2012 NFL Playoffs: Wild Card Weekend Picks

January 7, 2012

Well, it’s back. The point in the NFL season where I actually cover the sport has arrived, and now I as well as casual fans across the nation will begin to pay attention to more than just the players that were on their fantasy team.

I am actually very excited about the games this weekend, as every single game could go either way. Looking back, I said the exact same thing about the 2011 Wild Card Weekend…

Here are my predictions for this weekend’s games. I will continue to post similar previews until we are down to the two Super Bowl teams.

AFC Wildcard

Cincinnati at Houston

Who says that young quarterbacks can’t make a splash in the playoffs? When these two teams square off on Saturday afternoon, they will be led by rookie quarterbacks that a year ago were leading their teams to victory in a college bowl game.

Cincinnati has to be pleased with the play of their second round pick out of TCU. Dalton should be the Rookie of the Year recipient because his team actually made the playoffs, although that may not happen. However, if he can lead his team to a few playoff victories, he probably won’t care all that much. In addition to Dalton playing efficiently, Cedric Benson will need to have a good game. The Texans are solid defensively and Cincinnati will need a balanced attack in order to win.

Houston finally got over the hump and won the AFC South, but do not get an easy first playoff game. The Texans have been without Matt Schaub for over a month now, but Houston is primarily a running team anyway. The Bengals did a nice job bottling up Arian Foster the last time these teams played each other, and will look to do so again in this game. Foster is extremely important to Houston’s offense, and will need to have a good game for the Texans to win. They escaped with a one point win over Cincinnati in December, but won’t be able to do so again with another poor performance by Foster.

Cincinnati is a tough football team, and was in every game but one this season. They will do just enough to beat the Texans on the road.

Final Score: 24-17 Cincinnati

Pittsburgh at Denver

I think that this game is going to be very close on the scoreboard. However, the final score will probably look a lot closer than the game really was.

Pittsburgh is pretty banged up right now, and all the injuries could play a factor in this game. If they were at full strength, I would take them without question because their defense has been nasty this season. In fact, in their last three wins they have allowed a total of 19 points. But without Rashard Mendenhall the offense becomes pretty predictable, and Denver’s defense is pretty good, too. In typical Steelers fashion, Mike Tomlin’s team will have to claw their way towards the end zone and capitalize on the opportunities they get. There won’t be very many, though.

I really like Tim Tebow. No, seriously, I really like him. I guess you could say that I fell for the “he’s a winner” trap. Even so, I think that Denver is far better off playing Tebow than Brady Quinn in this game. Tebow may have looked pretty bad the past few weeks, but Denver is primarily a running team and there is very little chance that they would switch things up in a playoff game against the best defense in the league. Quite frankly, Tebow only needs the same kind of luck he’s had this season and 150 yards passing to make this one interesting, because Denver’s defense will do a nice job against Pittsburgh’s banged up offense.

I’m not going to pick Denver, but I do expect it to be close. Questions will arise regarding whether Pittsburgh can go any further after this weekend.

Final Score: 14-10 Pittsburgh

NFC Wildcard

Detroit at New Orleans

This is the game that many casual fans are looking forward to because of the potential for an offensive shootout. I am in that boat as well, and think this could be the most entertaining game of the weekend.

Give credit where credit is due. The Detroit Lions earned this playoff spot, and didn’t back in like some of the other teams. However, it could be very difficult for the Lions to fix the issues that have plagued them this season, especially considering who they are playing. Detroit probably won’t have very many problems offensively, as Matthew Stafford is playing his best football of the season right now and rarely makes mistakes. The defense is of major concern, though. In addition to giving up a lot of points, the Lions constantly shoot themselves in the foot with penalties that could easily be avoided. Total focus will be required of this young team in order to stop the offensive machine that is the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints may be the hottest team in the league right now. They haven’t lost a game since late October, and haven’t failed to score less than 42 points since December 11th. On offense, the Saints just need to continue what they’ve been doing as of late, and should be fine. However, the defense faces a huge test. New Orleans has the third worst pass defense in the league and does not force many turnovers. It is entirely possible that the Saints could lose an offensive shootout, so the defense will have to make a few stops in this game if they want to play next weekend.

The Lions are young, exciting and only getting better. However, youth has also been the thorn in Detroit’s side at times this season. New Orleans does not want a repeat of last season’s playoff game, and will be extremely focused as a result. Provided that the defense does enough to stop Stafford, the Saints will win the most exciting game of Wild Card Weekend.

Final Score: 41-35 New Orleans

Atlanta at New York

This might be the most difficult game to pick, simply because you don’t know how either team is going to come out and play. Inconsistency is a big reason why these teams are playing on Wild Card Weekend (well, that and the fact that Green Bay has a robot for a quarterback and is 15-1…).

Who is exactly has Atlanta beaten this year? Oh wait; this isn’t college football…that doesn’t matter. The Falcons took care of business against who they were supposed to beat, and that is all that matters. Atlanta will be looking for its first playoff win with Matt Ryan as quarterback, and got a pretty good matchup to make that happen. The Giants are not good against the pass, which is good news for a Falcons team with not one but two superb receivers. In addition, running back Michael Turner is third in the NFL with 1,340 rushing yards for the season. A balanced attack should keep the New York defense on its toes and could result in a lot of points for Atlanta.

Some are saying that the Giants are peaking right now, but I think that it is more of a result of  a dip in performance by Dallas. Two of New York’s last three wins were against the Cowboys, and Dallas ended the season by losing four of its last five games. Still, New York has been inconsistent all season and could come out playing like a true Super Bowl contender on Sunday afternoon. Eli Manning does a lot to make this team look good, and a strong performance by him usually garners good results for the Giants. If New York’s defensive front can get pressure on Matt Ryan and this game stays in the 20s to low 30s, there is no reason why the Giants cannot win this game.

Based on my writing you might think that Atlanta is favored to win this game. This is not true, but I am picking the Falcons to win anyway. I picked Atlanta to make it to the Super Bowl at the beginning of the season, and the Giants are not the kind of team to make me change my opinion.

Final Score: 31-24 Atlanta

– K. Becks

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