NFL Football Column: Scott's NFL Shots
Broncos-Pats Might be Real Super Bowl
The good Lord didn’t give Joe much of an arm. Strong, perhaps, but terribly inaccurate and so after beating the Packers 37-34 with an improving Christian Ponder at the helm in Week 17, the Vikings came out for the Wild Card Weekend with a Wild Card quarterback.
And I mean, really, really wild.
To their credit, the Packers took advantage of Webb’s wonky arm, jammed the box with nine, sometimes 10 guys, stopped Adrian Peterson and let Webb miss wide open receivers because, hey, that’s what he does. He threw zero passes during the regular season and should have thrown zero in the playoffs. McLeod John Balthazar Bethel-Thompson out of Sacramento State, the Vikings No. 3, would not have been any worse than Joe Webb.
As a result, Green Bay beat Minnesota 24-10 in last week’s NFC quarterfinal and now the Pack will journey to San Francisco to take on a rested Niners outfit that is favored by three points.
Still, San Francisco heads into the playoffs after being crushed 42-13 by Seattle and then beating a lousy Arizona team 27-13 at home, in a game in which they did not play very well.
Granted, earlier in the year, the Niners beat the Packers in Green Bay (with Alex Smith at quarterback) and also looked good with wins at New Orleans and New England and finished 11-4-1. When 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh decided to go with Colin Kaepernick and not Smith at quarterback, the Niners went 5-2 down the stretch and 4-3 against the spread.
Most folks will remember that San Francisco whipped Green Bay 30-22 at Lambeau Field way back in Week 1. That score, plus home field advantage (on an absolutely brutal Candlestick Park field), have a lot to do with the fact that the 49ers are favorites this week. Don’t forget, back in September, San Francisco led 23-7 after three quarters and rushed for 186 yards in that game.
And that’s why you still have to wonder if Green Bay is good enough to beat a team with a running game and a legitimate, strong-armed No. 1 quarterback. The Packers don’t have much of a kicker either and that’s another problem.
However, there are three things the Packers have and as a result, do, as well as anybody in the NFL and while they won’t be facing Joe Webb this week, these three things have nothing to do with what Kaepernick does.
(1) The Packers have Aaron Rodgers.
(2) The Packers probably have the best receiving corps in the NFL.
“I think you’ll see a ton of no-huddle actually,” tight end Jermichael Finley told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “Whatever we come out with, we need to do well with it.”
There is a feeling throughout the NFL that if you’re Packers coach Mike McCarthy you should just let Rodgers got out, do what he does and let him win it on his own.
Everyone who has watched the 49ers defense knows that this is a team that takes away the middle of the field, throws an extra defender in the box and therefore gives them an extra backer between the hash marks. That means Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley, Jordy Nelson and James Jones have to get open outside.
The key to making it work for Green Bay is obviously the offensive line. They have to protect Rodgers to allow the receivers to take the plays inside and then turn them to the sidelines. It takes an extra second or two but if the O-line can keep the pressure off the quarterback, Rodgers can have a field day. And if they can do it within the speed and timing of the no-huddle, Rodgers can blow the game wide open early.
That, of course, could all happen. However, the big question is this: Can the Packers keep Kaepernick and that explosive 49ers offense off the scoreboard.
It’s interesting to note that Kaepernick’s numbers were not as good as Alex Smith’s even though Kaepernick was handed Smith’s job. Kaepernick completed 136-of-218 passes (62.4 per cent) for 1,814 yards, 10 touchdowns, three interceptions and quarterback rating of 98.3. Smith went 153-of-218 (70.2 per cent) for 1,737 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions and quarterback rating of 104.1.
However, Frank Gore is still Frank Gore and if he’s healthy this week, it gives the Niners a ball-control runningback to go with a solid passer.
This is going to be the best game of the week if the Packers do what they do best on offense and don’t get caught up in some defensive woes that will happen simply because they’re playing a against a solid offensive club.
“We were pleased with the way we played the run,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers told ESPN after last Saturday night’s win over Minnesota. “Our guys did a good job of learning. We were more patient holding our gap control.
“This week, we’re going to see another powerful runner and an athletic quarterback.”
Ultimately, that will be the difference. If the Packers can do what they do best and shut down Kaepernick like they shut down Joe Webb (and that will more difficult than anyone can imagine), then they can go on the road and win. If not, Green Bay will get drilled.
Meanwhile, the Seattle Seahawks are all about defense and a running game. The Denver Broncos combine an improving defense with the brilliance of Peyton Manning. For San Francisco it’s all about Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore and for the New England Patriots it’s Tom Brady and a myriad of fearsome offensive weapons.
It’s the second round of the National Football League playoffs and by this stage of the season, if the remaining teams can make the best possible use of their strengths, they should find themselves playing next week.
However, while we can talk all day about each team’s strengths and weaknesses, here are the three things that will make the biggest difference in all four games this weekend: (1) special teams, (2) field position and (3) turnovers. There are eight teams left, all of them are pretty good and the teams that protect the football on the shortest field will win. Guaranteed.
Let's take a close look at Division Championship Weekend:
Baltimore Ravens (11-6) at Denver Broncos (13-3) Line: Broncos by 9.5
The emotional impact of Ray Lewis returning for the Ravens will wear off on the long flight to Denver where Peyton Manning is rested and ready. Manning has always played well against the Ravens, and with Baltimore’s pass defense sorely lacking, look for the soon to be named 2012 MVP to run up the score.Did you see that helmet that Ray Lewis wore last week? Hope he can breathe in altitude in that thing.
TAKE THE BRONCOS TO WIN AND COVER.
Green Bay Packers (12-5) at San Francisco (11-4-1) Line: 49ers by 3
The playoffs are all about great quarterbacks. One team has one, the other doesn’t. The 49ers early season win against the Packers at Lambeau means nothing. In September here at fantrax.com, I picked Green Bay and Denver in the Super Bowl. I’m not quitting on the Packers now.
TAKE THE PACKERS TO WIN.
Seattle Seahawks (12-5) at Atlanta Falcons (13-3) Line: Falcons by 2.5
The Seahawks played well on the road last week to shake off their “can’t win away from home” rap, but they played against a team with an immobile QB. Matt Ryan is anything but. The Falcons will get their first playoff win in a long time. Atlanta is not Washington.
TAKE THE FALCONS TO WIN AND COVER.
Houston Texans (13-4) at New England Patriots (12-4) Line: Patriots by 9.5
The Texans were only able to score 19 points last week against the Bengals. That won’t cut it here. The Texans pass defense struggles against average QBs and Mr. Brady is not average. With a win he'll pass his idol Joe Montana for most career playoff wins. He might get more TD tosses Sunday than the four he got the last time these two teams met. After New England and Denver win, will we see the ‘real’ Super Bowl next week?
TAKE THE PATRIOTS TO WIN AND COVER.
Scott's record last week ATS: 3-1.
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