Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Tempting as it was to pick an upset victory for the Denver Broncos over the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday at Sports Authority Field, I just couldn't do it.
The Steelers limp into the Wild Card round with a host of injuries. Ben Roethlisberger is expected to shoulder the load of their offensive production without his All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey and running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore.
His high ankle sprain will force him to stay in the pocket more than he would like to, but with a possession receiving game in the form of Antonio Brown and Heath Miller, Roethlisberger can lean on his teammates to move the chains with yards after the catch.
Tebow Time will expire this weekend. The Steelers' front seven is meaner and more athletic than anything he has seen to date. They stop the run better than most, and will confuse Tebow on the few passing plays the Broncos call, through exotic fire zone blitzes courtesy of Dick LeBeau's complex scheme.
In my scenario, I have the number five seed travelling to Foxborough for a rematch with the New England Patriots.
In Week 8, Roethlisberger carved open the Patriots' secondary in a 25-17 victory, controlling the clock and spreading the ball around evenly. The blueprint for victory will look similar second time around, especially following the loss of running back Rashard Mendenhall to an ACL tear.
The Patriots will look to avoid the slow starts that have plagued recent performances. In the past two weeks, they found themselves 17-0 and 21-0 down to the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills respectively, before controlling the middle quarters and finishing strong.
Against an elite playoff team, if you dig a hole that big, you won't come back out of it, and the soon-to-depart Patriots' offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien will hope to put Stevan Ridley's recent good form to use in the running game, to set up play-action calls to Rob Gronkowski up the seam.
Since Week 8, Tom Brady has gone from strength to strength, going over 300 yards in all but two games, and throwing 21 touchdowns to just four interceptions.
Expect a much closer contest at Gillette Stadium, a venue which didn't help the Patriots' chances in 2009 or 2010, but just might provide the spark to a team with few survivors from the 2007 edition—the last New England team to notch a postseason victory.