Wild Card Round
The Texans are playing in their first ever playoff game, while the Bengals are seeking their first playoff win in 21 years. Just who did the Bengals beat back then? The Houston Oilers. The Oilers are in Nashville, and Boomer Esaison is on CBS and the game 41-14 game is just a distant memory.
The Texans are the better team if healthy; the problem is they are not healthy. Rookie Quarterback T.J. Yates will be playing with a separated shoulder as the Texans are on their third stringer after losing Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart. Andre Johnson is recovering from two hamstring injuries and only played in seven games. If the Texans are to win he needs to be a factor. One player who is healthy is Arian Foster, who could be a big part of the Texans game plan.
The Bengals are young rookie QB in Andy Dalton and rookie top receiver in A.J. Green. The Bengals were not even expected to sniff the playoffs, as many had them in the Luck Sweepstakes after the sudden departure of Carson Palmer. The Bengals had a solid year defensively, and should be able to keep them in the game.
The final line is 0-7, as in the Bengals record against fellow playoff teams. This includes a heartbreaking final second loss to the Texans at home in Week 14. That number glares like a flashing neon sign at a cheap hotel, and it says Texans Win.
Can anybody stop Drew Brees and the Saints offense? This is one of the big storylines as the 2011 NFL Playoffs begin. Brees not only broke Dan Marino’s single season passing record he obliterated it, as the Saints broke the 40 point barrier in four of their last six games, including their last three games. One game they did not score 40 in was Week 13 against the Lions, when they scored 31 points.
The Lions who are making their first playoff appearance since 1999 have played well offensively themselves scoring 79 points in the last two weeks. The bad news is their defense gave up 45 points to Matt Flynn last week in the Lambeau snow.
In the Sunday Night game in Week 13 the Lions had their chances to make the game closer than the 31-17 final, as they committed several dumb penalties. If they are to pull of the upset they will need to play flawless football. They should get a defensive boost in that unlike the first game Ndamukong Suh will be on the field, but he too has to keep his emotions in check and avoid the 15 yard roughing penalties.
The Saints just need to keep doing what they were doing at the end of the year, give Drew Brees time to find his receivers and add up the score. This game should be close for a half, but in the end the Lions will not be able to keep up with the Saints high octane offense, as Drew Brees continues to blow away NFL defenses.
The Falcons last season were the best team in the NFC, but suffered a stunning loss at home to the Packers in the Divisional Round. This year they underwhelmed at times, but still managed to post a 10-6 record and earn a playoff berth for the second year in a row, something that has never been done before by the Falcons.
The Giants meanwhile, needed wins over the Jets and Cowboys in the last two weeks to save themselves from a third straight second half collapse. The Giants started 6-2, but after four straight losses looked to be heading down in flames. A big win in Dallas and they were back on track. The Giants went against their tradition this year, as Eli Manning lit up the sky with footballs, finding a new star receiver in Victor Cruz. On the downside their running game struggled all season, and in the playoffs that could be a bad thing.
The Giants defense on the other hand, which struggled all season with injuries, is at its healthiest with Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck coming off a solid game against the Cowboys. The key player on the Giants defense is second year Defensive End Jason Pierre-Paul who was named Defensive Player of the Month in December as he gave the Cowboys nightmares in their two match ups. The Giants will need a big game from JPP if they are to beat the Falcons.
The Falcons are good talented team that one day has to win a playoff game to prove Matt Ryan is an elite quarterback. The Falcons will also need a big game from Michael Turner if they are to get the win in the Meadowlands. Balance will be the key for the dirty birds, as a big day by Turner could slow down the Giants pass rush enough to allow Matt Ryan, Rod White and Tony Gonzalez have a big day. In the end, the Falcons balance will be the difference, as teams with strong Tight Ends and a good running game have given the Giants problems this year.
If you like offense this game will not be for you. One team has a struggling quarterback that even when he wins seems to do so with mirrors. The other team has a quarterback on a gimpy ankle that will now need to go on without their leading rusher. Yes and both teams have solid defense. You can not even make the statement first to 20 points wins, because right now neither team is capable of reaching that number, they may even have trouble reaching 20 points combined.
Tim Tebow was a great story this season as he took the Broncos from a 1-4 start to 8-5 and in first place, with unreal heart stopping comebacks in nearly ever win, which included six in a row. The Broncos since backed into the playoffs losing their last three games, as defenses have forced Tebow to stay in the pocket, thus taking away his ability to run and confuse defenses. Tebow will need a big game with his arm if the Broncos are to beat the reigning AFC Champions.
The Steelers, meanwhile come in banged up Safety Ryan Clark can not play in Denver’s high altitude due to a life threatening Sickle Cell trait. Running Back Rashard Mendenhall is out for the playoffs after shredding his ACL last week, and QB Ben Roethlisberger says he aggravated his ankle injury.
If the Steelers were playing a team that could score it could be curtains for the black and yellow. However, with Tebow struggling, the Broncos offense may have a tough time even putting up any type of score. Defense will decide this game, and while the Broncos have a solid young defense, the Steelers are playoff tested and will know how to frustrate a raw rookie making his first playoff start,