This is the portion of the season which I don’t care that much for — unless the Panthers are in the playoffs, then that’s another ball of wax. But this is where things begin to…well…wind down. I’m not a draftnik, I don’t do fantasy football stuff, and I find it boorish to write something team-related, if it’s not newsworthy.
That said I will say, to cap off the season, that the 2011 season was more exciting than I ever would have imagined it being six months ago. We now have a franchise quarterback — I think I can say that without receiving much if any ridicule — who owns rookie and NFL records, and the future for Carolina looks rather bright.
Moving on, we still have another month of football; even though Carolina’s not in it, there are still some exciting games to be played, and after the jump, I’m going to make my picks for Wildcard weekend.
Ahhh, picks. I used to do these, good or bad (mostly bad), every week for each game of the regular season, and then I think I transitioned from that to picks within the division, to picks of who Carolina was playing. They become a chore after a while, but playoff picks is much more fun. They’re one-and-done, and a month is about all one, when writing about them, can stand to do unless of course, that’s your thing. So as it was then and is now, here goes nothin’.
NFC: New York Giants vs. Atlanta Falcons
I have no idea what the spread on this game is, nor who the favorite is. I suppose either team could be the favorite; the Giants are at home, and quarterback Eli Manning is the “Comeback Kid” of the fourth quarter this year, but the Falcons have an offense that has really gelled of late, and seems to be hitting its stride at the right time.
Atlanta has a showy offense. Showy yes, because well, like a fresh coat of wax on a car, or the shine on a newly minted coin, the value is still the same: Face. The adage, defense wins games couldn’t be more true in this bout. Even though Giants’ DE Justin Tuck ran his mouth about the Falcons offensive line being a buncha dirtbags (can’t say I disagree), the Giants’ defense is stout. And just because Tuck voiced his opinion on the way the Falcons play — a Spade is a Spade — I don’t think that will have much of an ill effect on how New York plays its defense against a pass-heavy Falcons offense.
For the Giants…Similar to the Falcons, New York has stability on offense, given that the playcalls are right. The Giants need to mix-up the right amount of pass and run plays. In order to get the ball down the field, it will be in the Giants’ best interest to handoff to Ahmad Bradshaw. It seems defenses have figured out the scheme when it comes to Brandon Jacobs (up-the-gut).
Giants win by 3
AFC: Denver Broncos vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
On Sunday evening, Pittsburgh will be in Denver, to play the AFC West Champ, Tebo…Broncos.
Interestingly, the Broncos and Bengals are two teams that share some similarities…They have similar color schemes, and both teams have quarterbacks who play on the shoulders of their defense. If not for luck, and a miraculous win over the Raiders by the Chargers, Denver would not be in this unique situation.
Considering the caliber of team the Broncos are charged with facing, I don’t see much luck headed their way on Sunday. The Broncos’ defense is very good, but so too is the Steelers’. I don’t see Tebow making very many completions with guys like James Harrison in his face all afternoon. Add to it, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense have more experience…completing passes and scoring.
Steelers win by 6
NFC: Detroit Lions @ New Orleans Saints
Detroit has had a great deal of success this season. Quarterback Matthew Stafford managed to stay healthy enough throughout the season to not land on injured reserve. If I had a vote, Stafford would get mine for Offensive Comeback Player of the Year.
Regardless, the Lions play the Saints on Saturday. Two teams that are similar, yet follow two very different coaching strategies, which could determine the outcome of this game before it even begins. The Saints, led by coach Sean Payton, are a strategic team. They move the ball with precision and keep their cool — both on offense and defense. They show the same demeanor on the field that their coach shows on the sideline.
The Lions, well, not so much…Like head coach Jim Schwartz, the Lions are a team that wears its heart on its sleeve. They are an emotional lot, and ride the roller coaster through its ups and downs. This doesn’t mean they’re a bad team; not by any means are they a bad team. It’s a style that has worked for them this year, and it has taken them to where every team wants to go: The playoffs — and hopefully beyond.
However, I have a difficult time seeing Detroit pass the first round and beating the Saints in New Orleans. New Orleans is patient, persistent, and well orchestrated on both sides of the ball. It will be a close game, but in the end, New Orleans pulls away.
Saints win by 3
AFC: Houston Texans vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Wow, for perhaps the first time ever, I spelled Cincinnati correctly on the first try. 2012 is going to be a good year, indeed.
To the last game of the weekend; Bengals at Texans.
I figure this to be another close game. And while I did somewhat slight the Bengals by comparing them to the Broncos earlier, I have to say that Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton has had a significantly better season than his counterpart in Denver. Regardless, the Bengals’ offense has benefited from fielding a solid defensive unit.
I don’t have much to offer in this matchup, other than Houston is my dark horse. I’m taking them as my upset special this weekend.
Texans win by 3
Follow Eric on Twitter @PSU_EQ.