With the end of the NFL regular season and the impending need to finish the 2013 fantasy baseball rankings, it hardly dawned on me that people would be looking for my game capsules for the NFL playoffs. But given the number of emails I’ve received looking for advice for NFL playoff leagues, I figured I would continue the game capsules right up to the end. My apologies for not having them for last week’s games, but better late than never, right? So without further ado, let’s talk about this weekend’s games.
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos
As good as the Ravens offense looked in their victory over the Colts last week, they’re going to have a tough time moving the ball against the Broncos defense on Saturday. Ray Rice is battling a severed case of the fumbles, Bernard Pierce has been limited in practice with a sore ankle and the Broncos allowed an average of just 91.1 rushing yards per game and only five rushing touchdowns all season long. Rice insists that he doesn’t have a problem holding onto the ball, so look for the Ravens to try and get it in his hands early to try and establish the run which will hopefully open up the passing game. Pierce is expected to play, but he probably will be in a more complementary role this time around. From there, it’s going to be up to Joe Flacco. Again, it won’t be easy. The Broncos may have allowed 25 passing touchdowns this year, but they’ve held the opposition to an average of 200 yards per game and have 16 interceptions and a whopping 52 sacks. While Anquan Boldin had an amazing game last week, you should expect Champ Bailey to play his regular game and not acting as a shadow. If Flacco gets enough time to throw, he’ll be looking for Boldin or Torrey Smith downfield, but should be concentrating on throwing away from Bailey. Denver dis rank 24th in the league against opposing tight ends, so look for Dennis Pitta to play a big role in the passing attack.
For the Broncos, the key is obviously Peyton Manning. Obviously he’s Peyton Manning so the confidence level is high, but keep in mind that he had spent his entire career in Indianapolis and the Colts held home field advantage through most of his playoff games. Could weather be a factor here? Possibly. According to weather reports, we’re looking at a high of 19 degrees and a low of 8 degrees with, you guessed it, a chance of snow. While I expect we’ll see plenty of Manning to Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas against a Ravens defense that allowed an average of 228 passing yards per game during the regular season, I expect to see a little more Knowshon Moreno than you would expect in a Manning-led offense. Ray Lewis is certainly not at 100-percent and the Ravens allowed an average of 122.8 rushing yards per game with 15 rushing touchdowns. Expect the Broncos to attack with Moreno right out of the gate and pound away against a tired Ravens defensive line.
If I were a betting man, I would be taking the Broncos and laying the nine points.
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco Bay Area has been surprisingly quiet as they get ready to watch their beloved 49ers host the Packers in a crucial match-up. That’s because the team’s biggest strength, their defense has been struggling to keep it together. Defensive lineman Justin Smith is expected to play, but the torn triceps injury is going to limit him immensely. On top of that, Aldon Smith, who had 19.5 sacks this season, has been battling a shoulder injury and according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, he appears to have been avoiding contact in his last two games. That suits the Packers just fine as their offense is now firing on all cylinders. Aaron Rodgers has all of his receivers back and it’s going to be a tough day for the Niners secondary as Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Randall Cobb fly downfield. But it doesn’t end there for the Packers as we’ve also seen the recent emergence of DuJuan Harris who has been a bit of a force out of the backfield lately. The Niners have allowed an average of 105 rushing yards per game over their last four as opposed to the 79.5 yards per game they gave up through their first four.
The 49ers offense will obviously need to be at the top of their game and put up some serious points to keep pace. Colin Kaepernick will get his first ever playoff start and should lean heavily on his favorite target, Michael Crabtree who posted his first season with over 1,000 yards. With Kaepernick under center, Crabtree has recorded 595 receiving yards and four touchdowns over, what amounts to four and half games. But the Niners are going to need more than just Crabtree as their receiving corps has been depleted due to injuries. Randy Moss will have to do more than just act like a decoy and the team is really going to need to get Vernon Davis into the mix. While he’s been relatively non-existent since Week 12, he did catch three passes for 43 yards and a touchdown during the teams’ first meeting in Week 1. Unfortunately, the Packers ranked sixth in the league against opposing tight ends and held them to less than 50 yards per game. The real key is going to be Frank Gore and, to a certain extent, LaMichael James. The Packers have been torn up on the ground by Adrian Peterson these last two weeks and the Niners are going to have to expose that softening run defense. If Gore can’t get things going early, it could be curtains for the boys from out west.
