I’ve conceded the season picks title to Rosenthal, in part because I have to. There are seven games left and I’m eight games behind and we once again agree on three of the games for the upcoming weekend.
So congratulations, Rosey.
You win the prize, whatever the prize may be.
Saints at 49ers
Florio’s take: The Saints have played outdoors five times this season. They beat the Jaguars, Panthers, and Titans — and the Saints lost to the Packers and Buccaneers. In New Orleans’ last outdoor excursion, the team scored only 22 points. In four straight dome games (three at home), the Saints have racked up 42, 45, 45, and 45. The 49ers, in contrast, have allowed 10 total points in their last three home games. Something has to give in this one, and with the Saints somehow favored to win, look for coach Jim Harbaugh to find a way to use that sign of disrespect to whip his team into a frenzy that will send the Saints limping out of Candlestick Park, with the Niners getting their first win since division realignment ended the twice-a-year rivalry in 2002.
Florio’s pick: 49ers 26, Saints 20.
Rosenthal’s take: The best game of the weekend is up first. The Saints play PS3 football; the 49ers play Atari. The Saints build everything around their quarterback; the 49ers quarterback is only a cog in the machine. New Orleans didn’t top 25 points their last two times outdoors, but the offense is playing at a different level now. Modern football prevails, barely.
Rosenthal’s pick: Saints 27, 49ers 23.
Broncos at Patriots
Florio’s take: Last year, the Patriots destroyed the Jets, 45-3, on a Monday night in December. In the postseason rematch, the Jets somehow upended the Pats in Foxborough, 28-21. That fact, coupled with the unpredictable phenomenon known as Tebowmania, makes me very inclined to predict that the Broncos will shock the world — and the Patriots — on Saturday night. But then I’m reminded of a New England offense that can move the ball at will, playing at home with something to prove after three straight postseason losses (two at Gillette Stadium) and picking up an extra lift from the initials of the late wife of the team’s beloved owner on their jerseys. Tebow Time may at some point carry the Broncos beyond the conference semifinals. But not yet.
Florio’s pick: Patriots 38, Broncos 20.
Rosenthal’s take: This game isn’t about Tim Tebow. The Broncos could run for 200 yards, break off a few vertical plays, and it still won’t matter. There’s little reason to think Denver’s defense is going to have the secondary depth to slow Tom Brady down. This New England team has shown it can come from behind and the team’s young players are more ready for this moment.
Rosenthal’s pick: Patriots 40, Broncos 24.
Texans at Ravens
Florio’s take: The Ravens have won 15 of 16 home games in the past two seasons. They’ve played seven playoff games — all on the road — since 2008, winning four. They finally get to continue their home slate in the middle of January, and even though the Texans will be feeling loose and confident and overlooked and disrespected, only the Steelers had any real shot at beating the Ravens in Baltimore.
Florio’s pick: Ravens 24, Texans 10.
Rosenthal’s take: The Ravens won the line of scrimmage battle when these teams first played. That can’t happen again for the Texans. Houston’s defense and running game has to dominate because T.J. Yates is going to get blitzed in ways he never dreamed of. The Ravens don’t often win convincingly, but they also don’t lose at home.
Rosenthal’s pick: Ravens 24, Texans 14.
Giants at Packers
Florio’s take: It’s tempting to become infatuated with the notion that the 2011 Giants are taking a page from their 2007 playoff run, especially with New York once again getting a crack at a previously unbeaten team that barely beat the Giants, 38-35, in New York. But the Packers team that the Giants overcame at Lambeau Field four years ago wasn’t nearly as good as the current edition of the franchise. The offensive line has held up well despite the injuries, and Aaron Rodgers has the athleticism to weave his way around the likes of Tuck, Umenyiora, Kiwanuka, and Pierre-Paul.
Florio’s pick: Packers 30, Giants 21.
Rosenthal’s take: The Giants have the pass rush and the big play weapons to give Green Bay a lot of problems. New York’s wideouts handled their one-on-one matchups last time and the Giants controlled the running game in Week 13 too. Those are reasons why the Giants will make this a nail-biter. Aaron Rodgers being the best player in football by far is why the Packers will still find a way to win.
Rosenthal’s pick: Packers 34, Giants 31.