The final count is in. I finished the regular season with a record of 137-119 for my picks. That means I was right 53.5 percent of the time. Not bad. If gambling were legal, I could actually make some money. But now it’s time for the playoffs. As always, the lines are from ESPN and my picks are in caps.
Cincinnati Bengals at HOUSTON TEXANS (-3)
The Texans lost three consecutive games to the Panthers, Colts and Titans to close out their regular season. While head coach Gary Kubiak would rather see his team win, the losses shouldn’t be much of a concern. With injuries being such an issue for the Texans this year, Kubiak has been very careful with his remaining star players. Even so, Saturday’s game in Houston will be a battle of two rookie quarterbacks. T.J. Yates will have the upper hand with Arian Foster and a healthy Andre Johnson. When the two teams met in week 14, the Andre Johnson-less Texans narrowly beat the Bengals in Cincinnati, thanks to Yates’ last second touchdown pass to Kevin Walter. If the Texans can beat the Bengals on the road without Johnson, they can beat the Bengals at home with him. That is, if he can stay healthy.
Prediction: Houston 17, Cincinnati 13
DETROIT LIONS (+11) at New Orleans Saints
Just like the earlier Saturday game, the Lions and Saints matched up in the regular season. However, like the Texans, the Lions were missing one of their star players. When the Lions traveled to New Orleans in week 13, they did so without DT Ndamukong Suh, who was serving the first game of his two-game suspension for caressing a Packers lineman with his foot. Well, most called it stomping. But the Lions had Suh in their lineup last week, when they allowed Matt Flynn to become the greatest quarterback in the history of the Green Bay Packers. Even if the Lions defense decides not to show up, the Saints will need to find a way to stop Calvin Johnson. They limited him to 6 catches for 69 yards in week 13, but in the past three weeks, Megatron has caught 25 passes for 560 yards and 4 touchdowns. And don’t forget what happened to the Saints last year in the playoffs. I’m calling it. Lions for the win.
Prediction: Detroit 41, New Orleans, 38
Atlanta Falcons at NEW YORK GIANTS (-3)
Unlike our two Saturday matchups, the Falcons and the Giants did not meet during the regular season. However, the Giants did have four regular season games against teams named after birds. They went 2-2 in those games, so that doesn’t really tell us much. But the Giants do have Eli Manning and he has been great. So great in fact, Eli Manning was voted into the Pro Bowl ahead of Matthew Stafford. Apparently, Manning had a better year than Stafford, who became one of four quarterbacks in the history of the NFL to throw for more than 5,000 yards in a season. Although, it’s really no surprise Eli Manning was successful this year. He’s got Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs as his options on offense. And that offense will be good enough to get them to the next round of the playoffs, and possibly further. Here is where I remind you that I picked the Giants to win the Super Bowl. Regardless of how the game ends, the Giants always have this as the highlight of their season.
Prediction: New York 27, Atlanta 20
Pittsburgh Steelers at DENVER BRONCOS (+9)
There’s backing into the playoffs, and then there is whatever you want to call the Broncos performance in their past three games. Against the Chiefs last week, Broncos “quarterback” Tim Tebow completed 6 of 22 passes for 60 yards and an interception. He couldn’t run the ball either, rushing for 16 yards on 6 carries. But still, this game smells like an upset. The Broncos are at home, Ben Roethlisberger is hurt (like always), the Steelers just lost starting running back Rashard Mendenhall for the season, and Ryan Clark can’t play in Denver or he’ll die. Seriously. But again, it’s Tim Tebow.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 13, Denver 6