Editor’s Note: Fuck you Drew Brees, fuck you Shawn Payton, fuck you New Orleans, I wish Katrina had won.
SAN DIEGO AT CINCINATTI: Let me start off by saying that San Diego doesn’t even deserve to be in the playoffs. For those that don’t know, the NFL apologized for missing a San Diego Penalty on a KC missed Field Goal that would have won the game for a KC team that wasn’t playing its starters. If you have to go to overtime and get a break from the refs to beat another wild card team’s backups, you should not be in the playoffs. Never the less, here we are, and here are the matchups that will determine this game.
Andrew Whitworth v. Manti Teo and/or Donald Butler: While the stats don’t really show it, the Bengals OL is one of the most physical in the game. These teams played about a month ago, where the Bengals went to San Diego and got a 17-10 win. The Bengals OL dominated the game. If you don’t want to take my word for it, here is all you need to know. Ben-Jarvis Green-Ellis ran for 100 yards and a TD on 20 carries. We all know that the Law Firm is old and slow, so to get those kind of yards he needed the road paved. Perhaps the best Bengals OL is Andrew Whitworth. You may remember him as the tackle in Hard Knocks who looks like a mix between Zac Brown and Vic Mackey. He let Tyler Eifert stay in his house with his family for some reason. (Editor’s Note: 50/50 Eifert laid pipe on Mrs. Whitworth) Whitworth is amazing because he has the length, balance and footwork and pass blocking abilities of a pro bowl LT, but due to injuries to the Bengals OL, he moved down to Left Guard and has showed he can blow people off the ball like a guard. He is particularly good at getting to the second level and tying up and often pancaking inside linebackers. In the NFL, if you can get to the second level you are in business. Teo and Butler are the Chargers ILB’s. Teo, as we know, is not particularly good at shedding big physical SEC lineman (Whitworth is from LSU). If Whitworth can pull a repeat performance of the December game, Gio Bernard (he was hurt the last time they played), will run for twice as many yards as the Law Firm. Teo, Butler and the Chargers defense have improved as the year has gone on, but it’s hard to imagine them winning this matchup against one of the best in the league. Advantage Cincy.
Keenan Allen v. Pacman Jones and/or Dre Kirkpatrick: The only way the Chargers win this game is if they make a big play down the field. Rookie of the Year candidate WR Allen seems to be the big play guy of this offense. He is absolutely the 3rd down target for Rivers, and is the best guy on the team when it comes to ability for YAC. His future in this league is bright. On the other side of the field are the two Bengal CBs. Other than being hilarious on Hard Knocks, Pacman has really gone under the radar this year. They don’t even call him Pacman anymore, just Adam. He is a lockdown corner who doesn’t really get attacked very much. If I were the Chargers OC, I would make sure Allen is on Dre’s side of the field. Despite being a stand out CB at Alabama, Kirkpatrick has struggled to get on the field this year. It took an injury to Terrance Newman to put Dre in the starting lineup. He was a little shaky, until last week when he picked off Flacco twice. Did he turn the corner? Hard to say. For this matchup I will assume Mike McCoy reads this column and challenges Kirkpatrick with Allen, and not Pacman. Advantage SD.
Ryan Matthews v. Vontez Burficet. Ryan Matthews is best known as being a fantasy headache. He never really lived up to his projections and at this point you have to consider him a bust. Of course, just to entice someone to take him next year in the JFFL draft (I predict Trombone or Silverfox), Matthews made a late season push. Over the Chargers past four games he has run for 473 yards. There is only one person who has run for more yards during that time period, Shady McCoy. The hot Matthews runs into Vontez Burficet in Cincy. Vontez Burficet is a tackling machine. He leads the NFL in tackles with 171, which is a ten more than the next guy. Really, all of the Bengals LB’s are good against the run. The Bengals have the league’s number 4 run defense. James Harrison is a psychotic person who likes to hurt people. Rey Maualuga is probably the best all-around LB on the team. The LBs are protected by a very good DL lead by Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap. If Geno Atkins was healthy, this would be a no-contest. Even without him, this matchup is easy to pick. I expect the Bengals to get out of their 3-4 for reasons I will stay below and put more Safeties on the field and sit Harrison, leaving Rey and Vontez to chase down Ryan Matthews. They will. Advantage Cincy.
