It’s nice to sit back and analyze playoff games that, for once, don’t involve the Ravens. Like many of this site’s readers, I’ve evaluated and reevaluated each team’s chances to move to the Divisional Round. With the exception of the Denver Broncos, any team that has made this far has a chance of playing next weekend. I expect most of the games to be close. Here are my Wild Card picks.
THIS WEEK’S PLAYOFF PICKS
Cincinnati at Houston, Saturday January 7th 4:30 PM (NBC)
For the Ravens, this is the most important game of the Wildcard weekend. It will decide whether the Ravens play the Steelers in the Divisional Round on January 15th or the Conference Championship on January 22nd. The Bengals, with rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, have been the surprise of the AFC this season while Houston finally made the playoffs with the sudden demise of the Colts.
The Texans backslid into the playoffs losing their last 3 games (although they all but gave the last game away to the Titans), and are hurting at quarterback with rookie starter T.J. Yates suffering from a separated shoulder. Houston makes up for that by (1) playing at home in the loud Reliant Stadium, and (2) having the 2nd ranked defense in the league.
The Bengals have beaten only one team with a winning record. Marvin Lewis is getting some run as NFL coach of the year and there’s no doubt this might be his best coaching job since he’s been in Cincinnati. A lot of pundits are picking the Bengals to win but, with Wade Philips back on the sidelines as defensive coordinator, the Texans will find a way to befuddle Andy Dalton. The Vegas line is Houston -3, for home field advantage, and that seems about right.
Texans 17, Bengals 13
Detroit at New Orleans, Saturday January 7th 8:00 PM (NBC)
Mount Saint Joe alum Jim Schwartz has brought the Lions from NFL laughing stock to the playoffs in 3 years. He would be a slam dunk for NFL coach of the year if not for the job done by the 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh. Matt Stafford finally stayed healthy all year and had an outstanding season, finishing with over 5,000 passing yards. It was a fine year for the Ford family and Lions organization, the city of Detroit, and the Lions fans.
Unfortunately, the Lions reward for stumbling against the Packers’ reserves in last Sunday’s 45-41 shootout is a trip to the Superdome to meet the invincible (at home) New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees. In a Week 13 meeting in the Dome, the Saints carved up the Lions 31-17 in spite of a 400+ yard passing day by Stafford. The Vegas line is a huge New Orleans -10.5 and that’s just a little too high for teams of playoff caliber. Ndamukong Suh will play this time and will try not to stomp on somebody’s leg. The Lions also have the Megatron, Calvin Williams. Unfortunately the Saints have Mega Everything Else. I like the Saints in a track meet.
New Orleans 37, Detroit 31.
Atlanta at New York Giants, Sunday January 8th 1:00 PM (Fox)
The Falcons should send the Lions a New Year’s Day present for losing to the JV Packers and allowing Atlanta to slide into the 5th seed in the NFC, thus avoiding another ass-whipping in New Orleans. The Falcons are a good, well-rounded team with a great young quarterback, but they’re just not in the class of the Packers or the Saints.
The Giants are very full of themselves after beating the underachieving Cowboys, and, if you believe the New York media, are peaking for a Super Bowl run. The same media circus has already elevated Eli Manning to elite quarterback status. They wanted to call him “Nephew of God,” but that’s been given to Tom Brady. The trash talking has started with Justin Tuck calling the Falcons offensive line “dirt bags,” for their cut blocking and after-whistle cheap shots. Let the games begin!
The Giants are talking Super Bowl, but I don’t buy it. They lost 6 in a row earlier in the season, and they’re beating their chests over the fact they slammed a mediocre Cowboys team. Nobody – except the Denver Broncos – is mediocre at this point and I think the G-men are due for a letdown.
Falcons 27, Giants 21
Pittsburgh at Denver, Sunday January 8th 4:30 PM (CBS)
Like the Texans, the Broncos backslid into the AFC West, losing their last 3 games but looked far worse than Houston while doing it. Tim Tebow was a miserable 6 for 22 against the Chiefs last week, and to say the bloom has come off the Tebow rose is an understatement. A week schedule, an excellent FG kicker, and some late game karma got them this far. Unfortunately “this far” is as far as they’ll get.
The Steelers played with fire starting the injured Ben Roethlisberger against the Browns in a 13-6 win at the Mistake on the Lake. But Big Ben was seen limping after the game and, at this writing, his ankle is only 50%. And…the Browns exacted another heavy toll on their tormentors when Pittsburgh lost their main running threat, Rashard Mendenhall, to a torn ACL. Their secondary also came out of the game pretty banged up. But to me it doesn’t matter.
I can sum up this game in 4 words: Are You Kidding Me? What’s left of the bloom on the Tebow rose is going to be blowtorched by the Steelers’ defense. The Broncos have not played a defense anywhere near the caliber of Pittsburgh’s. Tebow told the press on media Wednesday that he needs to “pull the trigger” against the Steelers. The only problem is his gun will be loaded with blanks.
Tim will be doing a lot of kneeling, but it will be from getting up from multiple Steelers sacks. Due to injuries on the Steelers offense it will be a low scoring affair, but it will be one-sided nevertheless.
Pittsburgh 16, Denver 0
Have Fun! See You on Sunday January 15th at 1PM!
Note: All stats and results courtesy of NFL.com. Additional content from the Baltimore Sun, Houston Chronicle, New York Daily News and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.