I'm not doing full predictions till Friday but here is early take on wild card and previews for each team. This can also be seen on my blog site in that last two articles.http://allen-strk.blogspot.com/
Bengals at Texans: Saturday at 4:30- Two surprises in the AFC clash in what looks like a boring game to some. This game has me excited because both teams are very young and are hungry to make some noise. This will be the first playoff game in Houston Texans franchise history and the crowd will he very rowdy. This will be a real tough test for rookie Andy Dalton but he seems very poised. Whoever runs the ball more efficiently will make the difference in this game because both teams run the ball well. It will also be crucial to see how Andre Johnson and A.J Green play against two tough secondaries. This game is close to call but this should be very scrappy and competitive.
Lions at Saints: Saturday at 8:00- I'm not very happy about this game being on prime time since this game could be a blow out. The NFL continues to favor the Saints with everything which really gets under my skin but I'll avoid ranting. This game has loads of mis matches but Detroit does have the passing game to make this competitive. The issue here is that Detroit has no running game to keep the Saints off the field. That is bad news for a secondary that couldn't stop Matt Flynn and has had problems for weeks now. They are going to have their hands full with the Saints along with a rushing attack that has started to really hit its side. Detroit has loads of problems and doesn't stand much of a chance.
Falcons at Giants: Sunday 1:00 PM- This is probably the best game of wild card weekend and most would probably agree with me. These teams are very evenly matched and this could be the most competitive game. Both teams have their flaws and will probably exploit each other. Giants pass rush will be a problem for an average Falcons offensive line who has improved recently but still struggles against good teams. Falcons receiving options will be tough to stop for the Giants and unlike Dallas, Matt Ryan knows how to get the ball out fast. They also have a running game which could be trouble some. In two playoff games for the Falcons, Michael Turner hasn't had much opportunity to run the ball. They'll make sure to try to get him going. Giants offense seems to have hit a groove and if they can keep Eli clean, then it could be a long day for the Falcons. Atlanta's defense is underrated and doesn't get the respect it deserves but if they can't get to Eli, then Giants will be in control. If your behind against the Giants, you're playing into their hands with their lethal pass rush.
Steelers at Broncos 4:30 PM- I'll probably miss most of this game coming home from the game which isn't a bad thing. This game will be low scoring and very dull all around. The Broncos chances did improve with Rashard Mendenhall being out for this game. Denver can now take their chances getting a pass rush on a weak Steelers offensive line with Dumervil and Miller. That could give the Steelers problems to score, but Denver will struggle to score more than one touchdown if any. Steelers defense is finally healthy and will give Tebow fits. This game is going to get nasty but it may not be a blowout if the Broncos defense can get to Rothlisberger and stop Issac Redman. Pittsburgh loves this matchup though and if they can get there passing game going, it will be lights out.
1. Patriots- The Patriots are very interesting because they are so unpredictable. This is a team that can be down early against average and worst teams but then come back to beat these teams. They need to start better in playoffs because the teams they will play are much better than Buffalo and Miami. The offense will be tough to stop like we all know with their heavy dose of weapons including they dynamic duo at the tight end position. The issue with the Patriots is how their defensive flaws have been exposed and what happens if they play against elite defenses. Nobody has a great offense in the AFC which really helps compared to the NFC but it's still a cause for concern.
Best Case Scenario: Devin McCourty wakes up from his sophomore slump and the below average safeties starting making some plays. Someone steps up for the absence of Pro Bowler Andre Carter and helps that weak pass rush. The running game gets better and Tom Brady continues to be Tom Brady. If that happens, then look for these guys to win the Super Bowl.
Worst Case Secnario: The Patriots lose in the divisional playoffs to Andy Dalton and the Bengals because their secondary is that bad and they can't stop the run. They could also play the Steelers again and lose for the 2nd time this year to them thanks to the defense struggling. The offensive line will also have to step up against two teams that can get to the quarterback.
2. Ravens: They seem to be getting hot at the right time and people are believing in them. With the Patriots defense being terrible, some people like the Ravens to finally make that push to the Super Bowl. Ray Rice has turned into the most dynamic running back in the league that's in the playoffs (Maurice Jones Drew isn't in the playoffs). The defense has started to get its groove back along with some young stars like LaDarius Webb starting to become all stars. This is a really good Ravens team that is going to be a tough out like always. What concerns me still is the play of Joe Flacco because he's been very quiet this year and hasn't progressed like people expected. Flacco still has some issues against the best teams and always seems to fail in the playoffs. They are big time contenders thanks to a home game and a bye, but can Flacco finally get the job done.
