Wildcard Weekend

By Chris Lehman

My mid-November predictions proved to be fairly accurate as I predicted ten of the twelve playoff teams. I had the Cowboys and Bears making it as opposed to the Falcons and the Giants.  This week, there are four games on the schedule, all of which should actually be very close and competitive. In my Super Bowl Predictions article, I broke down the Saints / Lions matchup and the Texans / Bengals game but will revisit those anyways. Here’s what to expect:

Starting in the AFC

Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans – Here we have a battle of defenses. The Bengals rank seventh in total yards allowed and ninth in points allowed. They have a very well balanced defense including a very underrated front seven. The Texans, however, are even better as they rank second in total yards allowed and fourth in points given up. The main difference here, is the offense. The Bengals are a below average offensive team and against a defense like the Texans, that will show through. The Texans, on the other hand, have the second best rushing offense, led by Arian Foster. When the two teams met in week 14, The Texans barely edged out the Bengals by one point in Cincinnati. As for the meeting on Saturday, it’s hard to imagine the Bengals having too much success against this defense, possibly aside from a deep bomb to A.J. Green. Also, take into consideration that this is the Houston Texans first playoff appearance since joining the NFL in the 2002 expansion. The environment will be crazy. If the Texans won in Cincinnati WITHOUT Andre Johnson, it’s hard to find anyway to think it’ll end any different this time in Houston with their best receiver. Unless Andy Dalton has a Michael Jordan-like flu game, I don’t see the Texans losing.

Texans Def. Bengals 24 – 16

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos – Now this will be low scoring. But we’re not talking low-scoring like LSU vs. Alabama where it is just a great defensive battle, but rather, like a middle-school girls’ basketball game where both teams simply struggle to score. The Steelers have the best defense in the league, only allowing 14 points a game. The Broncos have one of the worst offenses, only average 19 a game. With Brian Dawkins probably out for the game, the Broncos are lucky that Rashard Mendenhall is inactive and Ben Roethlisberger can barely walk. Otherwise this game would get ugly fast. The funny thing about this matchup is that the Steelers’ defensive dominance really doesn’t matter at all! The Broncos barely score against anyone until the last drive or two anyways. While this game will probably be very close in score, the actual game won’t be as close as the numbers may indicate. As much as I would love to see Tim Tebow rally his team to a late game win, I can’t see it happening. Mike Tomlin will not mix up the coverage in the fourth quarter as other teams have. He won’t have his corners backing off, leaving open receivers. Pittsburgh will win.

Steelers Def. Broncos 17 – 9

Now over to the NFC

Atlanta Falcons @ New York Giants – If this game was in Atlanta, there would be nothing to discuss. The Falcons would run away with this win. Even with the game being in New York, I still feel the Falcons will win. It will be close, however. It’s all about Balance. The Giants have the worst rushing offense in the league averaging under 90 yards a game. The Falcons will force the Giants to pass early and often and become one-dimensional. Everyone knows the key to the playoffs is having balance, and that will ultimately result in the Giants’ demise. This will be a rather high scoring game and both passing attacks will be firing and scoring often. I expect to see a good battle between Julio Jones and Victor Cruz. Atlanta has the advantage of having an average ranked ground attack led by a now-healthy Michael Turner. Once again, balance is key.

Falcons Def. Giants 31 – 24

Detroit Lions @ New Orleans Saints – My preseason prediction still hasn’t changed. The Saints will win the super bowl, which unfortunately for the Lions, involves them winning this game too. The Saints won all eight of their home games this year and unless the Green Bay Packers lose in the conference round, this will be their last home game. Expect them to deliver for their loyal fans. The Detroit Lions have had their best year in a long time, and for that, the Detroit faithfuls should be proud. I’m not saying that this game will be easy by any means. The Lions are the fourth highest scoring team while the Saints edge them out as the second ranked scoring team. Calvin Johnson SHOULD have a monster game. The Saints’ two starting cornerbacks, Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter, are both listed at 5’11” while Megatron will tower above the two at 6’5.” The Saints’ also have been hurt by their 30th ranked pass defense. Last time the teams met up, however, Saints’ defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, came up with a gameplan that held Johnson to 69 yards, and kept him out of the endzone. With the Lions’ non-existent running game, shutting down Johnson again will be the key to their success. The Lions make themselves one-dimensional by not being able to run. On the other side of the ball, Green Bay’s backup quarterback, Matt Flynn torched this Lions defense for 480 yards and six touchdowns last week. While I don’t expect Drew Brees to throw for six touchdowns, he should have his way with this porous secondary. Also, the Saints’ sixth-ranked rushing offense will keep the Lions on their toes. This should be a very entertaining game between to red-hot teams. The Saints are just hotter now and won’t be stopped.

Saints Def. Lions 45 – 30

Next week we will see matchups between:

Steelers @ Patriots

Texans @ Ravens

Saints @ 49ers

Falcons @ Packers

Predictions will be released once the games become official.

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