The road towards Super Bowl XLVI will be one paved with booby traps and pitfalls as the AGS effect (Any Given Sunday—or Saturday in this case) goes up a few notches in probability. The NFL playoffs begin today with a quadruple set of weekend games that features favorites but no sure bets. But that’s the fun in handicapping the games, right? Let me spew my genius…
Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) at Houston Texans (10-6): This one would have been much easier to call with a healthy Matt Schaub at QB for the Texans than with a unripe rookie named T.J. Yates. Yet the Texans running attack, led by explosive back Arian Foster, has been carrying the load for Houston all season and must do so in this contest. The problem with that is the Cincinnati Bengals have a defense that can stop the run.
Cincy QB Andy Dalton has shown he can handle his own on the field but has been battling the flu all week. Texans wideout Andre Johnson is getting back in the groove following a hamstring injury.
PICK: Dalton’s resolve is strong but his health worries me. Yet the last time the Texans won a game was damn near a month ago…against these same Bengals on the road by only a point. Talk about toss ups. I’ll put my money on the stripes to come up big in Texas. Bengals 21, Texans 17.
Detroit Lions (10-6) at New Orleans Saints (13-3): Is there a hotter team than the Saints right now? Or a more sizzling QB than Drew Brees? The Saints are a well-oiled machine, clicking on all cylinders. Meanwhile, the Lions come in off a loss to a second-string Green Bay team.
With Brees and explosive receiver Marques Colston lighting firecrackers, the Saints biggest concern is containing Megatron receiver Calvin Johnson. For the Lions, establishing the run is paramount to success except they really aren’t good at it. Saints running back Darren Sproles is.
PICK: This one figures to be somewhat of a shoot out with Lions QB Matthew Stafford needing to play a superb game just to keep up with Drew Brees. I certainly don’t see that happening. Too many weapons for the Saints. Saints 34, Lions 21
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) at Denver Broncos (8-8): The mighty Steelers roll into Denver to take on God’s favorite QB, Tim Tebow. Much has been made about divine intervention playing a role with the Broncos, but the real deal is Denver’s offense sucks and their defense has been carrying them. Only a nicked up Ben Roethlisberger and injured Rashard Mendenhall give the Broncos any glimmer of a chance.
PICK: Pittsburgh is one of the toughest road teams in the NFL and playoff proven under Mike Tomlin. When you consider Tim Tebow will have to beat the Steelers with his passing, the choice becomes ungodly clear. Steelers 24, Broncos 10
Atlanta Falcons (10-6) at New York Giants (9-7): The Falcons march into the Meadowlands ready to avenge Justin Tuck’s “dirt bags” diss directed at their offensive line. And they better because Tuck and Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul plan on bringing the heat. Falcons players say they’re looking forward to getting down and dirty with Tuck and his crew.
That being said, neither team is scary on pass defense which means Falcons QB Matt Ryan will have to play like Matty-Ice if Atlanta is going to pull the upset. Receivers Roddy White for Atlanta and Victor Cruz for New York look to be key factors in this one as well.
PICK: Atlanta doesn’t instill confidence in me on the road while the Giants are so suspect even their own fans are secretly waiting for the other shoe to drop. New York has gathered some momentum at home over the last few weeks and that is likely to extend one more game. Giants 23, Falcons 20