Well, folks, it’s the playoffs. Finally. And since the NFL weekly format is different during the playoffs than it is during the regular season, the Tailgate Confidential‘s format will be different as well. Gone is the big, cumbersome table, game of the week, and upset of the week. What will replace those long forgotten staples is some quick analysis of each game (probably just Tebow jokes) and a final score prediction. This should be super-de-duper easy. Except for the picking games part.
Saturday, 4:30 pm est
Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans
These are the two worst teams in the playoffs and this is the hardest game to pick of the Wild Card Round. It feels to me like the public is already dismissing both teams, so why spend any time picking the winner. (If Cincinnati wins, they go to Foxborough to face the Patriots, if Houston wins, they travel to Baltimore to square off against the Ravens.)
I just can’t get over thinking that Cincinnati’s young offense will struggle against Houston’s second ranked defense. We can go back and forth about how bad T.J. Yates might play, and how electric the Andy Dalton to A.J. Green connection has been, but it’s all going to come down to Houston’s defense. Sure, the Bengals are going to get into the end zone down at Reliant Stadium, but without a go-to, possession type receiver to convert third downs, they won’t be able to control the ball enough to keep Houston’s fantastic running game off of the field.
Don’t feel too badly, Cincinnati fans, it could be worse, you’ll contend again next year. That’s better than the reality that Denver fans are staring into this weekend.
Houston is giving 3 points at home, and I’ll take them.
Texans 21 – Bengals 10
Saturday, 8 pm est
Detroit Lions @ New Orleans Saints
This is my favorite game of the decade. Wait. The Browns did beat the Steelers this decade. I guess it’s only my favorite game of the year. No. I might have loved the week one Packers-Saints match-up more. I guess this is just my favorite playoff game this week. That’ll have to do.
The Superdome (did you know it’s called the Mercedes Benz Superdome now? There’s no way anyone outside of New Orleans that doesn’t work in the NFL knows that. That’s on the short list of worst marketed naming rights I’ve ever heard) is a brutal place for visiting teams when the home crowd is pumped, and they’ll be pumped.
Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees have combined for 10,514 yards and 87 touchdowns. I actually just laughed when I typed 87 touchdowns. This game is going to be downright ridiculous.
Detroit can score, but they can’t hold the ball without a running back or a reliable short yardage receiver. The scoreboard might scream shootout, but if you pay attention during the game, it’ll be New Orleans’ ability to maintain a couple of long drives that decides the winner.
New Orleans is giving 11, but I think that’s too much.
Saints 31 – Lions 24
Sunday, 1 pm est
Atlanta Falcons @ New York Giants
This is the upset. I think.
The Giants are better than we think. New York had the third hardest schedule in the NFL this season, and Eli Manning was one more Victor Cruz broken tackle away from 5,000 yards and 30 touchdowns on the season. They have play makers who can rush the passer on defense and have home field advantage. They also had the same late season collapse that has plagued Tom Coughlin’s New York teams. You just couldn’t tell this season because the Giants got to finish against the Bumbling Jets and Cowboys in two season closing wins. The week 15 loss to the Washington Redskins should bother Giants fans more than the week 16 and 17 wins instilled confidence. I can talk about a tough schedule and play makers until I’m blue in the face, that won’t change the fact that NEw York finished the regular season ranked dead last in rushing yards and 29th in passing yards allowed. That means opponents score quickly and New York can’t hang onto the ball. That’s a bad sign.
Like Atlanta or not, they’ve been the most consistent team all season. Not best, but most consistent. Michael Turner is averaging 4.5 yards per carry and should rip up a New York defensive line that’s built to rush the quarterback, not stop the run. Once New York’s safeties (Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle. Not exactly fearsome run stoppers) are paying attention to Turner, There’s not much keeping Roddy White or Julio Jones from getting behind the corners. Aaron Ross and Corey Webster aren’t bums, but there’s no way either one of them stays with Jones if the receiver gets a clean release. This will be a close game until Atlanta’s first possession of the third quarter. That’s when the wheels start coming off for New York.
The Giants are giving 3 points, but I don’t want them. I’m taking Atlanta.
Falcons 27 – Giants 21
Sunday, 4:30 pm est
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos
I promised myself that I wouldn’t make this whole blurb nothing but Tim Tebow jokes, and by golly, I’m keeping my word.
The Steelers should run away with this game, but I don’t think they will. The big story has been that Ben Roethlisberger’s ankle injury was aggravated last week against the Cleveland Browns, but the most significant injury was the torn ACL of running back Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall is no pro bowler, but he’s a stable every down back. Many Pittsburgh fans complain about his fumbles and aren’t worried about missing him in the playoffs, but there’s no way that a hobbled quarterback is going to perform as well as he could without the team’s every down back.
The bright side for Pittsburgh is that Denver is running a high school offense. Yes, Willis McGahee is very good and Tim Tebow may have one of God’s lightning bolts up his sleeve, but the Steelers defense is tops in the league against the run and that’s all Denver can do. Seriously. The Broncos leading receiver this year is Eric Decker. His 44 catches and 612 yards would be impressive for a slot receiver, but being tied for 85th in the NFL along with Mike Thomas and Legedu Naanee isn’t going to cut it for a number one.
The Steelers are giving Denver 9 points on the road. I like Pittsburgh to win, but I sure don’t like the Steelers to run away with a game in Mile High without Ryan Clark.
Steelers 24 – Broncos 17
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