Best Case Scenario: Joe Flacco delivers under pressure and plays mostly mistake free football. The defense continues to step up even more with the secondary not being so inconsistent. Ngata plays better after an average season by his standards. They stand up to the elite offenses in the NFC and win the Super Bowl which is a great way for the great Ray Lewis to retire.
Worst Case Scenario: Joe Flacco puts on a typical Joe Flacco playoff performance by throwing less than fifty percent with at least two turnovers. The young secondary gets lit up and the run defense begins to crumble against a great running team like Houston. They lose in the divisional round and Ray Lewis beats up someone.
3.Texans: They come into the playoffs with the worst momentum out of any playoff team. They have lose the last three games and haven't had much time to gel offensively. Andre Johnson is finally healthy after an injury riddled season. T.J Yates should be healthy to play and the defense will look to get back to why they were the best defense in the league for most of the season. They are obviously going to lean on the great rushing tandem of Foster and Tate but will that be enough? Can the defense get back to limiting teams in every aspect offensively. This is the first playoff appearance in franchise history so I'll be shocked if this team goes down without a fight.
Best Case Scenario: They win an emotional playoff home opener against the Bengals with their great running and the defense flusters Andy Dalton into several mistakes. Then they go to Baltimore and beat them at their own game. They play tough defense and force Flacco into several mistakes while shutting down Rice. Meanwhile Houston's running attack has success while Yates plays turnover free football. That would be an incredible playoffs for Houston regardless what happens next.
Worst Case Scenario: The lack of momentum kills them and they fall flat against the Bengals. Yates plays horrible and they fall behind early which makes the running game become useless to use. The secondary continues their poor play and gets beat on a few occasions by A.J Green. A great season comes to a bitter ending for Houston.
4. Broncos- They are easily the worst team in the playoffs without much debate. They are another team with no momentum coming into the playoffs but don't have much of a chance. The defense continues to play well which doesn't surprise me because John Fox is a very good defensive coach. They also have good pieces with Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller being excellent pass rushers. Champ Bailey is still among the best corners along with some other good pieces on this defense. They won't go out with a fight but the issue is they are going to be on the field for a long time because that offense is flat out bad. If they can't get a running game going and against the Steelers, that's high unlikely they are in trouble. We all know Tebow is still nowhere near a decent passer and they are going to have trouble going anywhere with him. Denver could be in for a rude awakening in the playoffs.
Best Case Scenario: They somehow beat Pittsburgh by creating two or more turnovers while they get the lethal running game going. They make the most of the opportunities and somehow pull out Denver with a win. They are at home which is a boost but it will take a lot of things to pull their way to win this game.
Worst Case Scenario: This is Denver's first playoff game since 2005 so its been very long. The worst thing that can happen is if this game is over by the early 3rd quarter. If they get blown out, this could end up being the end of Tebow in Denver.
5. Steelers- Pittsburgh is the only other team out of Baltimore and New England that can make the Super Bowl. Despite the loss of Mendenhall for the playoffs, Issac Redman is a decent replacement. It also has become apparent that Mendenhall struggled at times this season and Steelers had to rely more on Rothlisberger.That shouldn't be a problem with the weapons at his disposal. They still have the defense that can frustrate you and give you serious problems to run against. The secondary also has improved with Ike Taylor really having an impressive season. You can't ever count out the Steelers but to win three games on the road is going to be tough especially in hostile environments like Baltimore and New England.
Best Case Scenario: They prove to everyone that they are still the same team and go on an improbable run to the Super Bowl. Redman becomes the latest great Steelers running back to perform in playoffs and the defense forces plenty of turnovers. Pittsburgh beats both Baltimore and New England by Rothlisberger throwing all over their secondaries and forcing enough stops. I'm still not skeptical of them actually winning the Super Bowl which makes predict the best case for them was losing in the Super Bowl. Please don't choke me with your terrible towel Steeler fans.
Worst Case Scenario: They are going to beat Denver and I'm not even letting any chance of them losing cross my mind. The worst case scenario to me would be simply getting blown out by Baltimore or New England by the offensive line being weak and getting Rothlisberger killed. Another thing was how they usually struggle against really good tight ends which doesn't help. If they were to get blown out in the 2nd round, it would leave a bitter taste in every Steeler fan's mouth. In the case of playing Baltimore, losing in any way also would be bad because that would mean their divisional rival beat them three times in one season.
