Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Linsanity: Can it Continue?

I figured it was finally time to write a blog about how Jeremy Lin has managed to sweep the country with his performance over the past week and a half. Lin scored more points in his first 4 starts than any other player since the NBA-ABA merger. Certainly an unbelievable performance from a guy who is still sleeping on his brother's couch, not exactly the typical lifestyle for an NBA star. Although if Lin keeps repeating these performances, he won't be sleeping on his brother's couch much longer.

Over the course of this run, the biggest question that people have asked is if whether or not this can keep up? It's not an easy task to come out and score 20-25 points per game while also dishing out roughly 7 or 8 assists per game. Those are the types of numbers you see from the elite point guards in this league, such as Derrick Rose or Chris Paul. The only real answer to the question that so many people want to know the answer to is to simply wait and see. Lin just played his first game with Amar'e Stoudemire and has yet to play a game with Carmelo Anthony. The funny part is, the Knicks don't even need Lin to keep scoring 20-25 points per game. That's why they have Stoudemire and Anthony, both proven scorers in this league who can score 25 points on any given night. What the Knicks need Lin to be is a legitimate, play-making point guard who can score between 10 and 15 points per game.

Lin has become the equivalent of a cult hero during this run, drawing comparisons to the Tebow Mania that we saw just a couple months ago. He is the most popular player in the Big Apple right now, despite the fact Eli Manning won a Super Bowl just 10 days ago. #17 Lin jerseys are flying off the shelves everywhere in the Metro area, people want to become a part of the sensation that is sweeping the nation. The excitement in the Garden hasn't been at this level, since the mid 1990s when Patrick Ewing and John Starks were still playing in New York.

This run has been absolutely fantastic for Lin and Knicks fans alike, but can he co-exist once 'Melo returns to the lineup? Lin must have that certain understanding that he might not be the main guy anymore when Anthony returns. Personally, I think Lin will continue to be a solid point guard in this league, but not one who puts up 20-25 on a given night. It is the best-case scenario for the Knicks, as previously mentioned with Carmelo and Amar'e already in town. With that said, I also believe the Knicks have found their answer at point guard, the one they have been searching for.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Super Bowl XLVI Prediction

Here is my breakdown, position-by-position for Sunday's big game. After 2 long weeks of waiting, it is finally time for the rematch between the Patriots and Giants. Without further ado, let's get to the breakdown of the game.

Quarterbacks: This one is pretty simple, Tom Brady vs. Eli Manning. Both have been here before and know how to play in the spotlight. Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, with this being his 5th trip to the Super Bowl and if Eli continues to play like he did this year, he is well on his way to being elite. Both of them will have their moments in this game and whichever one plays better in crunch time could be what decides the outcome of this game. EDGE: Patriots, Brady has been better for far longer. Simple as that.

Running Backs: Yes, there are actually running backs in this game. It seems as if the likes of Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis, Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs have gotten zero coverage leading up to the game due to all of the other big storylines. However, the ground attacks for each team could turn out to play a huge role in the game. The Pats will look to use the run to open up the pass, especially if Brady is constantly being hounded by the pass rush of the Giants. Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead and rookie Stevan Ridley have had flashes of success and will try to get going early on Sunday to make life easier for Brady and the rest of the offense. As for the Giants, Bradshaw and Jacobs have split carries pretty much all season and into the playoffs. Both have been solid and could find space to work with against a mediocre front 7 of the Patriots. EDGE: Giants, the Pats have more depth, but the Giants have more talented backs.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: It's all about Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham for the Giants, with Jake Ballard getting throws from time to time. Manning will look to Nicks and Cruz the majority of the time, but could use the potential mismatch on Manningham to his advantage. The much-maligned Patriots secondary has been under fire all year, but has improved as of late and played well against the Broncos and Ravens with Sterling Moore saving the season with his strip of the ball from Lee Evans in the end zone. Nicks and Cruz will each probably hit on at least one big play, but the Patriots have the weapons to match that. Wes Welker will be his usual dynamic self in the slot and Brady also won't be afraid to call Deion Branch's number a few times as well. Mix in the best 1-2 punch of tight ends in the NFL, despite the fact Rob Gronkowski may not be 100%. He may not be as effective as usual, but Hernandez should find space to work with against an average at best Giants linebacking corps and Gronk will still find a way to make some plays. He is one tough kid who will barely even feel the pain in his ankle once the adrenaline starts to set in. EDGE: Even, the Patriots make up for the Giants' edge in the receiving corps with the lethal combination of Gronk and Hernandez.

