The most exciting time of the football year has arrived once again. This weekend marks the first round
of NFL playoffs where one team could start their run to the Super Bowl. Here are GNB Sports' prediction for the Wild Card weekend.
The first game of the weekend promises to be a close one; when these teams last met in Week 14 in
Cincinnati, the Texans squeaked out a last second 20-19 win over the Bengals.
Houston, hobbled by injuries to Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart, start their third-string quarterback, rookie T.J. Yates, who is coming off a shoulder injury in Week 17 but has looked serviceable in his six starts so far.
The Texans feature an explosive offense with running back Arian Foster and oft-injured superstar Andre Johnson, who will start this game after missing a large portion of the regular season, but it's their defense, woeful last year, that has proved the difference with an inspired performance this year.
The Bengals also start a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton, who has put up impressive numbers in his
first year but has struggled in big games. Their offense is fairly balanced with rookie wide receiver A.J. Green and running back Cedric Benson leading the offensive production. The Bengals back into the playoffs coming off a loss to Baltimore, but look to bounce back against the struggling Texans.
I see the Texans finally getting their offense started while their defense pressures the rookie
Dalton, who will struggle on the road in his first playoff game. The game will be tight throughout thanks to Houston’s quarterback woes, but the Texans should be able to get to the next round.
Prediction: Texans 24, Bengals 17
Lions vs. Saints
The New Orleans Saints enter the offseason as perhaps the hottest team in the NFL, in the middle of an eight-game winning streak that stretches back to October, with an offense that ended the regular season as the best in the league.
Drew Brees in particular looked unstoppable in recent weeks en route to shattering Marino’s single-season passing yards record, leading some to contemplate the Saints making their second Super Bowl appearance in three years.
They will have to do so with a distinctly average defense, one that finished near the bottom of the league in both total defense and takeaways.
That’s one Achilles' heel that the Lions will look to exploit. After years of being a league laughingstock (and just three seasons after they suffered the ignominy of a winless season) Detroit ended a 13-year playoff drought, thanks largely to an offense that ranked fifth-best in the NFL.
Like the Saints, however, the Lions defense is below par, suggesting that this game will probably come down to who performs better between Brees and Matthew Stafford.
Although the Saints have had recent bad experience in Wild Card games in which they are heavily favored (see the stunner in Seattle last January), it’s hard to see a red hot New Orleans team fall at such an early stage this year.
With a raucous home crowd behind them, expect Brees and company to book their place in the divisional round with ease on Saturday night.
Prediction: Saints 38, Lions 20
In what is probably the second-best game of the weekend, the Falcons travel to MetLife Stadium to take on a streaking Giants team that is on a mini-roll after beating the Jets and Cowboys to win the NFC East.
In this meeting of upper echelon quarterbacks, the Giants feature star Eli Manning who is living up to the “elite” label that he conferred upon himself in the offseason. On the other side, the Falcons start Matt Ryan, who has been very good in his first four seasons, but has yet to win a playoff game.
Both teams have good running backs in Ahmad Bradshaw and Michael Turner, but the Falcons maintain a much better overall defense, while both struggle in the secondary.
I will take the more experienced quarterback at home as the Giants will use their momentum coming
into the game to push them past a talented Falcons team. Eli Manning will have a field day passing to star wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks against the 20th ranked pass defense in the league. I sense a mini- shootout here with both defenses struggling to keep up with these great quarterbacks.
Prediction: Giants 28, Falcons 20
Steelers vs. Broncos
In the most lopsided game of the playoffs the injured Steelers travel into Mile High Stadium to face the Denver Broncos, who will probably be praying for this game to be over after the first quarter.
I see Big Ben passing all over the struggling Broncos secondary, even though the Steelers running game will be hampered by the torn ACL of Rashard Mendenhall.
While the Steelers may struggle to put up tons of points, that won’t be necessary with Tim Tebow and the Broncos' anemic offense, which could only put up a field goal at home against the Chiefs last Sunday.
The Steelers defense will be excited to tear down the media darling Tebow and will be flying to the ball. Tebow, who has been especially woeful to end the season, will have his running game shut down by James Harrison and Troy Polamalu, and will struggle to run the option.
Offensive teammates Eric Decker and Willis McGahee will similarly be shut down as the Steelers stack the box and force Tebow to throw the ball.
Although Tebow is known for his fourth-quarter comebacks, his horrid mechanics will prove to be his
downfall. I predict that after 30 minutes of game time, Big Ben could be comfortably resting his
ankle on the sidelines as the Steelers destroy the Broncos in Denver.
Prediction: Steelers 24, Broncos 3