The most exciting time of the year has arrived – when only 6 teams in each conference remain. The top two seeds in each conference will have the week off, but the rest of the teams are excited to face off in what should be an unpredictable Wild Card weekend.
I decided to make some picks for this weekend’s games, which you can see below:
Bengals at Texans
My pick: Bengals
This should be an exciting one, and it certainly fits the “Wild Card” label with two rookie quarterbacks at the helm. It could be a wild one, but in the end I have to go with the Bengals in this matchup. I attended the Bengals/Texans game last month in Cincinnati, and the Bengals definitely played like the better team. They had a lead until the very end when Texans backup quarterback T.J. Yates drove his offense down the field to score the game-winning touchdown at the very last second.
If the Texans had currently injured quarterback Matt Schaub starting, I would probably be choosing the Texans here — but T.J. Yates has only started a few games while Matt Dalton has been starting since the beginning of the season. The key for the Bengals will be to shut down both the Texans running game and the tight ends (particularly Owen Daniels) in the passing game.
Steelers at Broncos
My pick: Steelers
This is quite a lopsided matchup, but that’s what we said last season when the 7-9 Seahawks ran all over the 11-5 Saints. The Broncos do have a home field advantage here as the Steelers defense will have to be without Ryan Clark, who has a heart condition that prevents him from playing in higher elevations.
Even without Clark, the Steelers defense should prove to be too much to handle for shaky Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who has really came back down to Earth in recent weeks. Just a week ago, the Steelers had a chance to wrap up a first round bye and a home game in the divisional playoffs. Instead, they are on the road in the opening week of the playoffs and they have a huge advantage over Denver.
Falcons at Giants
My pick: Giants
The Falcons have not fared well in playoff games in recent history, as they are 0-2 under Matt Ryan. Eli Manning, on the other hand, has won a Super Bowl but he hasn’t found a way to win a home playoff game despite two chances in his career. The Giants seem to consistently fall flat in home games, but last week they had no difficulty in beating the Dallas Cowboys in their playoff-clinching victory in the Meadowlands.
I have a feeling that the Falcons will work very hard to shut down Victor Cruz in this game, so look for unexpected receivers to emerge in this game for the Giants when Eli is forced to look for other options. Last week, it was the fullback who came out of nowhere and caught passes all over the field. This week, tight end Jake Ballard is expected to return, so the Giants offense should be firing on all cylinders.
The biggest difference in this game will probably be the Giants defense. Since I have no worries about the offense, the defense has seemed to improve in recent weeks with many players (Umenyiora) finally getting healthy. If they can perform at their best, it could be a long day for Matt Ryan.
Lions at Saints
My pick: Lions
I may regret picking the Lions here because the Saints are so unstoppable in the Dome. But I have a hunch that the Lions are going to “shock the world” as everyone has been saying this week. The Lions offense scored over 40 points outdoors in Green Bay last week, so they should be in sync this week when they play in the dome. Let’s not forget the Lions are a dome team as well, so they will be comfortable playing indoors.
I wouldn’t be surprised if either team won this game, but I have a feeling the Lions will come out on top, winning their first ever wild card playoff game.