Offensive Line: This should play a huge role in the game, especially on the Patriots side. Their line desperately needs to protect Tom Brady and give him time to throw.That was the biggest downfall in the 2007 game, Brady was constantly pressured all night and barely had time to throw at all. The Giants front line will come after him just as fiercely this time around. As for the Giants, Eli Manning was battered and bruised all night long against the 49ers and the O-line must do a better job of protecting their signal caller. The Patriots have a few guys, namely Mark Anderson and Rob Ninkovich who can apply constant pressure to the QB and attempt to force him to make some mistakes. EDGE: Patriots, Brian Waters, Logan Mankins and Matt Light make the difference over a mediocre Giants unit.

Defensive Line: Welcome to the Giants' specialty. Big Blue feeds off of their front line, led by Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck. Those three have the ability to make a difference in this game if they can get to Brady. They have been at the forefront of a number of stories during Media week and have not exactly shied away from the cameras, as evidenced by the feud between Umenyiora and Brady's blindside protector, Matt Light. As for the Patriots, Vince Wilfork is playing some of the best football of his career right now while Mark Anderson and Brandon Deaderick have both played well in the playoffs thus far. Wilfork was a one-man wrecking crew in the Ravens backfield during the AFC Championship game and will look to do the same thing again on Sunday. EDGE: Giants, their pass rush is one of the best in the league.

Linebackers: Unlike a number of the other key areas in this matchup, neither team's linebacking corps particularly stands out. Although Brandon Spikes and Rob Ninkovich have played extremely well for the Pats in the playoffs, including a key interception by Spikes in the AFC Championship game. Ninkovich has looked unstoppable at times coming off the edge and should have few problems doing the same against the Giants. As for the Giants, Michael Boley, Chase Blackburn and Mathias Kiwanuka represent nothing more than an average group. Kiwanuka is the best pass rusher of the bunch and could line up at defensive end in certain packages on Sunday. Meanwhile, Blackburn is a special teams ace, filling in for the injured Jonathan Goff who missed the entire season with an Achilles injury. EDGE: Patriots, they have the better pure talent and the solid play of Spikes and Ninkovich in addition to the steady Jerod Mayo puts them over the Giants linebackers.

Secondary: Both teams feature oft-criticized secondaries who have been through more than their fair share of ups and downs over the course of the season. The Patriots battled injuries all season long to key secondary guys, forcing them to play Julian Edelman there at various points throughout the 2nd half of the campaign. Devin McCourty and Pat Chung each missed games with injuries, but have rebounded nicely to have a strong finish to the year. That is where the going gets rough, James Ihedigbo is an average safety at best, one who got beat in coverage more than once against the Ravens. Meanwhile, Kyle Arrington, despite leading the league in interceptions, is not great in coverage and will have his hands full against Nicks, Cruz and Manningham on Sunday. We also can't talk about the Pats secondary without mentioning Sterling Moore who saved the season and has received more and more playing time from Coach Bill Belichick. As for the Giants, their secondary, as previously mentioned has been up and down all year, led by the outspoken Antrel Rolle who always seems to have something to say to the media. Corey Webster and Aaron Ross are comparable to McCourty and Arrington while Kenny Phillips and Rolle are decent at safety. EDGE: Patriots, Chung is the best player in either secondary right now which gives New England the slight advantage.

