The 2011-2012 NFL playoffs open with an exciting round of wild-card games that will be very interesting to watch. The thrill of Week 17 is sure to carry over to the first round after a few teams sneaked into the playoffs at the last minute.
All of the seedings have been determined and we've been given four great matchups for Wild Card Weekend.
None of the teams are significantly better than any of the other teams, so none of these games will be cakewalks.
Some great matchups are coming up this Saturday and Sunday, which will include some surprises that not many people will see coming.
Saturday 1/7 @ 4:30 PM
Two non-high-profile teams set the stage for the playoffs this year in what should be a tight matchup in Houston. Houston has never made the playoffs in their history, while Cincinnati is a surprise team in the playoffs this year, predicted by most before the season not to win more than four or five games.
There is not much playoff experience to go around between these two teams. The Bengals are led by star rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green on offense, and obviously neither of these players have ever seen the postseason.
Since the Texans have never made the playoffs, pretty much all of their roster has yet to see the playoff spotlight on them. Neither of these teams know the feeling of playing in this big of an NFL game, so experience won't be a factor.
The Texans are well-rested, having locked up a playoff birth after Week 14 and having rested most of their starters during the last week of the regular season. Houston head coach Gary Kubiak wants star receiver Andre Johnson to play 45-50 snaps during the game, which is encouraging, since Johnson has been hurt most of the season.
Arian Foster's skill set will prove to be too much for the Bengals to handle.
Texans 23 Bengals 17
Saturday 1/7 @ 8:00 PM
The Detroit Lions have earned their first playoff berth since all the way back in their 8-8 year of 1999, when Charlie Batch and Gus Frerotte were their QB's.
Their playoff berth in the 2011-2012 season was well deserved, especially given their schedule, which included the Cowboys, 49ers, Falcons, Saints, Raiders, Broncos and the Packers twice. They accomplished all of this with their starting running back Jahvid Best out most of the season.
This playoff game will feature two of the most superb passers in the game. Both Mathew Stafford and Drew Brees threw for over 5,000 yards this year and both will surely show off their guns during this playoff game.
This game is primed to be a shootout, with the second- and fourth-highest scoring teams in the league playing.
As well as the Lions have played this season, Drew Brees can flat out sling the ball. The Saints are tied with the Patriots for the longest current win streak in the league, at eight, and there is nothing that suggests the Saints won't be able to extend that steak to nine.
Saints 45 Lions 38
Sunday 1/8 @ 1:00 PM
The Giants endured a four-game losing streak during the middle of the year, in which their playoff hopes kept dimming and dimming. A come-from-behind victory against Dallas during Week 14 on Sunday Night Football turned their whole season around.
Taking advantage of a division in which nine wins would hand them the title, the Giants closed the season strong, looking like a team that nobody wants to reckon with in the playoffs.
The Falcons have played consistent football all season—almost as well as they did last year when they earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC. They have a solid passing attack with young Matt Ryan and two talented wide receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones.
Most people think the Falcons finished the season very strong, as they blew out the Jaguars during Week 15 and the Bucs during Week 17. But sandwiched in between those two wins against weak teams was a Week 16 debacle in which they got steamrolled in New Orleans, 45-16.
The Falcons are 1-4 against playoff teams this year, with their only win coming against the Lions. They are a talented team, but the Giants D can be overpowering sometimes.
The Falcons won't be able to handle the Giants' great pass-rushers such as Justin Tuck, Chris Canty, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul—who are playing the best they have all season.
Giants 31 Falcons 24
Sunday 1/8 @ 4:30 PM
The Broncos limped their way into the playoffs, losing their last three games of the regular season. Because of the Oakland Raiders' big collapse, the Broncos find themselves hosting a playoff game at 8-8.
When Denver was 8-5, it looked like Tim Tebow was the Broncos' savior, as he'd lead them out of their horrible 1-4 start. It looked like the Tebowfest would run right into the playoffs and do damage in the AFC.
Three ugly games later, the Broncos look dead, with no hope against the 12-4 Steelers. The Steelers barely missed out on a bye, instantly becoming the most dangerous wild-card team.
The Steelers have allowed the least amount of points in the NFL, which is bad news for a Broncos team that has suddenly had trouble scoring points.
But there is hope in Denver. Steelers starting running back Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL and is out the entire playoffs. Isaac Redman is left to carry the majority of the load in the Steelers backfield, and the Broncos should easily cover him.
Ben Roethlisberger is still playing on an injured ankle, and he is nowhere close to 100 percent. In Week 17, he only put up 13 points against the lowly Browns. A few hits on Big Ben might be enough to diminish the Steelers offense entirely.
The game is also played in Denver, which may spark one more game of Tebow magic.
Broncos 16 Steelers 13