NFL Playoff Preview

Everything is finally set in the NFL playoffs.  The New York Jets, the Oakland Raiders, the Tennessee Titans, and the Dallas Cowboys are all out.  The New York Giants, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Denver Broncos are all in.  So what can we expect in the first round of the playoffs?

Saturday, Jan. 7

Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans (4:30 p.m. ET, NBC):

This will be a battle between two rookie quarterbacks:  third-stringer T.J. Yates for the Texans and starter Andy Dalton for the Bengals.

Dalton threw for 3,398 yards and 20 touchdowns against just 13 interceptions this season, but the Bengals stumbled into the playoffs after losing at home in Week 17 to the Baltimore Ravens and losing five of their last eight games of the season.

Yates led the Texans to two straight wins—including a 20-19 victory over the Bengals in December—after season-ending injuries took out starter Matt Schaub and back-up Matt Leinart, but it’s been three straight losses ever since.  It’ll be four straight after Saturday.

TeamNames.Net fearless prediction:  Bengals 17, Texans 14.

Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints (8 p.m. ET, NBC):

Quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions are pretty good against weak teams, but they’re just 1-5 this season against playoff teams, and Ndamukong Suh continues to display incredibly bad decision-making on a soft defense that allows 24.2 points per game.

The last time the Lions traveled to the Big Easy—in early December—the Saints sent them home with their tails between their legs to the tune of 31-17.  Drew Brees set the NFL single-season passing mark last week, and the team as a whole set a number of single-season offensive records.  The Lions don’t stand a chance.

TeamNames.Net fearless prediction:  Saints 38, Lions 14.

Sunday, Jan. 8

Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants (1 p.m. ET, FOX):

The Giants needed a win in the final game of the regular season to win the wimpy NFC East and enter the playoffs. They’re maddeningly inconsistent, beating the New England Patriots but getting swept by the Washington Redskins.  The Falcons, meanwhile, are just 1-4 this season against playoff teams.

Ultimately, this one will come down to how well Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, and Ahmad Bradshaw can get things going.  After a four-game midseason skid, the Giants closed out the season winning three of their final four games.  The momentum and the home field will work to New York’s advantage.

TeamNames.Net fearless prediction:  Giants 20, Falcons 13.
Tim Tebow ready to throw a pass against the San Diego Chargers in January 2011, showing his extremely elongated throwing motion.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos (4:30 p.m. ET, CBS):

Oh, how quickly the Tim Tebow mystique has evaporated.  Stop Tebow, you’ve stopped the 8-8 Denver Broncos, who back into the playoffs on a three-game losing streak.  If they can only score three points against the Kansas City Chiefs, they don’t have a prayer against Pittsburgh.

Here come the Steelers, who are 12-4 but a wild card team thanks to a season sweep by the 12-4 Ravens.  Running back Rashard Mendenhall injured his knee in the season finale against the Cleveland Browns, but Isaac Redman proved himself a capable back-up, running for 92 yards and a score in relief of Mendenhall.  The Steelers defense allowed the fewest points per game this season (14.2) and will have no trouble stuffing Tebow.

TeamNames.Net fearless prediction:  Steelers 24, Broncos 6.