Special Teams: Let's start with the kickers for each team, ones who could find the game in their hands on Sunday night. Stephen Gostkowski, while having very few chances at clutch kicks over the course of his career has always been solid and will not be afraid of the spotlight if called upon Sunday night. As for the Giants, Lawrence Tynes is not necessarily automatic from beyond about 40 yards, but remains a decent option for New York. He has made a number of clutch kicks before, most recently against the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. When it comes to the punters, Zoltan Mesko and Steve Weatherford each have booming legs and matching ability to pin the other team deep in their own end of the field. Field position might not play a huge role with an elite QB on each sideline, but nobody wants to start every drive from their own 10-yard line so you never can tell. For the return specialists, Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker, Will Blackmon and Jerel Jernigan are serviceable, but none of them are a particularly huge threat to break one for a touchdown. EDGE: Giants, these are extremely similar units, but Tynes with his number of clutch kicks gives New York the slight edge..

Head Coaches: Bill Belichick will go down as one of the greatest head coaches in NFL history. He is making his 5th trip to the Super Bowl and always finds a way to have continued success from year to year. He says very little, but gets the job done and uses any smack talk from opposing teams as motivation for the Patriots to feed off of. Giving him two weeks to prepare for any opponent is a scary thought as he is one of the true masterminds in the NFL. For the Giants, Tom Coughlin is similar in some ways in terms of mannerisms and has his team making their 2nd Super Bowl appearance in 5 years, despite having fans call for his head seemingly every year. He has battled through tons of adversity with this team and knows how to be a successful head coach in the league. EDGE: Patriots, Belichick is one of the all-time greats and has had success for much longer.

Prediction: It's a shame these teams don't play more than once every 4 years because they always seem to produce classics. This one should be no different from the previous games and will be decided on the final possession. I'm giving the slight edge to the Patriots, Belichick and Brady won't be defeated by the same opponent twice on the same exact stage. Gostkowski kicks the game winner and the Patriots take home the title in memory of Myra Kraft. Patriots 24, Giants 21.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Celtics Finally Turning the Corner?

Just over a week ago, there was talk of deconstructing the entire team and starting from square one. That was before one of the best weeks in recent memory, one that featured a home-and-home sweep of the Magic and a solid win over a talented Pacers team. The Celtics, in the midst of the 4 game winning streak now sit at 9-9 on the season. While not spectacular by any means, it is certainly a heck of a lot better than it was just a week ago. Keep in mind, the winning streak has come with Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen out with injuries. Avery Bradley has played the best basketball of his young career and Mickael Pietrus and Brandon Bass have emerged as solid scoring options off the bench.

Granted, there are still 46 games remaining in the lockout-shortened season and this winning streak may turn out to mean nothing, but it is at least promising to Celtics fans considering how the team played over roughly the first month of the season. Now is the time for Boston to make up some ground in the standings with 5 of their next 6 opponents currently sitting under the .500 mark.

Another impressive part of the winning streak has been Doc Rivers' fearlessness to play anyone on the roster at any time as evidenced by the fact that Sasha Pavlovic and Chris Wilcox have both received some serious minutes this week. While partly out of necessity, the bench unit seems to have finally found  a level of chemistry that can only help an ever-aging team. Kevin Garnett is as fragile as ever and the team needs Wilcox to continue to play at a high level when #5 heads to the bench every 5 minutes or so.

Also, with the injury to Rondo, Avery Bradley has shown he is at least an NBA capable player, especially on defense where he never seems to slow down. The former Texas guard constantly hounds the opponent's point guard and may be the best on-ball defender the Celtics have had off the bench since the departure of Tony Allen a few years ago. If Bradley's game can continue to develop over the next couple years, he could make the Celtics look brilliant for selecting him with the 18th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.