If I were a betting man, I’d lay the three points and take the Packers.
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons
When the Seahawks defense gave up a quick 14 points to the Redskins last week, there was a bit of concern; at least until they snapped out of their funk and shut them down for the rest of the game. That should make the Falcons a little nervous as Matt Ryan and the passing attack is their real strength while defensive backs like Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor are the strength of the Seattle defense. Roddy White and Julio Jones are certainly going to have their hands full in this one, especially White as the Seahawks ranked number one in the league against opposing number one receivers, holding them to an average of just 54.7 yards per game. If there’s one weakness in the pass defense, it’s that Seattle ranked 17th in the league against opposing tight ends which could mean plenty of targets for Tony Gonzalez. As for the running game, it could be slow going for an aging and fading Michael Turner, The Seahawks gave up an average of 103.1 rushing yards per gameand just eight rushing touchdowns all year. Even spelling him with Jacquizz Rodgers doesn’t look like it’s going to be much of a difference-maker.
Now that Russell Wilson has a high-profile playoff game under his belt, he should start off as slowly as he did last week against the Skins, which should be very important considering that Marshawn Lynch has been dealing with a foot sprain. The injury isn’t serious enough to keep Lynch out of the game, but it’s going to be tough for the Seahawks to lean on him so heavily. Still, the Falcons run defense ranked just 21st in the league this season, allowing 123.2 rushing yards per game with 16 rushing touchdowns. Yardage-wise, the Falcons pass defense didn’t look much better, ranking 23rd in the league and giving up 242 yards per game, but they did only allow 14 passing touchdowns all year and had 20 interceptions. Wilson is going to need big games out of Sidney Rice and Golden Tate to dominate in this one.
If I were a betting man, I’d play the upset special like everyone else and take Seattle with the 2.5 points.
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
In spite of how great the Pats have looked down the stretch and how poor, at least before last week against the Bengals, the Houston defense looked, this is not going to be an instant replay of the Week 14 debacle that saw the Patriots absolutely dismantle the Texans. The Pats run defense gave up an average of 101.9 rushing yards per game and just 10 rushing touchdowns, but you also have to factor in the number of teams that abandoned the run early and were forced to chuck the ball downfield and play catch-up. The Texans will put the ball in Arian Foster’s hands early and often and hopefully wear down that Patriots defensive line. That should hopefully keep things open for the passing attack against a Patriots pass defense that ranked 29th in the league, allowed an average of 271 yards per game and an alarming 27 passing touchdowns. Look for Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels to rack up some nice yardage and find the endzone a few times while Matt Schaub redeems himself for the last time these two teams met.
What more do you really need to say about the Patriots in the playoffs? Tom Brady has multiple rings and is a beast in the post-season, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd are all sorts of fired up and Stevan Ridley is looking to continue what has been a career-season. The Texans defense obviously has a game-changer in J.J. Watt on defense, but they’ve definitely softened as the year has gone on. They’ve allowed an average of 226 passing yards per game and have given up 29 passing touchdowns to just 15 interceptions. They do have 44 sacks, so they do have a pass rush that can rattle Brady, so keep an eye on that. That’s their best chance as the run defense has remained strong and has given up only five rushing touchdowns all year. Ridley could find things a bit slow-going.
If I were a betting man, I would take Houston and the points, but expect the Patriots to still win the game.
Good luck in your playoff league this week and we’ll catch for the conference championships next week.
Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For questions, thoughts or comments you can find him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.