Did you know that there are only 11 games left in the NFL season?
Let that sink in for a minute. Yes, while we openly pined for the lockout to end so that we could get our beloved professional football in our lives, it seems like the season just got started yesterday. Super Bowl XLIV is just 30 days away in Indianapolis, and as much as I love the blessed day of football finality, there will be much sadness that comes immediately following the end of these NFL playoffs.
Excuse me while I go shed a Tebow Tear, as The Scribes of The Journal go over the five things that truly matter on NFL Wild Card Weekend.
So many story lines surround what I think has the opportunity to be by far the most exciting game of the first round. How will Matthew Stafford and Megatron Johnson react to the beast that is playoff football? Will Barry Sanders show up? Over/under for Drew Brees and 420 passing yards? Over/under for a combined 75 points? Will Ndamukong Suh do something to get suspended or fined? Is this game even more important than the LSU/Alabama game set to take place 48 hours later?
On paper, it’d be easy to take Breesus and his disciples – and while I still am – there was some reservation. Who actually picked the Seahawks last year? Marshawn Lynch became a cult phenomenon thanks to the Saints inability to tackle and there’s a good chance someone like Titus Young could have a big day, given all the attention given to his Pro Bowl counterpart. But, there’s always a ‘but,’ New Orleans looks to be on a mission to deliver the “Big Easy” its second world championship in three years. Brees is on the brink of immortality with another Super Bowl win and, unfortunately, the Lions are nothing more than a hurdle.
Oh, and here’s another story line for ya? If the Saints do win the Super Bowl and Brees is MVP, does this play out like Pujols and St. Louis? It’s not that far fetched, is it? — via @JustinTinsley
Is this where Tebowmania comes to a screeching halt? The Denver Broncos are already on a three-game slide in which Tim Tebow threw the ball more like Philadelphia Eagles’ punter Chas Henry than the proficient Drew Brees. If Tebow can’t be even competent at home against a banged-up, old Pittsburgh Steelers defense that doesn’t give up points but can’t create turnovers, it’s hard to imagine that John Elway — one of the greatest passers of all time — will be putting the future of his franchise in Tebow’s hands. — via @RevPaulRevere
When you think of New York Giants and the Atlanta Falcons, it has always been about power football. However, this is 2012 and both the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons boast formidable passing attacks that are anchored by some of the best outside receivers in the NFC.
If this was 2011 and the Falcons running game were explosive, I would say this road win was in the bank. However, that is not the case. The Falcons are a pass-first team but, fortunately, they are anchored by one of the elite veteran receivers in the league in Roddy White, who shares the glory with oncoming rookie sensation Julio Jones. Conversely, the New York Giants feature their own set of explosive receivers in a slightly different format. They are led by veteran receiver Hakeem Nicks, who has migrated to elite status, but it has been the rise of Victor Cruz (cues up the salsa music) that has often given the Giants a bona-certified secret weapon that no team has been able to shut down.
While the passing game takes center stage, this game is going to come down to ball control and defense. That being said, the Giants are at home and they have the better runners and the better defense. Expect a huge day from Bradshaw…my prediction, Giants 24 – Atlanta 17. — via @JoeSimTre
For Cincinnati and Houston, it’s a game of two teams looking for firsts this upcoming weekend. Bengals head coach Marvin lewis is still looking for his first playoff win in his ninth season with the team, using rookies Andy Dalton and AJ Green to lead the way. Houston, on the other hand, is looking to capitalize from their first AFC South championship and inaugural playoff run since their expansion ten years ago. The Texans have sustained many injuries (Matt Schaub, Mario Williams, Matt Leinart and Andre Johnson for a period of time), and still survived. Leading the way was rookie QB TJ Yates, who had an injury setback of his own, but will play in this weekend’s Wild Card game. With Dalton battling a case of the flu, I expect Houston to advance to Baltimore in the AFC Divisional playoffs, due to the stout run game led by Arian Foster, along with the advantage of being at home. See ya next weekend, Houston! — via @TheNFLChick
The Wild Card Question: Can any of these teams win the Super Bowl?
Time and time again, we’ve seen Wild Card teams defy all odds and win four in a row to take home the title. Pittsburgh in 2008 and Green Bay in 2011 are the most recent examples, and there are a few candidates that could make a four-game winning streak happen in 2012.
New Orleans: The offense this year is probably better than the Super Bowl-winning offense two years ago. The problem is the defense is worse. I’m picking them to get to Indianapolis, personally.
Detroit: For all the bad that Ndamukong Suh has dealt with this season, he’s always had a knack for playing well in big games. If he can get on a roll in the playoffs and get pressure on Brees and possibly Rodgers in the later rounds, there’s no reason why Stafford to Megatron couldn’t sneak their way into Indy.
Pittsburgh: I actually don’t think losing Rashard Mendenhall will make THAT much of a difference for the Steelers and their chances, but the news that Big Ben Aura’s ankle might’ve gotten worse this week? Now that’s an issue. It’s probably overblown, but Ben is arguably the best big-game QB in the league.
Denver: There’s this quarterback they have that wears #15…