Wildcard weekend kicks off today with the Bengals at the Texans and the Lions at the Saints. On Sunday the Falcons are at the Giants and the Steelers are in Denver. Lets break each of these games down.
Bengals at Texans
These two teams met in week 14 with the Texans squeaking out a 20-19 win in Cincy. The Bengals led that game 16-3 heading into the 2nd half, but the Texans D tightened up and allowed the comeback to occur. Both of these teams definitely have not been the hottest teams in the NFL. The Texans have lost 3 straight with their last win coming against Cincy and the Bengals haven’t beat a playoff team all year. What these 2 teams do have are elite defences. Houston has the #2 overall ranked defence while the Bengals have the #7 overall ranked defence.
Keys of the Game:
Can the Bengals stop the Texans rushing attack? The Texans have the best rushing offence in the league led by Arian Foster and super sub Ben Tate. The Bengals have overall been stout against the run giving up a measly 3.9 yard per carry; however, in their last 3 games they’ve struggled allowing an awful 5.1 yards per carry. If the Bengals struggle against the run they will likely commit 8 to the box and will be highly susceptible to play action which bodes trouble as Andre Johnson should be back in the line up for the Texans. However, if they can plug up the running lanes they could feast on inexperienced signal caller Taylor Yates.
Can Houston solve their case of fumble-itis? In their last 4 games the Texans have fumbled the ball a staggering 9 times. The Texans cannot continue this trend against one of the most opportunistic defences in the league.
The battle of the rookie QB’s. This will come down to which QB can make the least number of mistakes. With 2 elite defences battling it out this game could be a game of field position and field goal kicking. Both QB’s do not want to gift field position to the other with costly picks and fumbles. Seems simple, but the team that wins the turnover game wins this game.
Home field advantage is one thing, but it’s the running game of Arian Foster and Ben Tate that give the Texans the big edge. If I were betting against the spread I’d still take Houston -3 (the line is now -4 so I’m obviously not alone).
Lions at Saints
These two teams also met earlier this season with the Saints winning easily at home 31-17 in week 13. As expected both teams put up gaudy offensive numbers; however, the Lions shot themselves repeatedly in the foot taking 11 penalties for a total of 107 yards. The Saints are the overwhelming favourite to win this game as Vegas has them listed as 10.5 point favourites. This point spread differential has been earned by the Saints as they have been $$$ at home this year going 8-0 against the spread.
Keys of the Game:
Can the Lions do anything to stop or slow down Drew Brees? If last weeks performance against back-up Matt Flynn (480 yards, 6 TD) is any indication then the Lions are in big trouble. Having Ndamukong Suh for this rematch is a bonus for the Lions, but they’ll need a lot more then that if they have any hope.
Can either of these defences make a stop? These definitely are not elite defences with the Lions having the 23rd ranked defence and the Saints having the 24th ranked defence. However, the Saints defence has been playing well of late allowing 17.7 points per game and 325.7 yards of total offence in their last 3 games. Compare that to the Lions defence that has allowed 27.3 points per game and 464.7 yards of total offence in their last 3 outings.
The Saints are my pick to win the NFC and I don’t see the Lions stopping the offensive juggernaut in this one. I would shy away from the -10.5 for the Saints if I were betting, but I’d gladly tease that down to -4.5 and suck on some juice.
Falcons at Giants
These 2 teams have not met since Nov. 2009. The Giants had to win 2 must win games to close out the season to make the playoffs while the Falcons have been a Jekyll and Hyde type of team all year long. The Falcons record may be a little deceiving as in their last 10 games they went an outstanding 7-3; however, only one of those 7 wins came against a playoff team and all 3 losses were against playoff bound teams. The Giants defence was ravaged with injuries this year causing them finish the year as the 27th ranked defence in the league. However, the Giants defence appears to be fully healthy, especially their vaunted front 4 and in their last 3 games they’ve given up just 17 points per game, 310.3 yards of total offence and a ridiculously low 3.4 yards per carry.
Keys of the Game:
Can the Falcons stop a hot Eli Manning? The Falcons have been very stout against the run this year, but their secondary has struggled all year against the pass. One big reason for their struggles is a complete absence of a pass rush from their front 4. If the Falcons do not find a way to put pressure on Eli he will pick them apart with his talented WR arsenal.
Can the Giants stop the Falcons ground game? The Falcons are a clock management type of team, they like to hold onto the ball and grind the other team out. They have a bruiser in Michael Turner leading the attack behind a mean and tough offensive line. The play action is what makes their passing game excel. The Giants struggled against the run all year long giving up an average of 121.2 yards per game. However, as stated earlier they appear to have tightened up the run defence in the last few weeks.
If this game was in Atlanta I may be more inclined to go with the Falcons. The Falcons are not a good road team and they haven’t shown that they can be a solid team when playing in the elements. The Giants seem to be coming together at just the right time and if their front 4 can stay healthy throughout the playoffs we could see them surprise some teams just like they did in 2007.
Steelers at Denver
I’ve now been kicked off the computer by the wife so the rest of this post will be done on the iPhone (thus it will end quickly). These two teams have not met this season, the last matchup was in Nov 2009. The Broncos limped into the playoffs losing 3 straight, while the Steelers just missed out on the AFC North title.
Keys of the Game:
Can Tebow move the ball against the Steelers? Tebow has been awful in his last 3 games with QB ratings of 53.3, 25.2 and 34.4. It doesn’t get any easier against the always tough Steeler D. Tebow will also need to reduce the turnover problems he’s had in recent weeks if the Broncos have any shot.
Is Big Ben healthy enough to win? It’ll be tougher on Ben this week with starting RB Rashard Mendenhall out for the season. Big Ben has struggled in his last two games and is obviously hampered by lingering injuries.
I’m definitely in the minority with this pick, but I feel if there was going to be an upset this week this would be the best game for one to happen. The Steelers have been so so on the road this year and haven’t been blowing out lesser teams on the road. If the Broncos can keep it close they might be able to win an ugly game. If I were betting I’d gladly take the Broncos at +9.
Enjoy the games!