Antonio Gates v. Cincy Secondary: Gates is all but washed up. He has lost a step and his stats have diminished. He is still dangerous though and needs to be accounted for. I predict the Bengals will take out Harrison and put an extra safety Shawn Williams in the game. This would put normal starting free safety Reggie Nelson on Gates. I could also see Maualuga on him with safety help. 3 to 5 years ago I would say Gates is the clear winner here, but not now. He isn’t quick enough to burn an LB anymore, and a S could just blanket him. Advantage Cincy.
Good Andy Dalton v. Bad Andy Dalton “BAD”: You never know which one is going to show up. This has driven Bengals fans, gamblers, and the Captain insane all year long. There is a chance of either one showing up. I don’t know which. Even though I put it this far down in my breakdown, it is probably the most important match up. BAD can sink the Bengals more than any player on the Chargers can. Advantage EVEN:
Prediction: This game really shouldn’t be close. The only thing that can sink the Bengals is BAD. It’s less likely that BAD will show up at home, where the Bengals have won all year long. I think Marvin Lewis gets the monkey off his back and will take the Bengals -6.5.
SAN FRANCISCO AT GREEN BAY: The story in this game is Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb returning to the Packers just in time to lead them to a division title and a home game at Lambeau. It’s going to be COLD there on Sunday afternoon; the wind chill should be below zero. The two teams did play in SF in week one, where the Niners won 38-24 on the back of 200 receiving yards by Anquan Bolden, fooling his fantasy owners everywhere to start him the rest of the season. Enough snark, let’s get to the matchups.
Eddie Lacy and James Stark v. Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis: Eddie Lacy has really come on during the last quarter of the season and is a candidate along with K. Allen for rookie of the year. He is big and runs downhill once he gets a head of steam. His weakness is that it takes a while for him to get up to full speed. James Stark, while not particularly good, is a nice change of pace for when Lacy comes out. The 49ers defense is 4th in the league against the run. Willis gets the accolades and the endorsements, but Bowman may actually be the more productive player. As a tandem, I would take them over any other pair, including the Bengals pair I mentioned above. On closer examination, Lacy accumulated most of his stats after Thanksgiving in wins against Atlanta, Dallas, and Chicago. They are three of the worst defenses against the run in the league. Literally, the Bears are the worst, Falcons second worst, and Cowboys 5th worst. The one half-decent Defense that Lacy faced during that time was the Steelers, which was the only Packer loss during that stretch. He was held to 84 yards in the loss. (He did have two TDs). Hmmm. That sounds a little suspect to me. Advantage SF.
Reggie Cobb v. Carlos Rodgers: This is very interesting because both are coming back from injuries. Cobb saved the Packers season last week but you have to wonder how healthy he is. I don’t know if he will be 100%. If so, he is one of the most dynamic WRs in the league. Carlos Rodgers is one of the better DBs in the league, but he left the game against the Cardinals last week with a hammy. He is listed as questionable. If he can’t go, the Niners aren’t going to start the washed up Nnamdi Asomugah obviously, so the job will go to Eric Wright. With Rodgers back there throwing the rock, this could lead to a big day for Cobb and or Jordy Nelson. Advantage GB.
BJ Raji v. Niner’s OL: Remember when BJ Raji was one of the top DL in the NFL? When was the last time you heard him mentioned in that conversation. Sometime around the NFC Playoffs last year when Kaepernick ran the Read Option all over the Packers to the point of embarrassment (more on that later). Raji hasn’t really had a good year. The potential is still there for the former rugby player. He will have his work cut out for him against what might be the best OL in the league. I am just going to name all of them because they are so good. LT Joe Staley, LG Mike Iupati, C Jonathon Goodwin, RG Alex Boone, and RT Anthony Davis set the tone for this Niners team. They impose their will on teams, and even if BJ has a great game, (he hasn’t all year), the rest of the Packers DL are replacement level at best. The past 4 games, the Packers gave up 120 to Forte, (not outrageous) 124 to Le’Veon Bell (absurd), 134 to Demarco Murray and even 72 to old man Steven Jackson. Remember what the Lions did to the Packers front on Thanksgiving? Reggie Bush and J. Bell ran wild Ouch. Advantage SF.
