Since the Patriots are off this week after clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, we decided to do things a little differently here at Foxboro Blog this week. For this preview, instead of breaking one game down extensively, we are going to breakdown all four games before New England takes the field next Saturday night (8:00 EST, CBS)
Here are my keys and picks to the four games:
(6)Bengals at (3)Texans (4:30, NBC) – This is an intriguing game because of the fact that two rookie quarterbacks will be starting in their first playoff game on both sides. You have “The Red Rifle” 2nd round pick Andy Dalton going up against the 5th round pick T.J Yates. Both teams are looking to make a statement because neither team is coming in to the playoffs with any momentum. The Bengals only had one win against a team with a winning record and although Houston won the AFC South, getting their first trip to the playoffs in franchise history, they come into the postseason on a three game losing streak.
Both teams have solid defenses, so I am looking for whose running game will be the best this weekend? Houston impressed me all year with their tandem of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Houston needs the running game to be effective, which is why they sat Foster during their final game against the Titans. Cincy shut them down in Houston’s 20-19 win back in Week 14 holding Foster to 41 yards on 15 carries. The Bengals have a nice duo with Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott, but they only average 3.9 yards per carry.
PREDICTION: I think this game is going to be a low-scoring game and expect mistakes from both quarterbacks. It will be which quarterback can handle the atmosphere of their first playoff game? I like Andy Dalton more than Yates because even though Andre Johnson is back, his hamstring injuries have prevented him from playing at his potential. Wade Phillips, the Texans’ DC, has been the best assistant this year in the entire NFL, but I expect a big play late from Dalton to his rookie wide receiver A.J Green. Look for this matchup to maybe be played later in the playoffs in future years.
BENGALS 20 TEXANS 17
(6) Lions at (3) Saints (8:00, NBC) – The second game of re-match Saturday is a game that was played in the Louisiana Superdome and was surprisingly close for most of the game. The Saints played the Lions back in Week 13 and won 31-17. Detroit is back in the playoffs for the first time since 1999 after a 0-16 season just two years ago. As for the Saints, they are the hottest team in the NFC with wins in their last eight games and they have the quarterback that shattered Dan Marino’s record for most passing yards in a single season.
For the Lions to have any chance in the loud environment known as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, they have to control the clock. That is going to be an issue for them considering they are the 29th best rushing team in the league. So, they will need Matthew Stafford to use that short intermediate passing game to not only Megatron, but to his tight ends in Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. They get Ndamakong Suh back for this game after his suspension, but the Saints have one of the top offensive lines in the league with Carl Evans, Jermon Bushrod, and Jahri Evans, who are all in the Pro Bowl.
The Saints need that offense to continue their points scoring ways. They rely on Drew Brees and Brees alone due to the lack of a balanced run game. Sean Payton was not happy to hear that problem might continue when he had to put rookie running back Mark Ingram on injured reserve with a foot injury. In the first meeting, Ingram was the Saints’ leading rusher with 16 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown. It will be interesting whether we see New Orleans go to Darren Sproles or Pierre Thomas for the bulk of the carries. However, I expect Jimmy Graham and company to be explosive again as the Lions give up 24 points per game.
PREDICTION: I think the Lions can hang around this game if Matthew Stafford can continue putting up touchdowns and the Lions’ defensive line can get some pressure on Brees. However, the one thing you can rely on with the Lions is that when they get on the national scene, they always play with a lack of discipline. In the first meeting, they committed 11 penalties, which included offensive pass interferences, personal fouls, and throwing footballs at officials. The Saints continue their passing ways with great success.
SAINTS 34 LIONS 21
(5) Falcons at (4) Giants (1:00, FOX)
Three weeks ago, the rest of the NFL wondered if Tom Coughlin was going to have a job. The Giants were coming off of a terrible loss to the Washington Redskins. Now, New York has people around the tri-state area thinking they can repeat their Super Bowl run from 2007. This week, they take on the Atlanta Falcons who finished 10-6 this season. Matt Ryan had his best season as a quarterback with some great targets in Roddy White and Julio Jones. However, Ryan and head coach Mike Smith are still searching for that elusive first playoff win. This is also the first playoff game that will be played at the new MetLife Stadium.
To me, this game will come down to the battle of the trenches. It all stems from the trash talk that was said this week by Giants’ defensive end Justin Tuck when he called the Falcons’ offensive line “dirt bags”. Atlanta running back Michael Turner finished third in the league with rushing as the team averaged 114.6 rushing yards per game. Plus, if the Falcons are going to have any success passing downfield, their O-Line has to control a Giants’ pass rush that is famous for showing up in big games. The player to watch is second year defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul who has 16.5 sacks this season. The unit as a whole has eleven sacks in its last two games.
PREDICTION: I think the Giants are able to bottle up Turner in the backfield this week, since Turner only has 81 yards in two total playoff games. I am taking the quarterback who yes has played like an elite quarterback this year. Eli Manning has also thrown 29 touchdowns this year, but it is his 15 4th quarter touchdowns that are a single season record. His favorite target has been Victor Cruz who has a Giant record of 1,536 yards for nine touchdowns this year.
GIANTS 28 FALCONS 17
(5) Steelers at (4) Broncos (4:30, CBS):
This is the game that everyone is talking about, but mainly the game that everyone would pick in their playoff lockout pool. Nobody is giving the Denver Broncos (a.k.a the fighting Tim Tebows) a shot to win in this game. They come into the playoffs losers of three straight games while the Steelers come in with the Steel Curtain defense that has given up ten points or less in five of its last six games. However, they come in with some injury problems as well. Their running back, Rashard Mendenhall, is out for the playoffs with a torn ACL and their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger tweaked his ankle in practice on Wednesday.
If the Broncos are going to have any shot at winning this game, they have to keep the game close with their defense. When Tebow was winning seven games in an eight game stretch, the defense and the running game were the main facets. John Elway did come out this week and told Tebow to “pull the trigger”. I would like to see the Broncos try to throw earlier in the drive, but the odds are they are going to continue using Willis McGahee and run the football. Plus, their pass rush with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil has to make sure Big Ben is down before he can doing his usual extending the play routine.
With the Steelers, I am interested in seeing if they can play a great offensive game for sixty minutes. In four of Pittsburgh’s last seven games, they have scored 14 points or less. People tell me that Isaiah Redman is going to step in and fill that balanced role, but the Broncos have the ability to make Redman lose the ball, like he did twice against the Cleveland Browns.
PREDICTION: I am going to be the one that stands on Tebow Island this week and say the Broncos can stay in this game. With Elway’s vote of confidence, I think Tim can do enough to hang in the game for four quarters. The altitude is going to play a huge part in this game for the road team, but in the end, I like the Steelers to squeak a victory out here. To those who say Denver has no shot, I remind you to think back to last year when you said the Seahawks at home had no chance to beat the Saints.
STEELERS 20 BRONCOS 16