Want to make some money on this upcoming weekend’s wildcard games? Then whatever you do, don’t take the advice in this column. Just kidding. There’s at least a 50/50 chance we’ll be right.
The NFC has some entertaining match ups on tap. Superbowl contender San Francisco travels to Green Bay to take on the NFC North-“winning” Packers…and I only put the quotes around winning because the Pack managed to do so despite only eight wins. Nonetheless, few home field advantages are as powerful as Lambeau’s. And wild card New Orleans packs their bags for the flight to Philly to take on the East-winning Eagles. There are a couple of intersting sub-plots, mainly that the two home teams are the patently inferior ones in these match-ups, but they do play the games for a reason. Let’s take a look at the games.
New Orleans (+2.5) @ Philadelphia, 54: At first blush, the over-under looks a bit daunting, until you realize that both teams have players the other just can’t account for. The Eagles, not exactly a defensive bastion to begin with, have to figure out a way to slow down Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and company, and simply do not have the man power to do it. Meanwhile, much has been said about New Orleans’ vastly improved defense, but let’s get real. They were torched a few weeks back by the Kellen Clemens-led St. Louis Rams, and I don’t remember them borrowing rushing champ, LeSean McCoy for that game. This game might be approaching 54 points by half time. New Orleans is actually getting 2.5 points, and it makes sense a little bit because they are on the road, the weather in Philly will probably suck, and Brees and Company are used to their cozy dome. Here’s another subplot for you, I’ve long said no team as ever won the Superbowl with a crappy kicker. Well, actually I said sh***y kicker, but we don’t use potty language when our moms are around. Regardless, there’s a good reason Shayne Graham has been unemployed for the last couple of seasons, and it would be unfair to judge Alex Henery before he’s had a chance to compile a body of work, but wouldn’t it make you feel better if your team had a solid kicker late in the fourth quarter of a close game, just in case it came down to it? I’m no less perplexed now by New Orleans’ decision to cut bait on Garrett Hartley after he missed an ultimately meaningless 27 yarder against St. Louis than I was when it happened. Sure, Hartley had struggled a bit this season, but this is the same guy that should have been a Superbowl MVP after going 4/4 including three from 43 yards or longer just a few years ago. Ultimately, it’s academic in this game. Neither team is going to the big game. I just felt like thinking out loud. My prediction, The Saints take it 45-34.
San Francisco (-3) @ Green Bay, 48: These two have put on some entertaining battles the last two seasons, that’s for sure. I don’t see this one being as much of a shootout though. Colin Kaepernick has not been as explosive as last season. Either that, or teams have done a better job of defending the read option this year. The latter is actually what the numbers indicate, but I think it runs deeper. Last year, the Niners had this guy named Delanie Walker, an all-purpose tight end/H-back. Walker, since departed to the Titans where played well until injuries curtailed his season, performed a ton of roles for San Francisco last year, and Vance MacDonald has not been a suitable replacement. Meanwhile, Green Bay has franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers back, and will be at close to full strength offensively. And this year, he has a running game to help him, with Offensive ROY favorite, Eddie Lacy. I think because of that, as well as a 49er defense good at taking the ball away, time of possession and field position are going to be huge focuses, and you won’t see a shootout. I think the home team takes this one by a nose. Green Bay over the 49ers, 23-17.
Stay tuned for Shaun’s take on this weekend’s AFC match ups. I can’t wait to read what he has to say about the Kansas City Indianapolis game.