” team with a first year starter taking down the Saints.

Prediction: Saints win 31-24 Saints

Advertisements

And then there were four.

The New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers have proven themselves the best four teams remaining in the NFL playoffs and each from very different paths.

AFC Championship – New England vs Baltimore:

New England has been exactly what was expected. High powered offense led by the great Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at the helm of it all. The Patriots finished the season #1 in the AFC with a 13-3 record.

After two straight years of playoff let-downs, losing at home in the first round, the Patriots made quick work of the miraculous Broncos and Tim Tebow. They now face the challenge of fending off the Baltimore Ravens.

Baltimore proved at times to be the opposite of the Patriots, winning with stout defense led by veterans Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata and an average offense led by Joe Flaco and Ray Rice.

The Ravens finished the season with a 12-4 record and #2 overall in the AFC. Many analysts favored the Ravens to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl before the season started, mainly due to the punishing defense and offensive capabilities.

Throughout the season, the Ravens seemed to be plagued by shortcomings against teams far less talented. Their 4 losses during the season were to the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Seattle Seahawks, and the San Diego Chargers. The only team of these four with a winning record was the Titans and it was an unimpressive 9-7 in a weak AFC South division.

However, they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals in both home and away meetings, and beat the San Francisco 49ers at Baltimore.

When the Pats and Ravens meet this Sunday, January 22 at 3 PM ET the key matchup will undisputedly be the New England offense against the Baltimore defense.

If the Ravens are able to get to Brady early and often, they may well be able to disrupt the Patriots rhythm and give Flaco a chance to take advantage of a horrid New England defense, which is ranked second to last in opponent yards allowed this season. However, with how uncharacteristically well the Patriots defense played against the Broncos, the Ravens may need more than their defense to win this game.

Prediction: New England 35 – Baltimore 24

NFC Championship – San Francisco 49ers vs New York Giants:

The San Francisco 49ers are coming off of an instant classic that could end up rivaling some of the all-time classic games of Montana and Young. Just how much bigger does this game become should the 49ers go on to win the Super Bowl? And don’t think for a second that isn’t exactly what the goal of every single player in that locker room is.

On top of that, this team has an aura of winning and success around them. They are as confident as any team in the NFL. Some may try to find excuses for his great play when the answer is obvious. Alex Smith plays with poise again for the first time seemingly since Utah.  Smith can play without error and in clutch situations because he knows the coach and the team have his back.

They believe in the guy. And for good reason. Smith did what only 3 other teams have done this season. Beat the Saints.

The New York Giants are coming off of a huge upset over the Green Bay Packers, #1 seed overall and highly favored to repeat as Super Bowl champs this season.

Eli Manning proved why he considers himself an elite quarterback in the NFL with a 21-33, 330 yards and 3 touchdown effort Sunday, January 15, 2012.

One could argue that the Packers gave away opportunity after opportunity that day with wide receivers dropping pass after pass.

There is no doubt that the Giants have one of the NFL’s best pass rushes. The front four for the “G-men” can put pressure on a quarterback that most other teams require 5+ rushers to accomplish.

Led by Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, the New York Giants defense may be the only hope of victory.

The Giants did play the 49ers earlier this season, remember. San Francisco 27 – New York 20

Prediction: San Francisco 49ers 30 – New York Giants 17

Super Bowl: San Francisco vs New England

 

Saturday January 14, 2012 marked the first playoff game for the San Francisco 49ers since 2002.

The 49ers entered the 2012 playoffs as the NFC’s #2 seed, earning a home game against the #3 seeded New Orleans Saints.

The Saints finished the 2011-’12 regular season with a 13-3 record identical to the Niners, but lost the tie breaker for having a worse record against NFC teams. Because of the dominating fashion in which the Saints ended their season, many analysts (including Las Vegas odds makers) favored New Orleans on the road.

Those who did pick the 49ers, sited the stellar defense and kicking game as their reason in most cases, dismissing the offense, specifically quarterback Alex Smith, as a liability that needed overcoming in order to win.

 The defense got the opportunity to prove itself first, as San Francisco deferred the kickoff to the second half, giving New Orleans first possession on offense.

Drew Brees drove down the field almost with ease it seemed, entering the red zone in 8 plays.

On 3rd and 6 at the San Francisco 7 yard line, Brees threw a dump pass to Pierre Thomas, who was drilled by Donte Whitner, causing Thomas to fumble the ball while being knocked out cold. Thomas left the game for good.

Alex Smith led the Niners to a 1st quarter 17-0 lead, throwing 2 touchdowns to Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree.

Brees answered with 2 touchdowns of his own, pulling to within 3 points at 17-14.

The two teams then traded field goals to make it 23-17 San Francisco.

New Orleans took its first lead on a 44 yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles and went up 24-23 with 4:02 remaining in the game.

San Francisco drove down the field and Alex Smith ran the ball in for a touchdown from 28 yards out. The Niners then decided to go for the 2-point conversion to make it a 7 point game but failed to get the ball into the end zone on a draw play to Frank Gore, leaving the score 29-24 with 2:11 left.

Summoning the offensive greatness the Saints displayed all season long, Brees threw a perfect pass to Jimmy Graham for 66 yards and a touchdown.

New Orleans also went for two only they were able to convert, putting the Saints up by 3 (32-29).

With 1:32 remaining in the game, San Francisco had their backs to the wall and the pressure was on. With David Akers kicking on your team, much of that pressure is relieved.

The Niners started their drive from their own 15 yard line. On the fourth play of the drive, Smith connected with Vernon Davis for 47 yards to the New Orleans 20 yard line, giving the 49ers the distance desired to at least tie the game on a field goal.

After a 6 yard pass to Frank Gore and a ball spike, Alex Smith called an over the middle cross pattern route to his primary target Davis.

The pass was a thing a beauty. Smith fired the ball through defenders into the waiting arms of Davis, as he fell into the end zone, the crowd erupting in sheer elation.

It was reminiscent of the Niners legends of old. “The Play” Joe Montana to Dwight Clark, “The Catch II” Steve Young to Terrell Owens, and now “The Grab” Alex Smith to Vernon Davis.

The 49ers proved they belong in the upper ranks with the championship contenders. And what’s more, Alex Smith proved himself a Super Bowl worthy quarterback.