As previously mentioned, this winning streak may turn out to not mean a whole lot, but the return of Rondo and Allen, along with Jermaine O'Neal will only help an improving team that is slowly climbing up the Eastern Conference standings. For now, let's hope the team truly is beginning to turn the corner and will play up to their capabilities on a nightly basis.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Tuck Rule: 10 Years Later

Depending on who you ask, the night of January 19, 2002 was either an extremely memorable night or just a frustrating night. One could argue that "The Tuck Rule Game" as it is famously known, sent the Patriots and Raiders in opposite directions and changed the course of their franchise forever. What if it was ruled that Tom Brady had fumbled on the play and it was not ruled incomplete? The Patriots would have never advanced to play the Rams in the Super Bowl and there would have been no 3 titles in 4 years. It could be argued that that game would have propelled the Raiders to the Super Bowl, pitting them against the Rams' Greatest Show on Turf. Maybe the Silver and Black would not have endured hard times ever since that game,with the exception of a Super Bowl loss to the Buccaneers the following season. Would Tom Brady still have been the starting QB for the Patriots at the start of the 2002 season? Either way, it certainly makes for an interesting debate.

As previously mentioned, the play was ruled an incomplete pass and Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-winning field goal to send the Patriots on the way to their 1st Super Bowl title. Little did people know at the time, that the win would essentially mark the start of a dynasty, as New England went on to win 3 titles in 4 years. The Patriots have amassed a record of 137-42 since that game, led by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick the whole way. The duo has more wins than any other Head Coach and QB combination in NFL history. At the time, Brady was a young gun filling in for the injured Drew Bledsoe. Now a days, he is an elite QB in football and has booked himself a place in Canton for when his playing days are over. He has become the equivalent of a cult hero in New England, someone adored by Patriots fans of all ages. #12 represents the link to the greatest era in franchise history.

On the other sideline in that game was the Oakland Raiders, a once-proud franchise that as mentioned before, has fallen on hard time. The regular season record of the Raiders since that game? 56-104. Not exactly the same good fortune as the Patriots. 14 different signal callers have lined up under center for Oakland since "The Tuck Rule Game". The list includes perennial busts JaMarcus Russell, Andrew Walter and Charlie Frye. There have also been 6 different head coaches, including the rather forgettable Lane Kiffin and Norv Turner eras. Vastly different from what the game meant to the Patriots, Raiders fans could think of a million different curse words when asked about the game. "The Tuck Rule Game" to them represents the beginning of one of the worst stretches in team history.

For those of us who are Pats fans, take a second to remember one of the best games in franchise and NFL history as we eagerly await the AFC Championship game on Sunday. For the Raiders fans out there, the team has looked better the past couple of seasons and seems to be on the way up.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

NFL Divisional Round Predictions

As promised, here are my predictions for the NFL Divisional playoffs. I'll get it started with the AFC.

Patriots-Broncos: Following a thrilling overtime win in Pittsburgh last week, the Tim Tebow train will come to a screeching halt in Foxboro. The Patriots offense, led by Tom Brady is simply too much for the Broncos, despite an above-average defense. Denver will keep it interesting for about a half, before the Patriots offense starts to impose their will.  The much-maligned Patriots defense that has been under fire all season will come up with a few turnovers, just like the first meeting which New England won 41-23. If the Broncos hope to keep this close and potentially pull off the upset, Tebow may need to be even better than he was last week when he threw for 316 yards against the Steelers. It won't happen.
Pick: Patriots 35-17

Ravens-Texans: Can T.J. Yates continue the magic for another week? After a surprising 31-10 win over the Bengals last week, Yates and the Texans continue to prove critics wrong. However, facing Ray Lewis and company will prove to be a test at a whole other level. This is the game Joe Flacco finally plays like he is capable of playing in the playoffs. His nemesis, the Steelers are no longer alive.  Flacco will lead 2 long scoring drives and a long TD by Ray Rice will put the game out of reach for the Texans offense, who can't keep up. Look for a bit of a blowout in this one. The Ravens will be making plans for their trip to Foxboro by early in the 4th quarter. 
Pick: Ravens 24-7

