Arguably the year's best weekend of football, Wild Card Weekend never seems to fail. This year it gives us two very intriguing games and two other games that would be complete shockers if the underdog were to win outright. After 17 Weeks of regular season football that saw passing yards pile up more quickly than Greece's budget deficit, get used to see more of the same in the playoffs. Home teams in CAPS.
HOUSTON (-3.5) over Cincinnati
I can't believe I'm saying this, but the return of Wade Phillips to the Texans' sideline this week should be the difference maker. Ol' Wade takes back the reigns of the formidable Houston defense that he transformed this year, which should only make matters more difficult for Cincy rookie QB Andy Dalton facing a fired-up Reliant Stadium crowd in the franchise's first ever postseason game. Does that mean I'm picking T.J. Yates to win a playoff game? Well, all I'm doing is picking him to not lose it. Arian Foster and Andre Johnson should provide enough offense to keep this one out of the reach of the Bengals, who did not beat a winning team all season.
Detroit (+10.5) over NEW ORLEANS
The more I think about this pick, the less I like it. But I'm going with my gut here because the points, especially with the hook, are too many to pass up. Detroit's defense is something out of the original Tecmo Bowl video game - if you don't sack the quarterback, you're giving up a big play. Despite an embarrassing barrage of dirty plays and personal fouls, the Lions hung around with the Saints in the teams' Week 12 meeting, a game for which Ndamukong Suh had been suspended. It's no question whether or not the Saints will put up a ton of points, it's just a matter of how long the Lions will be able to get the ball downfield and keep up. My prediction is that the Saints settle for a few more field goals than normal, they score "only" 38 points, and the Lions add a late TD to make the final score 38-30.
Atlanta (+3) over NY GIANTS
Neither of these teams are great, but the Falcons are more consistent overall. Giants backers and media members keep conjuring up thoughts of 2007 - but what does that team have to do with this one? Well, the Giants do have a lethal pass rush, but their secondary is still very vulnerable down the field, which is where Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones, and Roddy White will have to play key roles for Atlanta. The Falcons need to find a way to contain Victor Cruz in the open field and keep Hakeem Nicks from getting deep. It would go a long way for Atlanta if they can do so, because otherwise the Giants have, statistically, the worst rushing offense in the league. And before anyone gets all crazy about a dome team playing in winter weather, the forecast for this game is sunny and a relatively mild 45 degrees. Another note? Yes, day games, and especially daytime playoff games, are typically when the older, calmer set of Giants fans use their tickets, so don't be shocked if the Metlife Stadium crowd is less raucous then expected.
DENVER (+9) over Pittsburgh
Thanks to the overall ineptitude of the AFC West, CBS gets to broadcast another Tim Tebow game to all of America, and we get to wonder "is anyone going to score in this game?" The Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger banged up and now have Rashard Mendenhall on IR, plus they lose safety Ryan Clark for this game due to his sickle cell condition preventing him from playing at Denver's altitude. When Denver has the ball....well, we all know plenty about the trials and tribulations of that offense in the past two months. I highly doubt that the Broncos will pull this game out, but think their crowd can help keep them in it for a good while. 17 points will be plenty to win this one, but I just can't see the Steelers' defense allowing more than one touchdown drive to Tebow. Let's say a final of 17-10, with Pittsburgh winning a real black-and-blue matchup.
Last Week: 2-2-1
Regular Season: 36-42-7