With the regular season finally done, NFL fans and players can focus on the most exciting stretch of the year – playoff time. Wildcard weekend features four matchups – two on Saturday and two on Sunday. In the past six years, three Super Bowl winners were Wildcard teams, including the Steelers in 2006, the Giants in 2008, and the Packers last year. A common theme in those three Wildcard Super Bowl winners is that all three were streaking heading into the playoffs.
I believe that the Giants, the NFC East Champion and fourth seed in the NFC, are “that” team that could get on a roll and potentially win it all. They have many of the same players from their 2007-2008 team that upset New England to win it. Another key factor is that they are getting healthy; that defensive line looks downright scary after their past two wins against the Cowboys and Jets. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the team I have the most doubt of is my favorite NFL team – the Steelers.
Pittsburgh has endured many injuries over the past few weeks, most notably those to Ben Roethlisberger and Rashard Mendenhall, who is out for the playoffs with a torn ACL. I hope they can make a decent run in the playoffs, but it’s not looking good for them right now. Being healthy is one of the most important keys for any team entering the playoffs.
Without further ado, here are my NFL picks for Wildcard Weekend…
Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans – Saturday 3:30 CT
This is probably the most intriguing matchup of the weekend. These are two teams no one expected in the playoffs to begin with. With both teams having rookie quarterbacks, and players with little to no playoff experience, I expect a sloppy, defensive struggle. Houston star receiver Andre Johnson has been dealing with injuries all season, and I’m not sure how effective he will be. Houston has also faltered down the stretch with losses to Tennessee, Indianapolis, and Carolina to end the season. In the end, I think that the combination of A.J. Green and Andy Dalton will make enough big plays to win the game for the Bengals…
The pick: Bengals 17, Texans 13
Detroit Lions @ New Orleans Saints – Saturday 7:00 CT
These two teams met earlier in the season on Sunday Night Football in the Superdome with the Saints winning 31-17. However, Detroit did not have star defensive player Ndamukong Suh for that game. His presence will make the challenge for the Saints offensive line to protect Drew Brees a little more difficult. But the Saints seem to have little issue picking apart even the best of defenses at home. In the Superdome this year, the Saints have scored less than 30 points only once, and still won. With the Lions defense struggling last week against Packers back-up Matt Flynn, I don’t see how they can slow down the quick strike offense of the Saints…
The pick: Saints 37, Lions 24
Atlanta Falcons @ New York Giants – Sunday 12:00 CT
Personally, I think this could be the best game of the weekend. This week, the Giants defensive line and the Falcons offensive line exchange a little trash talk, which only adds to the hype. Atlanta is known for their physical offensive game, with running back Michael Turner leading the way. The difference in their offense from the season to last season is the addition of Julio Jones, who gives them another viable threat in the passing game. Their problem, however, is that the Giants’ defense is playing their best football of the season. Add in the fact that Eli Manning is playing the best football of his career, and it doesn’t look good for Atlanta. I think the Falcons disappoint yet again in the playoffs, and the Giants continue to look like the that team who won the Super Bowl a few years ago…
The pick: Giants 27, Falcons 16
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos – Sunday 3:30 CT
You know when I said the Giants-Falcons game could be the best game of the weekend? Well, this could be the ugliest game of the weekend. The Steelers are dealing with the biggest threat to any team’s success in the playoffs – injuries. The Broncos are reeling after losing three straight games, and only got into the playoffs after a Raiders loss to the Chargers last week. Both teams are struggling offensively, and have good defenses. Pittsburgh has the edge due to experience. Most experts this week have said that the Steelers will blow the Tim Tebow and the Broncos out. I don’t think so. I think this is a low scoring game that will have people guessing if either team knows how to score a touchdown…
The pick: Steelers 12, Broncos 6
On the season:
Regular season picks: 63-33
Upset picks: 3-3