6. Bengals- I'm very proud of this team for making the playoffs after my prediction for them before the season started was to be the worst team. Instead they were a scrappy team that didn't care what people think. They really remind me of the 2008 Falcons which makes them instantly my favorite team in the AFC. This is a fun team with Andy Dalton having a solid season as a rookie. Cedric Benson has a re birth season while A.J Green was even better than advertised. It also helped that guys like Simpson and Gresham stepped up this year after having disappointing starts to their careers. The offense is dangerous despite struggling the last few games. The defense isn't very star studded but they are scrappy and can give you fits. With no expectations, this Bengals team has nothing to lose so expect them to give anyone they play problems with their fearless attitude.
Best Case Scenario: They got to Houston and beat them in front of their home crowd in Houston's first ever playoff game. They stop the best rushing attack in the league and give Yates serious problems .Then they go to New England and play a really good game to fall short.
Worst Case Scenario: For this team their shouldn't be any, but to get blown out by a team led by T.J Yates wouldn't be fun. It also isn't good to lose to a team twice in the same season especially since the Bengals lost on a last second touchdown to Yates. A blowout loss in Houston wouldn't be very good for this rising team.
Clash Of The Titans
1.Packers- The most loaded team had an incredible season and even did better than my 14-2 pre season prediction for them. They are very confident coming into playoffs and won't have to win three road games like last year. They still have issues though with their secondary allowing way too much passing yards. The loss of Nick Collins has hurt this team a lot along with the fact that they aren't much better stopping the run. B.J Raji has had a disappointing season while the 3-4 defense just hasn't performed up to expectations compared to last year in the playoffs. It didn't matter for most of the year because their offense is simply unstoppable. Aaron Rodgers has been incredible along with the weapons he has that it has become near impossible to win. They have become so good that they don't need much of a running game to succeed.
Best Case Scenario: They continue their roaring pace and repeat as champions. They prove to be too much for the Giants lethal pass rush or the Falcons rising offense. Then they win a classic shoot out against the Saints. Then in the Super Bowl despite all their defensive problems, they come through with a big performance to win.
Worst Case Scenario: The extra week of rest proves to be deadly and they start to become rusty. The offense isn't clicking and the defense becomes very leaky. They let the Giants throw all over them and hit Rodgers too much or they let Atlanta's offense go wild and win in a shoot out with Rodgers making more mistakes than Matt Ryan.
2. 49ers- The upstart 49ers somehow pulled out a bye, but aren't getting much respect. Despite a tremendous season, they are still being sell short. Alex Smith finally had the season where he can be considered an above average quarterback. Frank Gore remains playing at a high level while Michael Crabtree is finally coming along. They still lack weapons offensively but they had a great season. The defense is among the best in the league with great secondary play led by Carlos Rodgers and great pass rushing by guys like Aldon Smith. This team is legit and they aren't going to be fun to play against regardless of what the pundits say. The defense will keep them in games and you know what they say, defense wins championships.
Best Case Scenario: They shut up all the analysts that can't stop loving the Saints and beat them with a lethal running attack. Frank Gore has a huge game while the defense causes just enough problems to beat Drew Brees in an epic clash. They had a successful season regardless of the playoffs due to how bad they were, but when you get a week off your expected to win.
Worst Case Scenario: They fall flat on their face against the Saints similar to what the Falcons did last year against the Packers. Alex Smith falters under pressure and the lack of receiving weapons kills them. The defense is good but they simply can't handle the level that Drew Brees is playing on. The game isn't very competitive which leaves the fans very bitter despite the great season.
3. Saints- The most dangerous team coming into the playoffs without a doubt. They haven't lost since Week 8 and the only competitive game during the long winning streak they are on was in the over time win against the Falcons. They are playing at a high level on both sides of the football. The biggest surprise is how the running game has performed for the Saints. They have started to run so well with the combo of Thomas, Ivory, Sproles and when he has been healthy Mark Ingram. This offense can't be stopped and their doesn't seem much answers on how to contain it. Your best hope is to make them one dimensional. This team is going to be the toughest out and have become a pick to even win the Super Bowl.
Best Case Scenario: They handle the Lions and 49ers with ease thanks to an over powering offense. The offense will out score the Lions and the defense will be too much for Alex Smith. Then they out perform the Packers thanks to running the ball better and keeping Aaron Rodgers off the field. Then everything comes together in the Super Bowl for the big victory making it two championships in the Sean Payton era.
