Broncos-Patriots one of four intriguing NFL playoff games this weekend
Tim Tebow takes his act to New England, Drew Brees takes on the 49ers, the Texans travel to Baltimore, and the Packers host the Giants during this NFL divisional playoff weekend.
We kick things off late Saturday afternoon with the New Orleans Saints in San Francisco to take on the 49ers (4:30 p.m. ET on Fox). Rookie head coach and former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh has the 'Niners back where they used to be every year in the 1980s and 90s - in the playoffs.
But instead of just offensive firepower, San Francisco has played stout defense in winning the NFC West, allowing just over 14 points per game. The defense is led by linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. It features linemen Justin Smith and Aldon Smith, who have combined for 21.5 sacks this season.
San Francisco has a home field advantage, and they may need it. Quarterback Drew Brees has the New Orleans offense humming. The Saints are the top-rated offense in the NFL, averaging just over 34 points and 467 yards per game. New Orleans is arguably the poster child for today's NFL formula that "offenses win championships."
Saturday night, the New England Patriots host Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos (8 p.m. ET on CBS). Once all the pre-game 'Tebowing' subsides, Tom Brady and his high-powered offense, ranked No. 2 in the NFL, will take to the Gillette Stadium turf.
This is an offense that scored 41 points on the Broncos defense when the two teams met last month in Denver and averaged 32 points per game over the course of the season.
In 2011, Brady enjoyed perhaps his finest season as a pro since his MVP year of 2007, throwing for more than 5,000 yards and 39 touchdowns. However, the Patriots have needed an MVP-type year from their quarterback, as defense - measured by the yards given up per game ranks statistically next to last in the league.
That gives Tebow and the Denver offense a chance to send the Patriots to their fourth consecutive playoff defeat, dating back to the 2008 Super Bowl. Led by running back Willis McGahee, the Broncos can control the ball with an NFL-leading rushing attack.
Sunday afternoon in Baltimore, the Texans play their second-ever playoff game against the Ravens (1 p.m. ET on CBS). Ever since this century began, Baltimore has been known for its defense. And this season is no exception, as the Ravens are ranked third in total defense in the NFL. Linebacker Ray Lewis is the veteran leader of the group, ably supported by Terrell Suggs and safety Ed Reed.
However, the Texans have improved steadily, so much so that they are the second-ranked defense in the NFL, just behind the Steelers in the regular season.
Houston started the year with Matt Schaub at quarterback, but lost both him and backup Matt Leinart to injury. Third-stringer T.J. Yates, a rookie out of North Carolina, gets the start with former Carolina Panther quarterback Jake Delhomme backing him up. Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson and running back Arian Foster are the main weapons at Yates's disposal.
These two teams met back on Oct. 16, with the Ravens winning, 29-14.
The weekend wraps up late Sunday afternoon when the New York Giants take on the Packers in Green Bay (4:30 p.m. ET on Fox). This could be a shootout, as the Packers average 35 points per game on offense while New York's passing attack could feast on the Green Bay defense, statistically the worst in the league, as measured by yards allowed.
Back on Dec. 4, the Packers edged the Giants, 38-35.
Like Brady, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has enjoyed an MVP-like campaign, throwing for more than 4,600 yards and 45 touchdowns. His receiving corps includes seven players with at least 20 catches this season and has been featured on the cover of 'Sports Illustrated.'
Eli Manning of the Giants had perhaps his best season, statistically, in 2011, throwing for nearly 5,000 yards and 29 touchdowns. His two primary targets were Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, both of whom exceeded 1,000 yards in receiving this season.
All in all, it should be another great NFL playoff weekend. Just make sure you get out of the Barcalounger and stretch some during the games.