Wild Card Weekend upon us; picks

Welcome to the second season, my
friends. The playoffs are here – in a season that almost never was.
A dual rookie QB matchup and the toast of the league trying to slay
the mighty Steelers should make for a fun Wild Card weekend.

Regular season: 118-129-9

Cincinnati at Houston (-3)

Analysis: The last time the Texans won,
it was four weeks ago on the road against Cincinnati. But since,
rookie third-stringer T.J. Yates has struggled, and after suffering
five sacks against the Bengals in that game, he might be feeling more
than just the pressure of the playoffs. The Bengals haven’t won a
playoff game since 1990, but Andy Dalton is better than the average
rookie quarterback, and maybe going on the road is just what they
need (they have lost the two playoff games they have played under
Marvin Lewis at home). If the Bengals can stop Arian Foster they did
in the first meeting (15 carries, 41 yards), they should earn a date
with New England. The pick: Bengals.

Detroit at New
Orleans (-10.5)

Analysis: People
think that this could be a blowout right from the get-go, but people
forget that Ndamukong Suh was absent in the first meeting, a 31-17
New Orleans win, and the Lions continually killed themselves with
penalties. The Saints and their high-flying offense should have no
trouble moving the ball, but Matthew Stafford also has a hot hand
right now, meaning the Lions can at least hang tough in a track meet.
An upset isn’t likely, but as I felt last year with the Saints
playing the Seahawks, New Orleans might have to grit their teeth a
little in the wild card round. The pick: Lions.

Atlanta at New
York Giants (-3)

Analysis: The
Giants are as dangerous a 9-7 team as we’ve seen in recent memory.
They have battled tough against some of the league’s elite this year,
and Atlanta doesn’t even fall into that category. The Falcons can
move the ball through the air, but their defense has not stepped up
to the plate in big games, and Michael Turner has been a
disappointment all year. Eli Manning has yet to win a home playoff
game, going 0-2 thus far, so this would be the time against a dome
team who also features a quarterback hoping to break through for his
first playoff win. Matt Ryan will be under duress against New York’s
tough front four unless Turner can have a big game. The pick:

Pittsburgh (-9) at

Analysis: This one
looks like the biggest mismatch of the weekend and, frankly, one of
the biggest mismatches the playoffs have ever seen. Tebow Time has
been delayed the last three weeks as the Broncos have slumped to 0-3
in that stretch. There is no doubt the only team with a legitimate
chance to do damage out of the AFC West is San Diego, but it wasn’t
to be for the 8-8 Chargers, letting the Broncos back into the dance
instead. But the 12-4 Steelers, defending AFC champs, are quite
banged up in their own right. Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL, Big
Ben is suffering through a painful ankle injury, and safety Ryan
Clark will miss because of a sickle condition affected by the high
altitude. Because it would look so obvious to take the Steelers, I am
leaning towards the Broncos and their ability to run the ball to
protect Tebow. Sometimes, teams like the Broncos are the most
dangerous in the playoffs because they play loose and relaxed and
essentially have a “we’re just happy to be here” attitude. All
the pressure is on Pittsburgh here, and while they should have enough
to pull out the victory, I’m hitting the wayback machine to last
year’s New Orleans-Seattle playoff game, when I defied the odds and
picked the Seahawks. Keep an eye on Willis McGahee, who will be one
Bronco thrilled with Clark’s absence. In the 2008 AFC title game,
Clark decked McGahee so hard he lay motionless on the turf for
several minutes. Perhaps McGahee can return the favor this time
around. The pick: Broncos.

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