Saints-49ers: Can Drew Brees and company continue to produce yards and points at an alarming rate? Not so much, the 49ers have played like the best defense in the league all season and will show that this week. Alex Smith will stick with what has been working, quick, short throws on timing routes. Brees will have a hard time moving up and down the field on a defense, led by Pat Willis in the middle and a unit that features playmakers at each level. I'm going with the 49ers in this one, but it will be close throughout. David Akers kicks a last-second field goal for a San Francisco win and send them to their first NFC Championship game since Steve Young called the Bay Area home in the mid 90s.
Pick: 49ers 24-21

Packers-Giants: The Giants have the ability on a peaking defense to slow down Aaron Rodgers and the Pack Attack. What will prove crucial to hopes of an upset is the ability of the defensive line to get some pressure on Rodgers, after recording just 2 sacks in the 1st meeting. The biggest question for Green Bay revolves around whether or not the defense returns to its playoff form of last season or struggles like it did at the end of this season. As Greg Jennings referred to on Twitter, the Packers haven't forgotten about the 2007 NFC title game. It won't matter, the Giants are playing their best football of the season and the defense will do just enough to disrupt Rodgers' timing and force a few turnovers. This will set up Eli Manning and the offense with a short field that will lead to scoring drives. I like the upset in this one. 
Pick: Giants 31-28

Monday, January 9, 2012

BCS National Championship Game Preview

After a month of constant debate over whether or not Alabama belonged in the National title game, the night has finally come when they get to prove to the entire nation they deserved a spot in the game from the beginning. However, LSU has other things on their mind, which include beating Alabama for the 2nd time this year and taking home its 3rd National Championship in 8 seasons. Putting the numbers aside, here is my analysis of tonight's game featuring 2 SEC schools that love some defense.

Offense- LSU: The Tigers don't feature a true playmaker on this side of the ball. With all due respect to WR Rueben Randle, there is not enough consistent play at QB to consider him among the elite playmakers in college football. For the better part of the season, the Tigers have lived off of a big play by their special teams or defense in order to set up short fields for the offense. Jordan Jefferson has once again firmly entrenched himself as the starter, but if LSU gets down early can he make the necessary throws to get them back in the game? Les Miles won't be afraid to go to Jarrett Lee off the bench if Jefferson struggles early. As for the rest of the offense, Spencer Ware and Michael Ford are a pair of 700-yard rushers who could have a hard time finding holes in an Alabama defense that held this unit to 9 points in the 1st meeting and kept them out of the end zone. However, an interesting thing to watch could be that LSU may try an option look early on to try to gain some yards on the ground. Its worth nothing that the Tide allowed 302 yards on the ground to Georgia Southern, an FCS school who runs  triple option. The success of the triple option could turn out to be an X-factor in this game.

Alabama: The Tide offense revolves around Trent Richardson, a Heisman finalist and surefire first round pick in April. Richardson, who ran for 1,583 yards and 20 TDs on the season was largely kept in check during the first meeting, running for just 89 yards on 23 carries. The biggest question for this unit remains how will A.J. McCarron fare against a secondary that features 2 All-Americans in Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne at corner? Marquis Maze is a future NFL receiver, but can he find space working against Claiborne? Alabama will have to have some success through the air in order to win this game. As talented as Trent Richardson is, he can't do everything himself, McCarron will need to complete some key passes on 3rd and long and late in the game. He can no longer be just an effective game manager, which has been the case for most of the season. Only problem is, if Maze cannot utilize his 4.4 speed, who do the Tide throw to? Richardson is the 2nd-leading receiver on this team with 27 catches and LSU won't be afraid to stack 8 guys in the box on some downs and focus most of their attention on #3. Someone, such as Brad Smelley, the senior TE may be the X-factor for this offense.
EDGE: Alabama has the slight advantage in this case, thanks to Trent Richardson.

