I didn't have the time to post my picks for the Wildcard round, which is just as well since I only went 2-2. I sincerely thought that Dalton and the Bengals could take advantage of the severely injured Texans. Kubiak and Phillips are proving to be a very formidable coaching combination. And let's be honest here. There may have been a few people who thought the Broncos could beat the Steelers, but if anyone tells you they knew how the Broncos would beat the Steelers, then they are lying their asses off. I knew how they *could* beat the Steelers; I 've written it here before. McCoy needed to take the chains off of Tebow and let him play the game he is comfortable with. That's what McCoy did, but I sure didn't expect it to happen. The reason the Broncos won is because neither did Dick LeBeau.
So, all of the top seeds advance, and the team with the third best conference record goes home. Before anyone accuses me of hypocrisy, I want to reiterate what I wrote last year. No team without a winning record should be in the playoffs. I held that last year, when the Seahawks hosted a game with a losing record. I haven't changed my mind this year at all, just because the Broncos made it with a record of 8-8. I'm certainly more sympathetic to the argument that 'the fans love it', but I don't think you'd get that response from Pittsburgh right now. Still, at least for the moment, the Bronco's have a winning record and they go to the East coast.
New Orleans Saints (3) at San Francisco 49's (2)
I will go ahead and predict that Jim Harbaugh is the Coach of the Year. I personally think it should be John Fox, but Harbaugh didn't just take the Niners from worst to first in division. He took them to the number 2 seed in the NFC, and 8 of his players were selected to the Pro-Bowl. This is a fine team based on power football. Drew Brees, on the other hand is peaking. He is almost automatic anymore, and lookee here, he has a running game to work with. A lot is being made of the fact that Brees isn't as good 'outside'. We're not talking about Green Bay in January (yet). This is the city by the Bay. I don't think the venue will affect the Saints at all. This all boils down to whether the Niner's D can withstand the yardage onslaught of New Orleans. As good as they are, I am unconvinced that they can.
New Orleans - 31, San Francisco - 24
New York Giants (4) at Green Bay Packers (1)
Here's your likeliest upset of the weekend (not saying there won't be others, or that this will be). The Packer's defense has looked awfully mediocre most of the season. Funny thing, though. When they have to make plays, they do. The real question for the Pack is the O-Line against a Giants front that has come on recently. This isn't just stopping Jared Allen or Ndomukong Suh. The entire front four of the Giants are hell-on-wheels when they play well. Lately, they have been. I got a kick out of listening to the Sunday pundits telling me all about how the Giants were one and done. Have they totally forgotten that the Giants have never been the same in the playoffs as they have been during the regular season? Oh, and that Eli guy really is the elite quarterback folks were laughing at him for stating last year. Still, Aaron Rodgers finds a way to get things moving. Of all quarterbacks playing, he reminds me the most of a seasoned John Elway. If nothing presents itself, he conjures something good. I think this might boil down to the venue of those SOCIALIST commie Packers.
New York - 18, Green Bay - 24
Denver Broncos (4) at New England Patriots (1)
Yes, they played each other 4 weeks ago, and 'Brady schooled Tebow on quarterbacking'. Uhhhh, no. The Broncos handed the ball to the Patriots 3 times resulting in 17 points. The Patriots won by 18. You do the math. The Patriots scored when given the opportunity, and the Broncos gave them those. This will likely not be that game. The Broncos will have to remember three things. 1) Don't turn the ball over. That one is fundamental. 2) Speed kills. The Broncos are faster than New England at the receiver position, the lines, the defense and the quarterback. Last meeting, the Broncos tried to control the pace of the game. Open it up and let the players play. 3) Brady can't use his gaudy number of weapons if you run the ball 3 ways, hard fast and continuously. The problem for Denver is indeed that Brady has a gaudy number of weapons. But just for the record, no, the NE tight-ends are not faster than the Denver linebackers can cover. Still, experience matters, and I think that's what carries this game.
Denver -13, New England - 28
Houston Texans (3) at Baltimore Ravens (2)
I hate the Ravens, okay? I want Houston to kick their ass, period. TJ Yeats has been phenomenal as a rookie QB, and the Texans D is better (and certainly cleaner) than the Ravens. This is the game I'm calling based on emotion.
Houston - 27, Baltimore -21
Update: It's early, but I may have been wrong about that San Fran defense. Maybe too the offense.
Update: Hell, I was wrong about the San Fran offense.