Texans QB T.J. Yates
Last week: 7-7-2. Final regular season totals: 130-118-7, Pct. .524. Best Bets: 29-20-2, Pct. .588.
Home team in capital letters; point spreads (opening line) in parentheses after underdog team; selections with point spreads in bold.
HOUSTON 20, Cincinnati 6 (+3)—At least the Texans have proven they can beat a playoff-caliber team with T.J. Yates at quarterback, as they in fact did, first over Atlanta at home in Week 13, then (not for nothing) at Cincinnati one week later.
The Bengals took an 0-for-7 collar facing fellow playoff-makers in 2011, neglecting to beat even the pre-Tim Tebow Broncos in Week 2. And here's something to think about heading into next year: Not since 1976 and '77 has Cincinnati posted back-to-back non-strike winning seasons.
If AFC North rival Cleveland lands Robert Griffin III in this spring's draft, come 2012 the Bengals could very well fall back into a place all too familiar to them—the cellar.
NEW ORLEANS 45, Detroit 27 (+10 1/2)—Postseason football can fundamentally differ from its regular season counterpart in that the running game tends to take on greater significance.
That's most unwelcome news for the Lions, whose leading rusher gained all of 390 yards this season, and he's on injured reserve.
The Saints averaged 41 points and change per game at home during the regular season, and Drew Brees should be able to out-pass Matthew Stafford—especially given the fact that Brees has playoff experience and Stafford doesn't—by enough to cover the spread.
Atlanta 21 (+3), N.Y. GIANTS 14—The Falcons are one of the better warm-weather/indoor teams when it comes to playing in cold weather, going 7-7-1 since 1998 straight up (playing to a tie at Pittsburgh in November of 2002) and a profitable 10-5 against the spread.
Speaking of spread-related matters, the road team in this series has covered the spread an incredible 13 consecutive times!
The Giants crashed the postseason party with three wins over slump-ridden opposition in their last four games, but Atlanta has won five of its last seven, and Matt Ryan may be able to register his first playoff win in his third try, having lost at eventual Super Bowl runner-up Arizona in a 2008 Wild Card game and at home to eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay last January.
DENVER 13 (+7 1/2), Pittsburgh 10—Since the current playoff format was adopted along with the 2002 realignment, there have been two instances of a Wild Card team having to play on the road at a division winner they finished more than two games ahead of.
Both of them lost—the 12-4 Colts at 8-8 San Diego in 2008, and the 11-5 Saints at 7-9 Seattle last year. And considering the rich collection of injuries for Pittsburgh on offense, Tim Tebow won't need to light up the scoreboard to keep Denver in the game entering the fourth quarter.
Then we all know what happens. The Steelers become the 18th straight Super Bowl loser not to reach the conference championship round the following year.
BEST BET: HOUSTON