Friday, January 6, 2012

NFL Wild-Card Weekend Predictions

(AP Photo/Bill Haber)
The Saints got unlucky by missing out on a first round bye, but should be able to advance to the next round
 with a win over Detroit. A Saints vs. Packers rematch of Week One will prove once and for all who the MVP is.

It's this time of the year again, as the NFL postseason kicks off with two Saturday games followed by two Sunday games. On Saturday the early matchup is Cincinnati at Houston followed by Detroit at New Orleans. On Sunday, Atlanta travels to New York while the Steelers will face Denver.

Bengals vs. Texans: 23-17 Texans

The Texans started off the season as one of the best teams in football, and everyone thought this would be the year they take over the AFC South for years to come. The team was riding a six game winning streak, when Matt Schaub went down with an injury. Since the injury, Houston is 1-3, but unlike Cincinnati, they have the surrounding pieces to make up for their loss. Like Houston, the Bengals are also starting a young quarterback on Saturday. What gives the Texans the edge over the Bengals is their supporting cast. Arian Foster has been a stud for Houston all season. Along with Andre Johnson, who has returned from a hamstring injury, the Texans have a great receiving core to help out the inexperienced T.J. Yates. Then comes their defense. Mario Williams has been out since the middle of the season, but Brian Cushing and Jonathan Joseph have really led this group. Statistically speaking, the Texans, who were a bottom five defensive team in the league, rank third and fourth respectively in opposing rushing and passing yards. One last thing that gives the Texans an edge over the Bengals is the fact that they have had proven success against good teams. The Bengals have just two wins this season over .500 teams, but no wins against playoff teams. The Texans have wins over Pittsburgh and Atlanta, and also beat The Bengals in Yates' first game.

Lions vs. Saints: 40-27 Saints

 Here come the big bad Saints, ready to get revenge on a disappointing 2011 playoff run a year ago. The Lions have had a great season, and look to be a playoff team for years to come, but the inexperience will eat them up on Saturday. This Saints team is very similar to the one that won it all two years ago. With a lethal offense and a hard hitting defense, the Saints can beat anyone. Here's something else about the Saints, they haven't lost a game at home since last year. Drew Brees has had the best year of his career, and wants to cap it off with a win against MVP contender Aaron Rodgers. To get a chance to play Rodgers and the Packers, the Saints will need to win this one. Stafford and the Lions might match the Saints offense early on, but their inexperience will come back to bite them in the end.

Falcons vs. Giants: 35-30 Giants

This one is a tossup. Matt Ryan and the Falcons have had another great year. Trading up for Julio Jones seemed to be the right move, as the rookie has found immediate success getting behind corner backs and scoring touchdowns. Besides their weak offensive line, one thing that puts the Falcons at a huge disadvantage is the dome effect. The Falcons are 6-2 at home this season, but just 4-4 on the road. Even better, the Falcons only have one road win against an above .500 team. Adjusting from a no wind, room temperature stadium, to an unpredictable windy and chilly outdoor stadium is not so easy. With his older brother out this season, Eli Manning has really emerged as an elite quarterback. He took heat for it when he said that in the beginning of the season, but besides Rodgers, Brees, and Brady, their isn't an obvious quarterback who is next in line. Manning was 67 passing yards and a touchdown away from having a 5,000 yard, 30 touchdown year. Only Brees, Brady, and Stafford achieved those numbers. The Giants are also a team of streaks. When they are hot, they are one of the best teams in football, as proven early in the season, but when they lose they look terrible. Good news about the playoffs is that with a win you're in and a loss your going home. The Giants are very capable of getting hot at the right time, and making a deep run in the playoffs.

Steelers vs. Broncos: 17-13 Steelers

Right away, 95% of you readers think the Steelers are going to cruise through this game, and make a deep run in the playoffs. I mean f course, they are the Steelers, they always do. But this year's Steelers team isn't like the others. They are old, banged up, and don't have the same mentality. Yes, they will win this game, but it won't be a walk in the park. Mendenhall and Ryan Clark won't play. While Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey will play, both are banged up and you don't know how good they'll be. Big Ben looked terrible against the Browns last week, in a game they needed to win. As for the Broncos, we all know they shouldn't be in the playoffs. Tebow Mania was fun, but realistically speaking, we know he isn't throwing for 300 yards, 3 touchdowns, and a win. One thing he can do well though, is control the tempo of the game. If the Broncos can eat up a lot of clock time, wear out the old Steelers defense by running the ball a lot, and catch some breaks this game could come down to the end. I'm not saying the Broncos are going to win, but they can make it interesting. As we've learned, anything can happen in Denver with Tebow behind snap.

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