NFL: Wild Card Weekend 2011

By: Shawn Davis

Every year I cook something for the weekend games so I can sit in front of the television and gorge myself without having to bother to go out…or move. Lazy, right? Don’t judge me, I love football, but playoff football is another level. Like loving all your kids but really favoring the child that gives you fewer headaches than their siblings. Are you with me? All right enough of the fluff; let’s get to the games:

Cincinnati 10 @ Houston 31

My pick: Bengals on the road.

I was dead wrong on this one. I wasn’t surprised that the Texans won the game but I did think it would be contested in the low-20’s. Watching the Bengals get pushed around the field was odd and definitely explained why Arian Foster carried the ball to the tune of 153 yards and 2 touchdowns. Houston came into this showdown on a three game losing streak and you wouldn’t have known that watching this one.

T.J. Yates played well and didn’t force anything at all. There was a ball that should have been caught by Bengals safety Chris Crocker which could have been a pick six but the ball simply hit off his hands. They say defensive backs were once wide receivers that couldn’t catch, right? Well that play would have changed the energy in the building and it proved to be one of the final heaps of dirt tossed onto the Bengals’ hopes of advancing. Just three plays later, Andre Johnson ran an out-and-up delayed route up the sideline and he was rewarded from Yates with a beautifully thrown ball for a 40-yard touchdown to make the score 24-10.

Foster finished them with a 42-yard touchdown run where he broke 2-3 tackles while managing to stay in the field of play. The crowd in Reliant Stadium was going nuts and I’m sure it helped their team play through the Bengals early touchdown score when it seemed – at least then – that would be the first of many. It turned out to be their only time crossing the goal line.

Next week: Houston @ Baltimore

Detroit 28 @ New Orleans 45

My pick: Saints; and I doubt the Lions will be able to stay within 14 points once the game progresses to the fourth quarter.

Ultimately, I was right but the Lions stayed in the game far longer than I expected and had the crowd in the dome eerily quiet. I had no doubt the Saints would win and the Lions were up for the challenge but Drew Brees just makes some throws that don’t seem fair.

What was the difference? Well besides the Saints setting a postseason record by gaining 626 total yards with Brees throwing for 466 yards– and three touchdowns? The Saints piled 167 rushing yards on top of their passing output. How did the Lions respond to that? They had 32 rushing yards, that’s all they had going on the ground. Although Stafford passed for 380 yards and 3 TD, he also gave away 2 interceptions because he had to throw so much. He completed 28 of 43 – which was good – but the Saints knew they weren’t going to run so that made defending them easier. I’ve mentioned all year-long in this space that the Lions inability to find offensive balance would be their undoing and it was. And the knack they also have for falling behind – and then finding a way to rally back? You don’t want to be behind the Saints by even a field goal, you don’t. Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Chris Ivory softened the defense – bringing them closer to the line of scrimmage – while Robert Meachem, Marques Colston and Devery Henderson got behind them for huge chunks of yardage…and touchdowns.

Calvin Johnson continued his stellar play by having 12 receptions, 211 yards and 2 touchdowns while making some catches that cannot be defended by humans but there was no one else (besides Stafford) for New Orleans to worry about. The Saints have a list of threats while the Lions just have two, currently. When 99% percent of your attack is the pass and the opposing team can kill you both ways, your margin is extremely slim and you feel pressured to score on every drive while generating turnovers on the defensive side of the football. The Lions succeeded in forcing and recovering two fumbles but even those weren’t enough to turn the tide.

Next week: New Orleans @ San Francisco

Atlanta 2 @ NYG 24

My pick: G-Men.

The Falcons were favored to win this game and I have no idea why! They were a schizophrenic team all year (very similar to the Giants in that regard), never established their offensive identity and that’s why they only scored two points on Sunday afternoon. The Giants’ front-four brought the pressure all game long and dictated to the visitors how this game was going to play out. New York only tallied 2 sacks in the box score but Matt Ryan was uncomfortable for the entire game and he was picking himself off the ground consistently.

Eli Manning continues to carve out his very own Manning-legacy by passing for 277 yards and 3 td, completing 71% of his passing attempts. He has become an elite player at the position and will make sure he’s no longer overlooked when people discuss the best quarterbacks in the game today. The Giants rushed for 172 yards and while the Atlanta defense took away Victor Cruz (2 rec;28 yards); Hakeem Nicks had 115 yards and 2 touchdowns to keep the pressure on the secondary.

