NFL Playoffs 2012: Predicting the Wild Card Weekend

Pete WilliamsCorrespondent IJanuary 2, 2012

NFL Playoffs 2012: Predicting the Wild Card Weekend

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    The regular season is over and it's time to prepare for the Wild Card Weekend.

    The matchups between the Cincinnati Bengals against the Houston Texans and the Atlanta Falcons against the New York Giants seem to be pretty evenly matched.

    The matchups between the Detroit Lions vs. New Orleans Saints and the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Denver Broncos seem to have two clear favorites in the Saints and the Steelers.

    But this is the playoffs and this is a totally different thing than the regular season, as I'm sure the Saints will remember all too well in their game against Marshawn Lynch—oh, I mean the Seattle Seahawks—in 2010.

AFC: No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals at No. 3 Houston Texans

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    Bengals 20, Texans 10

    The Texans are down to playing a banged-up rookie or a run-down veteran at the most critical position in sports. Even though the Texans have a very good defense, I just can't see them holding up against a Bengals team that is solid on defense and has some spectacular young playmakers on offense.

    I think the Bengals will do a better job of stopping the Texans running game than the Texans will do at stopping the Bengals passing game.

    Game-Changer: Andre Johnson—is he able to deliver a magical game?

NFC: No. 6 Detroit Lions at No. 3 New Orleans Saints

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    Lions 21, Saints 35

    The Lions offense is just too one-dimensional to outscore Drew Brees and his high-octane offense.

    Right know the Saints are probably the best-playing team in the NFL and they are in good health. This one could be over by the end of the first half.

    Game-Changer: Ndamukong Suh finds his way back to his 2010 self and elevates the defense to a whole new level.

NFC: No. 5 Atlanta Falcons at No. 4 NY Giants

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    Falcons 24, Giants 27

    Matt Ryan is playing away from home and outdoors in the cold. The Giants are riding momentum and a hot Manning-to-Cruz tandem.

    The Falcons have been cruising for a while and the Giants are in fight-for-survival mode; that gives the Giants an edge in a close game—very close game.

    Game-Changer 1: Which Giants team will show up?

    Game-Changer 2: Will Matty Ice finally prove that he is ice when it counts? Talk about signature game for Matt Ryan!

AFC: No. 5 Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 4 Denver Broncos

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    Steelers 10, Broncos 13

    The Steelers have a makeshift O-line, without their two best RBs and Ben Roethlisberger playing on one foot. The Broncos pass rush will get to an immobile Big Ben, who gets knocked out of the game in the second quarter.

    The thin air in Denver will wear out the aging Steelers defense and Matt Prater kicks the winning 61-yard field goal with one minute left in the game.

    Game-Changer: Tim Tebow, for better and for worse. This game Tebow will be fighting for survival. Will John Fox finally take training wheels off Tebow? Or will the wheels come off the Tebow Train?