NFL Playoff Preview: Sunday

Houston Texans (11-6) at Baltimore (12-4): 1:00 ET on CBS

If this game had a soundtrack it would definitely be supplied by Rush because we will be seeing a heavy dose of the ground game from both teams this weekend.

It’s not that Houston and Baltimore are lacking in talented wideouts it’s just that Ray Rice and Arian Foster are that good and Joe Flacco and T.J. Yates are that “just ok”. Rice ran for a leagues second best 1364 yards during the regular season and Foster finished with 1224 yards despite starting the season injured and 153 yards in his first playoff game.

These two teams are actually very similar to each other. They run the ball well, have good defenses, they both have “game manager” quarterbacks who aren’t going to steal the game but also aren’t generally going to kill you either. Houston finished the season in an unimpressive fashion losing to Carolina, Indianapolis and Tennessee respectively but looked much better against Cincinnati in the Wild Card Playoff game. Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels have had health issues all season long and their performance will be key in this weeks game in order to balance the Texans running game. Overall Houston seems to be more banged up on both sides of the ball which may wind up being the deciding factor in Sundays big game.

The Ravens have put together another impressive regular season with the only head-scratching loss being to Jacksonville in week 7. The Ravens and Texans met once in the regular season this year, a battle that Baltimore won after 3 close quarters of competition.

The Ravens are no longer the Defensive beast they once were as many of their key defensive players have packed on the years but they were still top four in rush defense, pass defense, yards against and points against so they are certainly still formidable. The greatest difference probably comes in their turnover ratio (+2) which has sunk to its lowest point in Joe Flacco’s career with the team. If the Ravens can limit the Texans running game this team should be good enough to carry them on to a probable Conference Championship versus the Patriots.

Prediction: Baltimore 27, Houston 17

New York Giants (10-7) at Green Bay (15-1): 4:30 ET on Fox

Like most Giants fans I have been wearing my way-back hat this week and thinking a lot about the improbable 2007 championship run. There are a lot of similarities between then and now right down to the upcoming match up with the Pack. This year the Packers are 15-1 on the strength of a pass happy attack. In 2007 Green Bay was 14-2 during the regular season on the pass happy strength of a different quarterbacks arm. In 2007 the G-Men lost their division at 10-6 but were good enough to be a Wild Card team. This year the Gints are once again a Wild Card team that had to sweat it out till the last week to win their division 9-7. Both then and now the Packers look invincible and the Giants are getting healthy and gaining momentum at just the right time. If only we could dig up the corpse of Brett Favre and start him this week could we guarantee a late-game interception for a Giants victory. Unfortunately that’s not going to happen so lets do a little more analysis.

There are some statistical anomalies for both of these teams this year.

The Packers, during the regular season, had the worst yards allowed per game (411.6) and passing yards allowed per game (299.8) but also had a league best 31 interceptions and second best overall turnover ratio at +24. The Pack may give up a lot of yards but they also do a phenomenal job of getting the ball back, forcing their opponents to make mistakes, and challenging Troy Polamalu for funny commercials about long hair. The Giants on the other hand rank last in the league in rushing yards per game (89.2) which is partially due to frequent injuries to the backfield and partially due to Eli Manning having a legitimately great season in tandem with the emergence of the dynamic receiving threat Victor Cruz.

The Giants know they aren’t going anywhere without a balanced attack and the ability to eat up clock time and proved their ability to run the rock last week when they posted 172 yards on the ground against a Falcon defense that had only allowed 97 rushing yards per game during the regular season.

This should be a great game. During the regular season the Giants played the Packers closer than anyone other than the Chiefs and one would expect a similar type of game this week. Aaron Rodgers is a significant improvement over Favre and proved last year that he has playoff swagger. The G-Men are really coming together at the right time and get to thrive on the underdog “nobody believes in us” mentality. The Packers are going to have to make some improvements to their running game and utilize their Tight Ends in order to keep the Giants pass rush and Linebackers honest. The Giants lost the regular season match up in part because of turnovers and will have to win that battle to stay in the game this week. They also need to unleash the beast that is Jason Pierre-Paul in order to pressure Rodgers and clog up the passing lanes with his ginormously long arms.

If Eli Manning can keep his evil twin off the field and keep hitting whomever the open receiver is I think the Geee-men have a legitimate chance of taking this baby. Bring on a 2007 Superbowl reunion.

Prediction: Giants 23, Packers 20 (in OT)

I couldn’t resist.

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