NFL Playoff Schedule 2012: Ranking the Weekend's Most Exciting Matchups

Kraig LundbergAnalyst IIIJanuary 7, 2012

NFL Playoff Schedule 2012: Ranking the Weekend's Most Exciting Matchups

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    As we get set to kick off the 2012 NFL Playoffs in a few hours, it's time to rank this weekend's contests by level of excitement and pick a winner for each.

    The intensity will begin heating up as each and every team could be playing their final game of the year leading up to Super Bowl XLVI, so all of the games this weekend will have an air about them that regular-season games did not.

    But which game will be the most exciting to watch, and who will come out on top? We examine here.

4. Houston Texans vs. Cincinnati Bengals

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    The Texans and Bengals get an ironic rematch less than a month after their first matchup sealed Houston's fate as a playoff team while deflating Cincinnati's hopes.

    The Bengals somehow made it in, and they have a great shot at avenging a last-second 20-19 loss against the Texans, who are on a three-game losing skid. The game will pit two rookie quarterbacks and two great defenses against each other.

    Andy Dalton and AJ Green will try to take advantage of a Texans secondary that ranks third in the league in yards allowed, while Arian Foster will attempt to break through the wall that is Cincy's rush defense and TJ Yates will find every opportunity he can to get the ball to Andre Johnson.

    But why is this one ranked last? 

    It's not that this matchup will be boring, it's just that the other three are that exciting. Such is the nature of the NFL playoffs.


    Winner: Texans

3. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Denver Broncos

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    The Broncos are one of the most unlikely teams to make the playoffs in years, and let's be honest, they wouldn't have gotten there without a guy named Tim Tebow (and some help from their division pals out in Oakland).

    And what's excitement without Tim Tebow?

    Tebow and the Broncos' offense will get a tall task against one of the best defenses in the nation. For Denver to have a chance, Tebow will have to be on time and very accurate with his throws—and the receivers will actually have to catch his passes. They'll also need a lot of help from Willis McGahee at running back, not to mention an overachieving defense.

    The star-studded Steelers have this game in the bag if they can pull ahead early, and with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback and Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown at receiver, that's a distinct possibility. But without Rashard Mendenhall at running back, will this offense be able to avoid being one-dimensional?

    And keep in mind, Pittsburgh has had trouble offensively this season even with Mendenhall.

    If Denver keeps it close throughout the game and Tebow gets his hands on the ball in the fourth quarter, move this game to the top of your excitement list.


    Winner: Steelers

2. Atlanta Falcons vs. New York Giants

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    As the Falcons take on the Giants this week, Atlanta will be looking to get a monkey off its back by avoiding an early-round playoff loss, while New York will try to duplicate its magical Super Bowl run back in 2008.

    Both of these teams have a lot of offensive firepower, and neither team has had a lot of success defensively.

    The game will feature two star quarterbacks in Eli Manning and Matt Ryan, as well as four stud receivers in Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Roddy White and Julio Jones. Talented running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Michael Turner are threats in the ground game.

    There could be a lot of points scored in this one, and although the Falcons probably should win, I'm going with the Giants in an upset.

    Either way, this game figures to be very exciting.


    Winner: Giants

1. New Orleans Saints vs. Detroit Lions

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    The most exciting game of the week will be a rematch between the New Orleans Saints and the Detroit Lions.

    Two red-hot teams will clash in this star-studded affair. The Saints have won eight straight and seem to be unstoppable behind the play of quarterback Drew Brees, while the Lions have won three of their last four—including last-second wins against Minnesota and Oakland and an utter beatdown of the Chargers—to lock up a playoff spot.

    Both of these offenses have been rolling, which is evidenced by the 10,000-plus passing yards between Brees and Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.

    It certainly helps that players like Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Darren Sproles, Calvin Johnson, Brandon Pettigrew, Nate Burleson and Titus Young fill out these teams' rosters.

    Both teams have defensive stars as well, however. The Lions have a fearsome pass rush led by Cliff Avril and Ndamukong Suh, while the Saints have a tough run defense led by Jonathan Vilma. Players such as Stephen Tulloch, Roman Harper and Will Smith will also be counted on as key pieces to their respective defenses.

    This should be the most electrifying game of the week, and if Detroit's performance against the Packers in Week 17 was any indication, the Saints will get all they can handle.


    Winner: Saints