Randall the Handle's NFL selections, divisional round

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers throws a pass against the Kansas City Chiefs during the...

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers throws a pass against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half of their AFC-NFC NFL football game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri December 18, 2011. (REUTERS/Dave Kaup)

RANDALL THE HANDLE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:51 PM ET

Randall the Handle’s NFL selections, divisional round

Saints (14-3) at 49ers (13-3)

LINE: NEW ORLEANS BY 3.5

We realize how easy it is to like the Saints here. Why wouldn’t you? They are an offensive machine, they are hot and they have been down this road in recent times. At the all important quarterback position, New Orleans’ Drew Brees lays over San Francisco’s Alex Smith.

However, life in the NFL is rarely that simple. There are issues on the Saints’ side that cannot be conveniently overlooked, namely on defence. The Saints struggled against the run early in the season, surrendering more than 100 yards eight times through 10 games. That was prior to New Orleans going into their high-octane scoring when teams hardly could run the ball in an attempt to play catchup.

The Niners will not abandon their ground game. It’s their bread and butter and it has proven effective. Quietly, San Francisco finished 11th in scoring, ahead of teams such as the Ravens and Cowboys.

If need be, the 49ers can do some damage through the air. Smith was proficient with a league-low five interceptions and having seen Calvin Johnson’s 211 yards receiving last week, the 49ers could have success throwing to WR Michael Crabtree. The 49ers have a huge edge defensively, having surrendered just 229 points on the season compared to the Saints’ 339.

This marks only the second time since 1982 that the road team has been favoured in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. That’s because the home team has earned the right to host and therefore should not be in the underdog’s role. While the Saints might be the sexy pick, the Niners are the prudent play and that’s the side we’ll endorse.

TAKING: 49ERS +3.5

RISKING: $22 TO WIN $20


Broncos (9-8) at Patriots (13-3)

LINE: NEW ENGLAND BY 13.5

Those Broncos. What a cheeky group they are. Win six. Drop three. Back their way into the playoffs. Upset the Steelers. So now what? Travel to Foxborough and knock of the top-seeded Patriots? News flash; it ain’t happenin’.

While the Tim Tebow hysteria has been fun for most, it’s a joke to others. Granted, Tebow had an impressive game last week, but don’t expect that lightning in a bottle to strike again here.

The Patriots are not the imposters that the Steelers turned out to be. They have an elite quarterback and an elite coach. They have had the luxury of experiencing the Tebow phenomenon first-hand, resulting in a 41-23 victory that took place in Denver. A quick review of that one had New England arriving in Denver to face a streaking Broncos bunch, the latter riding a six-game winning streak. The Pats fell behind 16-7 until Belichick and Co. saw what they were dealing with and then outscored Denver 34-7 the rest of the way. Not much will change from then to now.

Not only did that one set off a three-game losing streak for the Broncos, it quickly dispelled Denver’s defensive status. While some are quick to point out New England’s defensive deficiencies, the Broncos allowed 390 points this season compared to the Patriots’ 342. Offensively, the Broncos scored just 309 points on the year while the Pats racked up 513.

With two weeks to prepare and the motivation from having lost this match two years in a row, the Patriots roll it up against this inferior guest.

TAKING: PATRIOTS -13.5

RISKING: $22 TO WIN $20


Texans (11-6) at Ravens (12-4)

LINE: BALTIMORE BY 7.5

They say all good things must come to an end. We’re not sure if the Texans are prepared for that finality but after making the playoffs for the first time in club history and then losing some key players throughout the season, most notably QB Matt Schaub, they may not have a choice.

Third-string quarterback T.J. Yates has done an admirable job pivoting this club under difficult conditions but he’s just not seasoned or savvy enough to head into this lion’s den to take on these Ravens.

Baltimore has not lost at home this season. Its average winning margin was 12.5 points per game, including a 15-point win over these Texans, who at that time had an able-bodied Schaub in the lineup.

Baltimore allowed less than 15 points per game on this field with its relentless defence. Penetrating it will be a huge challenge for Yates as he has been able to rely on the fine running skills of Arian Foster to set up a conservative passing game. However, the Ravens were the league’s second-best club at stopping the run, giving up just 92 yards per game. In the first contest between these two, Foster was held to 49 yards on the day.

In the likelihood that Yates is forced to abandon the run, we would expect him to struggle. He has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns when attempting 30 passes or more in a game.

Baltimore’s experience, strong running game and home field dominance will be just too much for these current Texans to stay within range.

TAKING: RAVENS -7.5

RISKING: $22 TO WIN $20


Giants (10-7) at Packers (15-1)

LINE: GREEN BAY BY 7.5

It never ceases to amaze us how short memories are when it comes to the NFL. The Giants struggle along for most of the season. They need to win their final two games in order to qualify for this post-season and upon doing so, they beat the brains out of a heartless Atlanta squad. Suddenly, they are everyone’s darling pick to upset the champion Packers.

We think this is more an “out of sight, out of mind” situation. Teams that played last week are freshly imprinted in the public’s mind. When we look at consensus picks from various websites, all four teams that played last week hold the majority choice over those that were idle.

While the Giants’ recent form has been admirable, let us remind you who they are playing. Green Bay is the defending Super Bowl champion. This season’s squad is better and healthier than last season’s. The Packers lost one game this season. They scored the most points in the league (560), led by the exceptional Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. Rodgers led the league with an incredible 122.5 passer rating. He threw for 45 touchdowns, one less than Brees, despite Brees throwing 155 more passes. Most importantly when considering how the Giants love to pass rush, Rodgers finished the regular season with a league-best 131.4 passer rating against the blitz. The Giants can be had. They gave up more points than they scored (400-394) and their secondary is suspect. The Patriots, Packers, Saints and Cowboys all threw for more than 300 yards against it. For those that have forgotten, Green Bay’s arsenal will serve as a bold reminder of who still remains the team to beat.

TAKING: PACKERS -7.5

RISKING: $22 TO WIN $20


MONEY PICKS

Last Week: Won $80

Current bankroll: $711

 

LINE PICKS

Last week: 4-0

Season: 120–124–12

 


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