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NFL playoff capsules

Saints (14-3) at 49ers (13-3)

Time: 4:30 p.m. TV/radio: Ch. 13; 1010-AM

Coaches: Saints — Sean Payton (61-34); 49ers — Jim Harbaugh (13-3)

The Saints win if …

They can run the ball against the 49ers' tough front seven. That would keep the secondary honest and allow the Saints and QB Drew Brees to mix up their play-calling.

The 49ers win if …

They squash the run and Frank Gore eats up both yards and the clock on the ground, keeping Brees sidelined.

Matchup to watch

LB Aldon Smith, far left, the seventh overall pick, took the NFL by storm during his rookie season by recording 14 sacks (tied for fifth in the league). However, the Saints, led by LT Jermon Bushrod, allowed just 24 sacks, second fewest in the league.

Our take

The 49ers are very much the real deal. But the fear is if the Saints and their offensive machine get rolling even a little, can the 49ers close the gap on the scoreboard? We don't believe the Saints will run away with it, but they will make their share of plays.

Prediction | Saints 24, 49ers 21

Broncos (9-8) at Patriots (13-3)

Time: 8 p.m. TV/radio: Ch. 10; 1010-AM

Coaches: Broncos — John Fox (9-8, 82-79 overall); Patriots — Bill Belichick (139-53, 175-97 overall)

The Patriots win if …

They can put Broncos QB Tim Tebow in third-and-long situations. He has matured as a passer, but enough to top Tom Brady, left, on the road?

The Broncos win if …

They can run the ball against a porous New England defense, thereby keeping Brady and his weapons sidelined. A big factor is Tebow's option runs.

Matchup to watch

Former Gators TE Aaron Hernan­dez, far left, had his way in New England's first meeting vs. Denver's linebackers, catching nine passes for 129 yards. If fellow TE Rob Gronkowski joins in, watch out.

Our take

The Broncos' strengths are their defense and their running game, and both will be overmatched here. The defense isn't good enough to stop the Patriots offense, and the running game might not provide enough firepower to keep pace.

Prediction | Patriots 30, Broncos 17

Stephen F. Holder, Times staff writer

Stat pack

passing yards

rushing yards

passing yards allowed

rushing yards allowed











offensive rankings: Saints — 1st; 49ers — 26th

defensive rankings: Saints — 24th; 49ers — 4th

points scored: Saints — 34.2 (1st); 49ers — 23.8 (11th)

points allowed: Saints — 21.2 (13th); 49ers — 14.3 (2nd)

Stat pack

passing yards

rushing yards

passing yards allowed

rushing yards allowed











offensive rankings: Broncos — 23rd; Patriots — 2nd

defensive rankings: Broncos — 20th; Patriots — 31st

points scored: Broncos — 19.3 (25th); Patriots — 32.1 (3rd)

points allowed: Broncos — 24.4 (24th); Patriots — 21.4 (15th)

NFL playoff capsules 01/13/12 [Last modified: Friday, January 13, 2012 8:34pm]
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