Defense- LSU: It all starts in the secondary where Tyrann Mathieu, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Taylor and Eric Reid will all play on Sundays in the near future. Without a doubt, this is the best secondary in the nation and has a chance to completely shut down an inconsistent Alabama passing attack. As previously mentioned, the main focus of this defense will be Trent Richardson, who has excelled on this stage before, as a freshman in the National title game against Texas when he ran for 109 yards and 2 scores. John Chavis, the defensive coordinator won't be afraid to dial up some blitzes in an attempt to rattle McCarron. This unit recorded 37 sacks on the season, led by Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, who had 9 and 8 sacks, respectively. As a whole, the Tigers allowed an average of just 10.5 points per game, good enough for 2nd in the nation. They already have the blueprint of how to stop the Alabama offense, the hardest part now is repeating the success from the 1st meeting when they held the Tide out of the end zone.

Alabama: As good as the LSU defense has been at points this season, Alabama's may be even better. Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw lead a unit that allowed just 8.8 points per game this season.  The unit can absolutely fly around the field and will give the LSU offense everything it can handle. They held the Tigers offense to just 239 yards in the 1st meeting, including a paltry 91 through the air. This unit has been the backbone of the team all season and certainly played a large part in getting them to this point. If they can shut down the backfield duo of Ware and Ford and keep the LSU offense off the board early it will force LSU's 109th ranked passing game to come up big, something it really hasn't been asked to do this season. Kirby Smart, the defensive coordinator will match his counterpart in terms of dialing up blitzes and attempting to force the other's QB into potentially game-changing mistakes.
EDGE: Even, these are the top 2 defenses in the nation, bar none.

Special Teams: LSU- Tyrann Mathieu should not and will not get a chance to return a punt in this game. He has been the engine that has jumpstarted LSU at so many points this season, especially with a big punt return, but he won't be able to do that in this game. If this turns into a battle of field position, give the edge to the Tigers and their punter, Brad Wing. Wing averaged 44.1 yards per boot and landed 23 punts inside the 20-yard line, including 4 of 6 in the 1st meeting of these 2 teams. He has the ability to pin Alabama deep in their own territory and as discussed before, the Tide offense doesn't typically go on long drives. As for the all important position of kicker, Drew Alleman has been Mr. Consistent for LSU, connecting on 16 of 18 field goal tries. He nailed all 3 of his attempts in the 1st game and Les Miles trusts him in crunch time.

Alabama: That whole idea of trusting your kicker doesn't exactly apply to Nick Saban and Alabama. Everyone knows the stories of Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley who combined to miss 4 field goals in the 1st meeting, something that would end up costing the Tide the game. Let's just say, they cannot do that again if Alabama plans on hoisting the crystal trophy tonight. When it comes to punting, Cody Mandell is fine, but nothing special. He averaged a pedestrian 38.9 yards per kick, but is at least serviceable. Marquis Maze mans the punt return for Alabama returned 1 punt for a touchdown this season. However, he may find it difficult to find space against an LSU punt coverage team that allowed just 0.4 yards per return.
EDGE: LSU, they are better in all 3 aspects of special teams.

Coaches: LSU: Les Miles is on his way to being considered one of the greatest of all-time. Miles is an excellent recruiter who routinely gets the most of the talent he has to work with. Talent doesn't always ensure winning, given the struggles at Florida and Ohio St. this year. He is nicknamed "The Mad Hatter" and will not be afraid to pull out all the stops to defeat Alabama. Watch for LSU to mix in a few trick plays, here and there just to keep the Tide defense on their toes.

Alabama: Nick Saban is built more in the mold of a quiet head coach who doesn't have much of a penchant for the trick plays and bold decisions. He is often called the Bill Belichick of college football and is widely considered the gold standard of head coaches at this level. Alabama churns out pro prospects each and every year, in large part thanks to Saban who provides an excellent training ground for these players. If Alabama wins tonight, it will be their 2nd national title in 3 years and Saban will be considered the mastermind behind what many would call a mini-dynasty of sorts.
EDGE: Even, both coaches are extremely successful with entirely different approaches to the game.

