The NFL regular season is over and the playoffs begin this weekend! I am rather pleased that we got around to having playoffs this year and the season wasn't stopped or even hindered by the Lockout. A crazy season it has been, especially with how things ended in the AFC. Certainly I would say there has been a switching of the guard so to speak with the NFC being the power house conference instead of the AFC. All of the teams in the AFC playoff picture have issues. The Patriots don't know how to play defense at times. The Ravens struggle on the road and occasionally in games they shouldn't struggle in. The Texans are playoff new comers and have been decimated by injuries. The Broncos, well, uh, I don't know how they made it in. The Steelers have Harbaugh problems (3 of their 4 losses came to a team who's head coach was a Harbaugh) and injuries problems recently. And the Bengals are young with no playoff experience, riding a surprising 9-7 record based on a fairly easy schedule. Then you have the NFC. The top 3 teams (Packers, Saints, Niners) have 13 wins or more and I believe all 3 of them would beat any AFC opponent in a Super Bowl match-up. The remaining three teams (Giants, Falcons, Lions), while I don't know if I would make the same claim with them beating anyone, would make a good run if placed in the AFC side of the bracket. So it should be interesting to watch. And as you can tell from the title, instead of just rambling on like I have, I am going to make some predictions and commentary on the upcoming Wild Card match-ups. I may be dead wrong in all of them with how the NFL is sometimes, but I enjoy doing it anyways.
#6- Cincinnati Bengals @ #3- Houston Texans - Saturday 4:30 ET (NBC) - This is an odd match-up. The Bengals have been the surprise team of the year. No one would've predicted them to make the playoffs after what happened in the off season. The TO - Ochocinco drama of last season ended with both players not brought back. Their franchise QB of the last several seasons in Carson Palmer decides he's no longer going to play for them. So the Bengals go to a youth movement and put their faith in a rookie quarterback and a rookie receiver. Good call. After a great year out of Andy Dalton and AJ Green, the Bengals are the third team from the AFC North to make the playoffs and having a promising future. However, its of note that we look at their schedule. They played 7 games against current playoff teams. Their record in those 7 games is 0-7. So yeah, all their wins came against non-playoff teams and out of those 9 wins, only one of the teams (the 9-7 Titans) ended with a winning record. I'd say it would be easy to predict a loss with those stats, except for the fact that they got matched up against the Texans. The Texans have had a good team for several years, but haven't been able to overcome the Colts and have been on the outside looking in for several seasons. This season with the Colts nose-diving without Peyton Manning, it was the Texans division to take and they took it. Towards the beginning of the season they looked like a solid team that would be scary to play in the playoffs. Then injuries started piling up. Yes, injuries are a part of the game, but when several of your best players are the ones getting hurt, that's hard to recover from. The Texans go into this game with third string quarterback, rookie TJ Yates, at the helm. Because of those injuries, the Texans come limping into the playoffs while riding a 3 game losing streak. Momentum is the key to winning playoff games in the NFL and the Texans have almost none. So like I said, this is quite the interesting match-up. Someone has to win and move on and I think in a hard fought, close game, that team will be the Houston Texans.
My Pick: Houston Texans
#6 Detroit Lions @ #3 New Orleans Saints - Saturday 8:00 ET (NBC) - In my mind, this right here is the game of the week. The Detroit Lions have been a bad team for a long time. The last time they made the playoffs was 1999 and the last time they won a playoff game was 1991. The last few years they have shown potential that they could be really good but never had a breakout season. Well, this season was their breakout season and they showed that the future is bright with Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and company. With the Packers playing the way they have been this season, a divisional title was out of the question, but I thought they were going to be the Wild Card team that no one wanted to play. And that still might be true, but after all of this I feel bad for the Lions because they have to play the Saints. The Saints are on fire. They are riding on an 8 game winning streak of which they scored over 40 points in the last three games. Then of course there is Drew Brees who threw for 5400 yards, which if you missed the news is a new NFL record. No team wants to play against that. The Lions will put up a fight in what should be a fun, high scoring game, but the Saints will come out on top. If the Lions pull off the upset, the road won't get any easier as they will travel to Lambeau to play the Packers for a third time this year.
My Pick: New Orleans Saints
#5 Atlanta Falcons @ #4 New York Giants - Sunday 1:00 ET (FOX)- The Falcons really lucked out in that last week of the season. Going into that week, they were sitting in the number six spot and poised to play the Saints, who had just beaten them 45-16 the week before. Now after learning they locked up the number five seed, I'm sure they were voting for Tony Choko and the Dallas Cowboys to beat the Giants that evening (the Cowboys have won only one playoff game since 1996) but seeing as the Giants won the game and the division, the winner of this game is a toss up. It depends on which Giants team decides to show up. Will it be the Giants team who beat the Pats and almost knocked off the Packers or will it be the Giants team that got crushed by the Redskins? In a week division, its no surprise that they won the division, but how the Giants fare in a crowded NFC is certainly a mystery. They could be the dark horse or they could be a quick exit. The Giants will have home field in this one, but the Falcons have the better record and should be the slight favorite. Either team could win and not surprise me, but I will go with the Falcons.
My Pick: Atlanta Falcons
#5 Pittsburgh Steelers @ #4 Denver Broncos - Sunday 4:30 ET (CBS)- Tim Tebow and the Broncos are easily the story of the year. Now I am not a Bronco hater and I am actually a fan of Tim Tebow. I like the guy. He has all the intangibles and is a real winner. But the guy right now is a bad quarterback and this Tebowmania and Broncos hype is silly. I don't know if they have been rated high enough to be called over-rated, but if so then they certainly are. Yes its a great story. Yes they started 1-4 and then benched Orton for Tebow and following that move won 7 out of their next 8 games. But did you see who those 7 wins were against? They were against the Dolphins, Raiders, Chiefs, Jets, Chargers, Vikings, and Bears. Yes, they played great in the fourth quarter and had several great comebacks, but the fact that it took overtime or fourth quarter comebacks to beat several of those teams I think is quite sad. During Tebow's run this season, they have only played two playoff teams. They got slaughtered by both of them. To top it off, they ended the season on a three game losing streak which included getting pummeled by the Bills and almost blanked by the Orton and the Chiefs. Thanks to the Chargers beating the Raiders in week 17, they ended up on top of a three way tie in that division and got the playoff birth. Everything points to a quick and easy first round exit as they host the experienced Pittsburgh Steelers who always seem to find ways to win in the playoffs. Having said that, I do have to make the note that the Steelers come limping in to the playoffs with Ben Roethlisberger fighting an injury and Rashard Mendenhall being declared out for the playoffs. A first round bye would've really helped them out a ton, but nonetheless they have to give it a go this week and hope that Ben's injury don't slow him down anymore and that Isaac Redman is ready to go at Runningback. Even with a hurting Steelers team, I don't think the Broncos can do it.
My Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers