Folks, the playoffs are here. Not technically, of course, but there are enough teams out there fighting for a playoff spot that absolutely cannot afford to lose this week. Therefore, it feels like the playoffs are already here.
Some of those teams have fairly winnable games on the schedule and should cruise, while others find themselves in the most dramatic of matchups—facing another team fighting for its playoff life or postseason positioning.
These are the games I'm interested in. These are the games with everything on the line. And these are the games I've decided to pick outright winners for. Go big or go home, I pretty much never say except in this case, right now.
Right. Let's pick some games. My selections are in caps.
Cincinnati Bengals at PITTSBURGH STEELERS
The Bengals have lost to the Steelers five straight times. Their best win so far this year was over the New York Giants—and not the same New York Giants that won the Super Bowl last year (more on that below).
The Steelers still have Ben Roethlisberger.
I'd love to see the Bengals pull this out. I'm a big fan of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, and I'd love to see a changing of the guard in the AFC North. However, recent history and Pittsburgh's experience in games like this makes me think the Steelers will get the win.
Minnesota Vikings at HOUSTON TEXANS
The Vikings are fighting for their wild-card lives. The Texans are trying to remain atop the AFC and earn a bye.
Adrian Peterson is playing at an incredibly elite level right now and I wouldn't bet on anyone stopping him. The Texans have only lost to teams with Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady this year, and Christian Ponder is nowhere near those guys.
The one vulnerability the Texans have is in their pass defense. The Vikings are 32nd in the NFL in passing yards, though, and that's where this game falls apart for Minnesota. While the Texans can beat Minnesota in multiple ways, the Vikings must run the ball if they hope to win.
Expect the Texans to stack the box and make that difficult. Not that Peterson will mind.
New York Giants at BALTIMORE RAVENS
This is not the same Giants team that turned its season around last year and eventually won the Super Bowl. Last year, Eli Manning was playing good football all season long. This year, that's not the case.
Manning is on pace to finish with fewer touchdowns and passing yards, more interceptions and a lower completion percentage and passer rating than last season. Sure, a game against a suspect Ravens pass defense should help, but Manning isn't the guy he was a year ago.
Meanwhile, the Ravens have lost three straight and are in danger of sliding out of the playoffs. If you look at them over the last three weeks, things probably can't get much worse. Cam Cameron is gone, so Ray Rice should start getting more looks.
Joe Flacco has six turnovers in his past three games, which is a mark he should improve upon. Two of those losses were by three points, so it's not as though the team has totally bottomed out.
I don't believe in this Giants team. Unlike a year ago, this team doesn't win late. The defense is actually worse than a year ago and only has 32 sacks on the year, tied for 16th in the NFL. The Giants aren't headed to the postseason and that will be apparent this weekend.
Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets show up for the biggest games..