Washington Post NFL reporter Mark Maske took a closer look at each of the four divisional round matchups in advance of the second week of the NFL playoffs. This week’s games include a marquee matchup between the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and New York Giants at Lambeau Field, and a second chance for Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos to take down Tom Brady and the high-scoring New England Patriots. The young Houston Texans visit the Baltimore Ravens in the other AFC semifinal while San Francisco hosts Drew Brees and New Orleans in the other NFC contest. Here’s what each team must do to advance to the conference championship round.
Saturday, 4:30 p.m., Candlestick Park (FOX)
How the Saints can win… Can this offense be stopped? QB Drew Brees, after setting NFL single-season records for completion percentage and passing yards during the regular season, threw for 466 yards and three TDs in a first-round playoff victory over the Lions. The Saints scored 35 second-half points and set a single-game postseason record with 626 total yards. The task becomes more difficult now. New Orleans must face the rugged 49ers defense and leave the comforts of the Superdome to play a road game outdoors. The Saints never have won a road playoff game. The defense surrendered 211 receiving yards to Lions WR Calvin Johnson. But the 49ers ranked 26th in the league in total offense during the regular season.
How the 49ers can win… They get to play at home, where they went 7-1 during the regular season. The formula is clear: They must run the ball on offense to control the clock and the game, and rely on their defense to slow down Brees and the New Orleans offense. The 49ers are built to do that. They ranked eighth in the league in rushing offense. They were fourth in the league in total defense and second in scoring defense, and they had an NFL-best turnover margin of plus-28. The 49ers will try to prevent a passing duel between Alex Smith and Brees. Smith was efficient during the regular season, with 17 TD passes and only five interceptions, but had 2,332 fewer passing yards than the New Orleans quarterback.
More on this matchup:
Saturday, 8 p.m., Gillette Stadium (CBS)
How the Broncos can win…The Broncos’ dramatic first round playoff triumph came after they lost their final three games of the regular season and got into the playoffs at 8-8. QB Tim Tebow threw for 316 yards and two TDs on only 10 completions against the Steelers, who led the league in total defense during the regular season. The Broncos started well but couldn’t keep pace with the Patriots when they lost to them in Denver, 41-23, on Dec. 18. The key this time will be to avoid turnovers. They had three of them (to none by the Patriots) in the first meeting. The coach who drafted Tebow in Denver, Josh McDaniels, rejoins the Patriots this week to work alongside soon-to-depart offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien.