As the 49ers long snapper, Brian Jennings' job requires a great deal of accuracy. As 49ers.com's playoff prognosticator, Jennings would like to maintain his accurate ways. For the remainder of the 2010 playoffs, Jennings will give his thoughts on each playoff matchup and pick his winners exclusively on 49ers.com.
Don't be fooled by his position. Jennings is extremely knowledgeable of the pro game. His 10 years of NFL experience make extremely familiar with the teams and players competing for Super Bowl XLIV.
Wildcard Weekend – Saturday
First, let's look at the Jets and what they did to make the playoffs. New York's biggest wins this season were over the Houston Texans in Houston and over New England at home. They've also won five of their last six games to close out the season. Defensively, the Jets rank No. 1 in points allowed per game (14.8) and they're a minus-2 in takeaway differential. To me, whenever you're in the minus in the turnover differential, that's bad. Offensively, New York ranks as No. 17 in the NFL with 21.8 points per game. Their rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez has a quarterback rating of 63, which is also bad in my eyes.
When you look at Cincinnati, they've won a lot of big games this year. They won in Green Bay, they beat Pittsburgh twice and they beat Baltimore twice. But they have lost four of their last seven games. That might mean they're running out of steam. Defensively, they're ranked No. 6. They give up 18.2 points per game and they're pretty mediocre in the turnover differential. Offensively, they're ranked 22nd in the NFL and they've scored 19.1 points per game. Carson Palmer has a quarterback rating of 83.6. The Bengals also have a great receiver in Chad Ochocinco and I think Palmer and Ochcocinco have a chance to impact this game as well. But the Bengals problem is that they're facing the best defense in the NFL. Those two might not have an opportunity to make an impact on this game. Ten points could win this game, if they're able to get into the end zone once and make at least two other big plays. Ochocinco could make a couple of big plays to swing the game, but I don't think he's going to do that.
To me, the key to this game comes down to which quarterback plays worse.
I think the Jets are going to win an ugly game because they've had a free roll into the playoffs. Basically, the last two teams they played just laid down for them. Because of that, they'll have a lot of confidence going into this game. And because it's going to be outdoors in Ohio, I expect it to be an ugly game. I think the Jets will win 19-13. I don't think there will be a lot of points scored. But then again, I don't think that will matter because I don't see New York getting past the next round.
Philadelphia to me, really only had one big win in the regular season. That was at home over the Denver Broncos, who were a pretty good team this year. That week the Eagles won in a must-win game for Denver. But you also have to pay attention to the fact that they've won six of their last seven. Philadelphia is kind of rolling right now heading into the playoffs, if you can look past their Week 17 loss at Dallas. Defensively, they're ranked 19th, giving up 21.0 points per game and they're ranked No. 2 in the NFL with a plus-15 takeaway differential. Those numbers are all good to me. Offensively, they're ranked No. 5 in the NFL, scoring 26.8 points per game. Donovan McNabb has a 92.9 quarterback rating and that shows how good of football he's been playing this year.
On the other hand, Dallas has plenty of big wins this year. They beat the Eagles twice, they beat New Orleans in a big game on Dec. 19 and they won three in a row to close out the season. A lot of people don't know this, but they're No. 2 in the NFL with 15.6 points per game allowed. Offensively, they're No. 14 with 22.6 points per game.
The keys to this game are that the Cowboys figured out what to do with wide receiver Roy Williams in the last month of the season. That alone, really opened up things for the offense. Another key to this game is McNabb's demeanor. If he plays loose, with a smile on his face and has fun, then the Eagles can win.
But my pick is Dallas to win 31-17. It's indoors and I think the Cowboys can score a lot of points.
Wildcard Weekend – Sunday
Baltimore has a couple of quality wins you can't ignore. They beat San Diego early in the season in San Diego and they beat Denver and Pittsburgh. I also couldn't ignore that they've won four of their last six to make the playoffs. Defensively, they're No. 3, giving up 16.3 points per game. They're plus-8 in the turnover battle, which bodes well for them. Offensively, they're No. 9 with 24 points scored per game.
New England won their division and they're playing at home which is huge for them. When you look at all their big wins in 2009, they were all at home. In fact, they didn't lose at home. They beat Atlanta when the Falcons were healthy earlier in the season at home. They also beat Baltimore at home and the Jets at home. The Patriots have also won three of their last four. Defensively, they're No. 5 with 17.8 points per game. Takeaways/giveaways, they are plus-7. So the turnover battle in this game is kind of a draw. Offensively, they're No. 6, scoring 26 points per game.
To me, the key to this game is that New England is at home. They win at home. They've won all eight games at home. But the only thing that could give them major trouble is Baltimore's running game. It could be deciding factor in this game, but I don't think that's going to be the case. The Ravens biggest rushing games came against the Detroit Lions and the Oakland Raiders. Baltimore's running game in recent memory has been explosive, but those were against non-playoff teams. I don't think they're going to be able to run the ball like they did against the Raiders. But, running the ball gives them their best shot at winning this game.
In the end, I'm going to have to take New England to win, because they're at home. I foresee another low scoring game, maybe19-13, not a lot of points. They're playing outdoors and that always helps New England. Although my heart is with the Ravens and I want them to win the game, I have to pick the Patriots, because they're at home and that's where they win football games.
The Packers have a couple of big wins this year. They beat Dallas at home and they beat Baltimore at home. Those were probably the two best teams they beat this season. Defensively, they ranked No. 7, giving up 18.6 points per game. But the biggest stat for Green Bay is the turnover differential. They lead the NFL with a plus-22 differential. Offensively, they're No. 3, scoring 28 points per game.
The Cardinals have big wins over Houston, which was a solid team this year, and they went into New York and beat the Giants. That was a big game early when the Giants were still playing well. Arizona also beat Minnesota at home in a prime-time game. Defensively, they're 14th, giving up 20.3 points per game. In the takeaway battle they finished minus-5. That's a big difference compared to how Green Bay finished. Offensively, they ranked No. 11, scoring 23 points per game.
The keys to this game are turnovers. If the Cardinals can win the turnover battle, they could win this game. Another thing I can't overlook is Ken Whisenhunt and his coaching staff. They do a great job of preparing their team for the playoffs. But in the end, I'm going to go with Green Bay. I like the Packers to win 27-23. The game is being played indoors, so I think both teams will probably be able to score a lot of points. If the Packers get a couple of turnovers, it could be a blowout. I think the Packers are really the only team out of the Wild Card round that can play in the Super Bowl this year.