With the New York Giants beating the Dallas Cowboys, the 2011 NFL playoff field is set. Next Saturday, we will get to watch the Cincinnati Bengals go to Houston to play the Texans, and the Detroit Lions travel to the Superdome to take on Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints (more on Brees later.) Then on Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons will travel to the Meadowlands to battle against the New York Giants, and Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos will host the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Here are some quick previews and predictions for Wild Card Weekend.
The Cincinnati Bengals lost this week, but still made the playoffs due to losses from the Raiders and Broncos. These two teams met earlier this season, with Houston prevailing by a single point.
However, since that game, Houston are on a three game losing streak, not a good way to enter the playoffs. The Bengals, led by rookies AJ Green and Andy Dalton, have struggled against division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore, but have a strong 9-3 record against everyone else.
There is also controversy surrounding the Texans on whether third-string QB TJ Yates will start on Saturday. Even with the top rushing game in the AFC, the mess at QB make me scared to pick Houston. I like the Bengals in an upset.
PICK: Bengals 21 Texans 20
This game features two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL: Lions QB Matthew Stafford and Saints QB Drew Brees.
Brees has had an unbelievable season, breaking the single season passing yards record, while Stafford has thrown 41 touchdown passes himself. Each quarterback also has dangerous weapons: New Orleans has TE Jimmy Graham and WR Marques Colston among others, while the Lions' feature such weapons as WR Calvin Johnson and TE Brandon Pettigrew.
This will be an exciting and high-scoring game, but the Saints are 8-0 at home this year, and I think they will make it 9-0
PICK: Saints 45 Lions 34
This matchup features two teams coming off big wins.The Giants defeated the Cowboys 31-14 to clinch the NFC East, while the Falcons throttled the Buccaneers 45-24.
The Giants seem to be clicking at the right time. Eli Manning has looked great, the receivers (Victor Cruz in particular) have been excellent, and the defense is getting to the quarterback more now that DE Osi Umenyiora is healthy.
However, New York's secondary has been shaky, and the Falcons have tons of receiving weapons. QB Matt Ryan has wide receivers Roddy White, Julio Jones and TE Tony Gonzalez. In addition, the Falcons also have a great dual-threat player in RB Michael Turner.
Even with that said, I see New York prevailing here. Eli Manning is a proven playoff QB and is playing in front of his home crowd. Plus, the Falcons' secondary has also struggled at times, which is a problem when you are playing a team with Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks
PICK: Giants 31 Falcons 24
Mike Tomlin confirmed that Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall has a torn ACL and will not play for the rest of the season. This makes it more difficult for the Steelers, but they still should not have a problem beating Denver.
Broncos QB Tim Tebow has struggled the past three weeks, and as sensational as Von Miller and the Broncos' defense was last Sunday (7 points allowed), Tebow could not get anything going against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Steelers' defense is a lot better than the Chiefs, and even if the Steelers' offense struggles without Mendenhall, the defense should be able to do enough for the Steelers to advance
PICK: Steelers 23 Broncos 3