No more excuses. No more tomorrows. No more second chances. The math is very simple. Win or go home. The NFL playoffs begin this weekend and for the 12 teams remaining, they simply have no choice but to win in order to reach the Super Bowl. For teams such as the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers, they get this week off and prepare for next week. However the teams playing this week should be optimistic. A team playing wildcard weekend as advanced to the Super Bowl 5 out of the last 6 seasons. And with this season being wacky and unpredictable, who knows what will happen.
With that being said, here’s a look and predictions of the 4 wildcard games this weekend.
Cincinnati at Houston
Two surprise teams face each other at Reliant Stadium. The Texans are making their first appearance in the postseason in franchise history but have some question marks namely at quarterback. With starter Matt Schaub, and backup Matt Leinart out for the season with injuries, the Texans have turned to third stringer T.J. Yates to go under centre. Problem is Yates is battling a sore shoulder so he’s not 100% either. Yates is expected to start but if he can’t go all the way, then the erratic Jake Delhomme will step in. Houston does have a great running game led by Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Foster rushed for 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns in only 13 games this season. Tate rushed for 942 yards and 4 touchdowns. This tandem gives the Texans many options on offence when the passing game isn’t working. Andre Johnson should be ready to go at receiver, which gives Yates a target downfield.
The Bengals were expected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL and with the Carson Palmer saga hanging over their heads at the start of the year, the outlook was bleak in the Queen City. However rookie quarterback Andy Dalton has been a bright light for the Bengals and is a leading candidate for rookie of the year. With fellow freshman A.J Green at receiver, these two have formed a dynamic duo in the passing game which may give the Texans headaches in the secondary. The question will be can these young Bengals handle the playoff pressure? I’m not sold on the Bengals defence when it comes to stopping the run, and being on the road will be a disadvantage for the Bengals. Reliant Stadium should be rocking and the Texans running game will keep the Bengals offence off the field. Close but I’m picking Houston to win.
Detroit at New Orleans.
This has all the making of a shootout. The Saints led the league in total offence with 467.1 yards per game. The Lions were fifth in the same category with 396.1 yards per game. The Saints led the league in passing with 334.2 yards passing per game. The Lions were fourth with 300.9 yards per game. The Saints were second with an average of 34.2 points per game. The Lions were fourth with 29.6 points per game. Both quarterbacks, Drew Brees for the Saints and Matthew Stafford for the Lions threw for over 5,000 yards this season. Calvin Johnson aka Megatron led all receivers with 16 touchdown catches for the Lions. Marques Colston was in the top 10 of every receiving category for the Saints. You get the idea. However there are differences.
The Saints have playoff experience and moxie behind them. A Super Bowl victory 2 years ago established the Saints as an elite franchise. This is the Lions first playoff game since 1999. Don’t forget the Lions went 0-16 in 2008. The Saints are one of the most disciplined teams in the NFL. The Lions are arguably the most out of control teams in the NFL. The Saints are a perfect 8-0 at home. The Lions have been good on the road this year, but haven’t won a playoff road game since 1957. As most of you know, I’m a huge Detroit Lions fan but I don’t see them winning this one. New Orleans wins.
Atlanta at New York Giants.
The Falcons are trying to forget what happened in last year’s postseason, while the Giants are trying to relive 2007. Atlanta were the number 1 seed in the NFC but were blown out by Green Bay in their first playoff game. Head coach Mike Smith claims the Falcons have learned from that experience and they will be better this postseason. Quarterback Matt Ryan got off to a slow start but has played well the last several weeks. He does have some weapons surrounding him. Receiver Roddy White reached the century mark in receptions this season and rookie Julio Jones is a gamebreaker who can drive secondaries crazy. Veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez is still a reliable target and desperately wants to win a Super Bowl before he retires. Running back Michael Turner needs to be effective from the backfield. Turner did rush for 1,340 yards this season and can wear defences down.
The Giants do have winning experience on their side. Quarterback EIi Manning did lead the Giants to a Super Bowl championship in 2007 and is hoping to do the same in 2011. Manning had a career year throwing for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns. Victor Cruz had a breakout season at wide receiver with 82 receptions for 1,536 yards and 9 touchdowns. Cruz emerged as a home run threat for the G-Men and could be the deciding factor in the game. The main weakness for the Giants is the running game where they ranked dead last averaging 89.2 yards per game. However I don’t think the Falcons defence is good enough to stop the Giants passing game. Atlanta does have issues in the secondary and Manning will take advantage of that. I see the Giants winning this one.
Pittsburgh at Denver.
It’s the Steel Curtain vs. Tim Tebow. Good vs. Evil. Well not really. The Steelers do have evil elements. Yes they are tough. Yes they are mean. Yes James Harrison will run over puppies for a win. But, no the Steelers aren’t evil. And Tim Tebow isn’t all good. He might be a saint of a man but he’s vastly overrated as a quarterback. Don’t believe me well here are some numbers to prove my point. In 14 games Tebow completed only 46.4% of his passes. 126 out of 271. If you can’t complete 50% of your passes, you’re not a good NFL quarterback. His QB rating his only 72.9 which ranks him 27th in the NFL behind such luminaries as Tavaris Jackson and Kevin Kolb while just barely finishing ahead of Rex Grossman. (Yes Rex Grossman) Last week, with the Broncos playing for a division title at home, Tebow’s quarterback rating was a measly 20.6. The only reason why the Broncos are in the playoffs is because the entire AFC West stunk.
Now I will admit I’m not sold on the Steelers. Yes they do have a winning pedigree but playing in altitude will be an adjustment for the black and gold. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is still sporting a sore ankle and while he’s expected to start, he won’t be 100%. The Steelers also won’t have free safety Ryan Clark who is missing the game due to sickle-cell trait and running back Rashad Mendenhall who tore his ACL and will be lost for the season. That being said, the Steelers defence will shut down Tebow and they will find enough offence to pull this one out. Pittsburgh wins.
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