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Get ready for Wild Card Weekend

Record for last two weeks, 11-5 each week; for the season, 167-89. Pick of the Week, 1-0; for the season, 14-3.

I must admit I’m quite happy to go 11-5 for the last two weeks of the regular season. Considering that I had to pick last week’s games a week in advance, I feel fortunate to have done as well as I did. My Pick of the Week came in for week 16, but I forgot to pick one for week 17. With the regular season now over, I must admit I’m very happy with my year-end totals.

Enough said about the past; that’s history. Now that the dust has settled and we finally know who’s in the playoffs, the real fun begins. Four games are on tap this week in what is considered Wild Card Weekend. You can usually look forward to an upset, and I might just have one in store for you.

Are you ready for some playoff football? Let’s get it on. Good luck with your picks and Happy New Year!

Saturday, Jan. 7

Cincinnati at Houston — The Bengals are certainly one of the surprise teams of the NFL season. The departure of QB Carson Palmer left many believing that the Bengals were headed for another dismal season. On the contrary, with the emergence of QB Andy Dalton, the re-emergence of running back Cedric Benson and a solid defense, the Bengals managed to play themselves into the playoffs.

As for the Texans, the loss of QB Matt Schaub was huge. It looks like Jake Delhomme is the starter at quarterback, but the success of the offense rests in the hands of RB Arian Foster. Combined with what may be the best defense in the league, the Texans should have enough to advance into the next round.

In the end, I like the Texans in this game, 23-13.

Detroit at New Orleans — You may need a calculator to keep track of the points in this matchup. The upstart Lions are going to be tough to beat. With an up-and-coming gunslinger of their own in QB Matt Stafford and a receiving corps led by All-World wide out Calvin Johnson, the Lions will score, and score often. Unfortunately, they rank near the bottom of the league in rushing, so a big day by Stafford is a necessity if the Lions hope to win. As for the defense, it is definitely suspect.

The Saints also have the good fortune of having a true gunslinger in QB Drew Brees. Coming off a season where he broke the total passing yardage record set by Dan Marino, Brees has never been sharper. Combined with a fleet of top-notch receivers and the best all-purpose back in the league, Darren Sproles, you now can understand the need for a calculator. On defense the Saints are suspect against the pass. They rank 30th in the league in yardage given up, but they are much tougher in the red zone.

When the dust settles in this one, your going to see the Saints come out on top, 35-24.

Sunday, Jan. 8

Denver at Pittsburgh — I wish there was more to say about this game, but there really isn’t. The Tim Tebow story has been nothing short of remarkable as well as refreshing, but I really don’t believe he has a chance of beating the Steelers, even in Denver. The Steelers are somewhat limited on offense with the injury to RB Rashard Mendenhall, but they still have Big Ben and their suffocating defense.

The Steelers grind this one out, 24-10.

Atlanta at N.Y. Giants — When I mentioned upset, this was the game I was referring to. Everybody is jumping on the Giants bandwagon. QB Eli Manning is playing like his brother (not), the running game has returned (not), the defense is playing well (against the run?) and, best of all, they have won two in a row and three of the last four. For the record, they beat Dallas (8-8) twice, the Jets (8-8) once and lost to the lowly Redskins (5-11). Granted, they needed to win the last two games to get into the playoffs, but come on — world-beaters they’re not.

To their credit, the Giants are playing well at the right time of the year. Manning is playing the best football of his career and the receivers, led by Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, are very good, but the running game is the worst in the NFL. It’s the Giants inability to run the ball that will allow the Falcons to unload on Manning, and that will definitely have an impact on the outcome of the game.

As for the Falcons, they too have a solid quarterback in Matt Ryan, whose statistics mirror those of Manning. The big difference between the two teams comes in the form of RB Michael Turner who led the NFC in rushing with more than 1,400 yards. That alone will keep the Giant defense off balance, which in turn will allow Ryan the time to find his two very capable targets: Roddy White (100 catches) and TE Tony Gonzalez.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Giants running game poses little or no threat to the Falcons, who give up less than 100 yards rushing per game. The pass rush, led by John Abraham, is quite capable of putting pressure on Manning, and I think that will lead to either a key fumble or interception.

Keep in mind that I am a Giants fan, but I don’t believe they can just hit the switch and start playing championship-caliber football. I hope they do, however.

With that said, I think the Falcons will be consistent on both sides of the ball and come away with a hard-earned victory, 27-23.

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