Next week: NY Giants @ Green Bay

Pittsburgh 23 @ Denver 29 (OT)

My pick: Steelers; It’s hard for me to pick against them.

"I should have kept a safety in the middle of the field."

What do I know?

All I do know is that the scenario I mentioned last week is a month from coming true. Stay tuned. I cannot believe Pittsburgh began the overtime in a Cover Zero look – with Ike Taylor being outplayed all day by Demaryius Thomas – without even shading a safety to the middle of the field. As I’m typing this, I still DON’T understand it!

Next week: Denver @ New England

Taking a look towards next week’s Divisional Round:

New Orleans @ San Francisco

David Akers set two NFL records this season as a kicker: Most field-goals in a single season (44) and most points scored in a season, without touchdowns (165). What do these numbers mean? The 49ers don’t score enough touchdowns; they have too many scoring drives that end with field goals, instead. If Akers is on kicking for three points, consistently, they’re going to lose.

I do not see the Saints getting 40-plus in this game. Would it really shock me if they did? No. I’m not buying that the Saints offense cannot be potent at Candlestick because they’re not a one-trick type of offense (see: Detroit Lions) – they will run the ball at you. San Francisco’s defense will be able to slow them down and limit the chances of this game becoming a farce but they will need Alex Smith to lead drives that get them into the end-zone.

The weather forecast is supposed to be sunny and calm in California when the game is played. Why are some people feeling that inclement weather would favor the 49ers? Have we noticed that the Saints do – in fact – run the ball…and do it well? They do. Terrible weather and shoddy field conditions, I feel, would be more of a detriment to the 49ers who have a limited offense which doesn’t lend itself to overcoming extra obstacles. Additionally, playing a team with the capabilities of New Orleans forces the opposition to try to keep up. Mentally, they get you where you have to score every single drive; and by “score” I mean touchdowns, not field-goals.

My pick: Saints. If they get up early, I’m very interested to see how the 49ers respond. San Francisco needs to keep this game in the teens to win this one – and I doubt they can.

Denver @ New England

Maybe I shouldn’t make any type of prediction as it pertains to the Broncos because they were my downfall in my pick-league the entire season. Ugh! This game features the lesser of two evils for me because both of these teams have pissed me off in the past – with Denver doing it this year and the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI (36) so maybe they bludgeon each other and the Ravens (oops) pick the bones of the victor next week.

My pick: As much as it pains me I have to take the Patriots.

Houston @ Baltimore

Ray Lewis gets an extra week to heal up while the rest of team awaits their first challenger of the post-season. The Ravens will be flying all over the field and converging on the ball like a bunch of well…Ravens, right? I could honestly see the Texans walking out of this game with a seven-to-ten point victory, seriously.

Baltimore plays with such an inconsistent amount of verve that they allow too many teams to stick around – or beat them. If they stroll into this game thinking the home-field advantage will take care of itself, they’ll be joining their AFC North counterparts on the golf course. This is the matchup that I’m the least excited to view.

My pick: Baltimore, but they scare the hell out of their fans. If Matt Schaub was healthy I would pick the Texans without a doubt.

NY Giants @ Green Bay

I have been on both sides of the fence in relation to picking a winner in this one. The Packers can score, so can the Giants. Green Bay has Aaron Rodgers, New York has Eli Manning. When the Packers don’t force turnovers, the opposition will move the ball and get their chances to score. (Remember Week 13 when the Packers won by a field-goal?) This will be a close one unless either team causes a bushel of turnovers.

The Giants front-four is healthy and they’re up for the hunt (ask Matt Ryan) and I like them better than the patchwork unit that comprises the Packers’ offensive line. This game will come down to line play – and who wins there will advance to the NFC Championship. My pick? I’m stuck!

My pick: Can I pick them both? No that’s sort of dumb. Giants; this is the first time all year where I picked the Packers to lose. I think Aaron Rodgers is going to be under siege all day long and Manning will make one more play than his counterpart. I’ll even go as far as to say the G-Men will win by a field-goal.

Photo: Mike Tomlin; bleedblackandgold.com

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