Final Prediction: LSU 20-17, the Special Teams unit of the Tigers is what will make a difference in this game. Both offenses will struggle to get in the end zone and the defenses are essentially even, but in the end, I give the edge to LSU based on their kicking game.

Friday, January 6, 2012

NFL Wildcard Weekend Predictions

With the NFL playoffs starting this weekend, here are my picks for the games Saturday and Sunday. Without further ado, let's get right to the predictions. I'll start with the AFC.

Bengals at Texans- Back in August, if you had said a first round playoff game would feature Andy Dalton and T.J. Yates as the starting QBs, most would have called you certifiably insane. People were openly wondering if the Bengals had the worst offense in the league and if they were bad enough to go 0-16.  The Texans also battled their fair share of adversity with injuries to Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Mario Williams. Nonetheless, the team won the AFC South and it will be a special scene on Saturday when the franchise plays their first ever playoff game in front of the game. The strength of these 2 teams lies with the defenses so look for a physical, low-scoring affair. Both teams allow under an average of 21 points per game, but I'll take the Texans in this case who simply have more talent. However, can Yates, a rookie 5th-round pick lead the offense on drives down the field? That is the biggest question, but I'll go with the better defense in this case. Arian Foster breaks off a big run late in the game to set up a game-winning field goal by Neil Rackers. Prediction: Texans 23, Bengals 20.

Steelers at Broncos-The Tebow Train has reached its final stop, the Steelers will end the hype once and for all, well at least until training camp. A defense that features James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley and James Farrior is too much for a guy who put up a stat line of 6/22, 60 yards and 1 interception last week. The Steelers have the top pass defense in football and will force Tebow into a number of mistakes setting up a short field, which the Pittsburgh offense could certainly use. With Ben Roethlisberger hobbling around and Rashard Mendenhall out with a torn ACL, the team may struggle to move the ball. We saw how they performed against the 49ers and Browns. Once again, an above-average Broncos defense is what will keep them in the game, until Big Ben, bum ankle and all delivers in the clutch one more time. Steelers win this one, but it will be closer than people think. Prediction: Steelers 17, Broncos 9.

Falcons at Giants- Can Matt Ryan finally prove himself in a playoff game? The guy has gotten the Falcons to the playoffs twice, but has yet to get past the divisional round. This may be his toughest test yet, a finally healthy Giants defensive line, featuring soon-to-be superstar, Jason Pierre-Paul should be able to get tons of pressure on the Falcons QB. Atlanta is a team built for playing in domes, which isn't good news for Falcons fans considering the forecast for Sunday is calling for rain and snow showers. The Giants, a team that is eerily similar to the 2007 version that won the Super Bowl comes in with a record of 3-1 in their past 4 games and a quarterback enjoying a career year. Ryan has the ability to match Manning, but he will come up short as the Giants defense that has 11 sacks in the past 2 games forces a couple untimely turnovers. Manning won't play his best game, but he'll do just enough to get the win and advance to the divisional round. Prediction: Giants 27, Falcons 17.

Lions at Saints- This game is the saving grace of wildcard weekend for those fans out there who love a good, old-fashioned shootout. With Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford running the offenses, the game will feature plenty of points. Brees is playing some of the best football of his career right now so the Lions must avoid key mistakes, such as turnovers and stupid penalties(See: Suh, Ndamukong) in order to have a chance to win this game. In the Week 13 meeting of these 2 teams, the Lions committed 11 penalties for 107 yards. Let's just say that cannot happen again if the Lions plan to extend their season past Saturday night. However, the Saints offense will prove to be too much for a Lions defense that just got finished getting torn apart by Matt Flynn who threw for 480 yards and 6 touchdowns last week. This one will stay close for a while before Stafford throws a game-changing interception and the Saints start to pull away. Prediction: Saints 38, Lions 21.