Thursday, January 5, 2012


Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans
ANALYSIS: The Houston Texans are in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history and overcame many injuries to get to this point. Matt Schaub and Mario Williams were lost for the season, while Andre Johnson was slowed and limited to seven games. The good news is that Johnson is back to give rookie quarterback T.J. Yates a dependable target when he does need to throw. For the other times, Arian Foster and Ben Tate will share the load on the Texans’ No. 2 ranked ground game. Defensively, Brian Cushing leads a unit that ranked No. 2 in total defense and allowed the fourth-fewest amount of points this season.

As the Cincinnati Bengals said adios to Chad Ochocinco and Carson Palmer, their new quarterback/receiver tandem is already turning heads in their first year in the league. A.J. Green lived up to being the No. 4 draft pick in the 2011 NFL Draft after catching 65 passes for 1057 yards and seven touchdowns while fellow rookie Andy Dalton was not shabby in his debut season. The second rounder from TCU threw for 20 touchdowns and 3398 yards as he learned the position. One cannot forget Cincinnati’s underrated defense that only allowed 323 points and helped the team win close games.

PREDICTION: Texans 21, Bengals 17
Andy Dalton vs. T.J. Yates

Detroit Lions @ New Orleans Saints
ANALYSIS: Drew Brees put up unheard of numbers this season as the New Orleans Saints look to win their second Super Bowl in three years. The signal caller threw for a record 5476 yards and shared the wealth evenly as five players caught at least 50 passes in the Saints’ high-powered aerial attack. Brees’ favorite target this season was tight end Jimmy Graham—who burst onto the scene in a major way with 99 receptions for 1310 yards. The only weakness might be New Orleans’ “bend, but don’t break” No. 24 team defense.

The Detroit Lions snapped their long playoff drought thanks to Jim Schwartz instilling a nasty, tough attitude to the team that has not won a title since 1957. Some have taken the nastiness a bit too far to heart such as Ndamukong Suh. When the Lions played the Saints five weeks earlier, Suh was serving the first game of his two-game suspension after stomping on a player. Now that they have him back, they may be able to put up more of a battle in the trenches. Detroit has enough to go into a shootout with New Orleans, thanks to Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. However, Megatron must improve upon his output (six catches, 69 yards) from when these two teams last met.

PREDICTION: Saints 38, Lions 31
Ndamukong Suh vs. the Saints’ offensive line

Atlanta Falcons @ New York Giants
ANALYSIS: Left for dead at 6-6, the New York Giants manned up to win three of their last four—including a sweep of the Dallas Cowboys—to take the NFC East crown. While still a bit erratic at times, Eli Manning stepped up when needed by delivering five comeback wins. His primary target was Victor Cruz, who burst onto the scene with 82 catches for 1536 yards and nine touchdowns. However, the two things the Giants must improve upon are defense and running the football. The Giants had the worst rushing attack this season and were 2-7 when they did not get over 100 yards.

For the first time in their history, the Atlanta Falcons have made the playoffs in consecutive seasons but it is the team’s recent lack of playoff success that many people are talking about. Mike Smith and Matt Ryan have yet to win a playoff game and to do so they have to limit their turnovers and stop the opposing team’s passing game. Luckily, Atlanta has a good balance of the run and pass with Ryan throwing for over 4000 yards and Michael Turner rushing for 1340 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Falcons are very good in stopping the run as well, ranking No. 6 in that category.

PREDICTION: Falcons 21, Giants 10
Michael Turner vs. New York’s run defense

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos

ANALYSIS: The Denver Broncos turned a 1-4 start into an AFC West title after John Fox benched Kyle Orton for Tim Tebow. While Tebow has been dreadfully inaccurate for most of ballgames, he finds ways to win late. Much credit for this goes to Fox for building a game plan that suits Tebow based on a heavy dose of the running game led by Willis McGahee. On defense, rookie standout Von Miller leads a squad that has gotten better in recent weeks, but still can be inexperienced at times and suffer whenever Tebow struggles.

This year, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost the AFC North title to the Baltimore Ravens, but the defense was still stingy in allowing other teams to get yards and points. Pittsburgh was the best team in total defense and scoring defense, as James Harrison and Troy Polamalu look to have big games without Ryan Clark playing in this game. On offense, Ben Roethlisberger might be hobbled but he is very tough and he threw for over 4000 yards this season.

PREDICTION: Steelers 10, Broncos 7
Tim Tebow vs. the Steelers defense

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