Aldon Smith v. David Bakhtari: Aldon Smith is the best pass rusher on the Niners. In previous years, and for parts of this year, he has been one of the most disruptive guys in the NFL. Unfortunately he has had to deal with substance abuse issues and went to rehab. Since he returned, his play has been wildly inconsistent. David Bakhtari is equally inconsistent at LT for the Packers. There were games like against the Lions on Thanksgiving where he couldn’t keep his QB upright. You have to wonder how much that game was his fault as opposed to teams daring Flynn to throw deep against a blitz. If I could somehow beam the Aldon Smith of old I would say this is a landslide, but since I don’t know who is showing up, it’s ADVANTAGE EVEN.
Frank Gore v. AJ Hawk: You know both of these guys. Both have had nice little careers. Hawk is pretty good against the run but doesn’t get a lot of credit because of his fellow LB, Clay Matthews. Well, Clay is out this week. It’s up to AJ to stop Frank without much protection from the DL. This means that he will have to take on OL releasing to the second level. I honestly am amazed by Gore. I thought he was washed up two years ago, and drafted Kendall Hunter waiting for him to take over. I am still waiting. What makes Gore such a great runner is his vision. He always hits the hole and almost never takes a big hit because he sees it coming and gets down, or shifts his body as to not take the worst of it. The Packers LB’s other than AJ are up and coming, Mike Neal and Andy Mulumba in particular. It will be absolutely essential for the Packers LB to stop Gore and Hunter to win this game. During the offseason, Mike McCarthy brought in Texas A&M coaches to teach them how to stop the read option after being embarrassed by the Niners in the playoffs. In week one of this season, Green Bay did shut down the read option. Jim Harbaugh is one of the best coaches in the NFL IMO (anybody else notice that three of the best coaches in the NFC, Carroll, Harbaugh and Kelly are from the PAC-12?) I think Harbaugh knows GB can stop that play, so I predict he will counter by resorting to a more traditional power run game Sunday. The Niners will have to do so without the help of fullback Bruce Miller. I expect Harbaugh to use former backup tailback Anthony Dixon at FB when needed. The pressure is really on Gore to run without a lead blocker. I think he can. Advantage SF.
Prediction: Based solely on matchups, San Francisco is just a better team than Green Bay. It is not a surprise that they won their last 3 meetings. (Twice last year and once this year) Their style of play is more suited to the cold weather in the forecast for Sunday. While the Niners have major flaws in their passing game due to the inconsistency of Colin Kaepernick and the health of Michael Crabtree, the Packer’s Defense cannot expose them. The one weakness the Packers should be able to exploit is the Niners’ depleted secondary. Are Rodgers and Cobb healthy enough to step up in the weather? We have been hearing a lot about the Packers being the hot team going into the playoffs, like the Ravens last year. I would argue the Niners are actually the hottest team going into January. The Niners have quietly been my cover team of the past few weeks. If you look back to their week 2 and 3 losses to Seattle and Indy, the Niners have won 11 of their last 13, including 6 in a row. Their two losses were hardly bad ones. They lost by one point to Carolina, and kind of got screwed in a 3 point loss at New Orleans. That is too much to bet against. Vegas agrees, putting them at 2.5 point favorites on the road. Even though it doesn’t make sense to take a road favorite, I am going to do it here based on the above matchups. PICK SF -2.5
Enjoy the Playoffs, and watch for these matchups on your tv screen. They will determine who plays next week. Depending on how this goes, we will do this again in the Divisional Round.