Worst Case Scenario: Another first round collapse like last year happens and the defense falters against Matthew Stafford. The Saints start to struggle to protect Brees against a good Lions front four and everything falls apart. The defense can't handle all of Detroit's weapons and the blitz doesn't affect Stafford which leaves the season at a complete disappointment.
4. Giants- Another dangerous team full of momentum coming into the playoffs. They are full of confidence beating two bitter rivals in the Jets and Cowboys. They now get a home game in the playoffs for the first time since 2008. If the running game can get on track with Jacobs and Bradshaw, this team can be unstoppable offensively. Eli Manning has been terrific all season with Victor Cruz being the break out star in the NFL. Cruz has been nearly unstoppable this season and can't be covered one on one. The issues with the Giants are simply discipline where they are among the worst in the league. They get consistently penalized and make bone head mistakes on both sides of the ball. The pass rush is the best in the league, but can it be affective when the linebackers and secondary is that bad. This team can make a serious or fall flat on their face, they are that unpredictable.
Best Case Scenario: The Giants beat Atlanta in dominant fashion thanks to great play by the offensive line and a great pass rush to fluster Atlanta. Then they upset the Packers with the running game finally making a huge impact and keeping Rodgers off the field. Then they get revenge in the Super Dome against New Orleans learning from mistakes with Eli Manning having the game of his life. They won't win the Super Bowl because that defense simply won't last along with an average offensive line but they are a serious threat to make a push. This Giants team can really get going early if all the pieces come together.
Worst Case Scenario: The secondary continues their poor play along with the front seven getting beat up front against a powerful Falcons rushing attack. Eli makes a few bone head mistakes and the offensive line struggles. They lose to the Falcons to end an inconsistent season in brutal fashion.
5.Falcons- Another team that can make serious noise in the playoffs are the Falcons. The main focus for the Falcons has to be Michael Turner which has been emphasized time and time again. The major reason is based on the two playoff loses in the Mike Smith era. They have fallen behind early which leads to them abandoning the run and ruins the Falcons game plan. They need to get the running game going always to make this team go. If Turner is having a huge game, then this Falcons offensive is close to being unstoppable with the weapons they have. Defensively they are better than advertised and take too much criticism. The defense is scrappy despite a lack of stars and haven't fared well against the best. What the Falcons do best is stop the run and force turnovers which can be essential in the playoffs. If John Abraham and company can set up, they can seriously make that defense a force to be reckon with. These are big questions for Atlanta because they have yet to beat a playoff worthy team this year (sorry Lions, you're not worthy).
Best Case Scenario- They finally win their first playoff game and beat the Giants by running the football and the pass rush finally comes alive. Those two elements can beat the Giants along with some Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez. Then they go to Green Bay and play like they did in Week 6. That is force the team into field goals and play great team defense but also scoring in fourteen points. This team makes me believe they have the potential to pull off a huge upset. Now can they make the Super Bowl? It's highly unlikely but a nice competitive game against the Saints in NFC Championship would be incredible.
Worst Case Scenario- It doesn't matter how much they lose by, if they lose then it's disappointing. This is a Falcons team that is too talented not to have some success in playoffs. They can't go 0-3 in the Mike Smith era in the playoffs. It will be a complete disappointment if they trail early in the game then that puts so much pressure on Matt Ryan. Its simple when it comes down to the Falcons, not winning one playoff game is a failure.
6. Lions- Other than the Broncos, the Lions are weakest team in the playoffs. The holes are starting to open like I expected earlier in the season. The awful secondary has finally started to show their true colors while their pass rush has started to struggle. Suh has been a huge disappointment this season along with the lack of a running game in Detroit. What has kept Detroit stable and in the playoffs was the excellence of Matthew Stafford. Stafford has been outstanding this season and really took the team on his back along with Calvin Johnson. With Johnson and an array of weapons, they are going to put up points easily. I'm just not confident in that defense at all and the lack of a running game really hurts them as a team.
Best Case Scenario: It won't matter how they beat the Saints but if they beat the Saints, then that will be absolutely incredible. That would be the best care for them regardless how they fare against the Packers.
Worst Case Scenario: I've heard most Lion fans are happy just to be in the playoffs. It has been way too long for this team and now they are finally in the playoffs. There shouldn't really be a worst case scenario here, but if they were blown out by the Saints then that would be an ugly ending. It seems likely but at least stay competitive against the Saints.