2012 Wild Card Preview: Pittsburgh vs Denver

This is the last of four posts this week examining the Wild Card matchups in the NFL Playoffs. Thanks for reading:

The last Wild Card matchup is in the AFC when the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Denver to face the Broncos at 4:30 ET on CBS. The Broncos snuck into the playoffs even though they lost their past three games while the Steelers have won six of their past seven games. Denver has the home-field advantage even though they lost twice as many games as the Steelers did because they won their division. As with the Falcons and Giants, the Steelers and Broncos never faced each other during the regular season.

Offense: For the Broncos, Tim Tebow mania continues. First, experts hated him. Then he shockingly led Denver on a series of fourth quarter comebacks to win seven of eight games. Finally, he lost the last three games with dismal numbers and barely made the playoffs. For the year, Tebow’s numbers are pretty mediocre – less than 2000 yards in 14 games played (11 started) with 18 touchdowns (12 passing, six running) while turning the ball over 13 times (six interceptions, seven fumbles). Tebow has been worse in the past few games and unless he turns it around drastically, it could be a long night for Denver fans.

For the Steelers, a lot hinges on the health of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. When healthy and able to play from under center, Roethlisberger is a very good quarterback but his recent injury has forced him to work from the shotgun position more where he has struggled. If he isn’t at full strength come Sunday, the Broncos can take advantage. The Steelers running attack is now in rough shape with the loss of Rashard Mendenhall last week with a torn ACL. On paper, Pittsburgh is much better offensively than Denver but the rash of injuries has given the Broncos a chance. Continue reading “2012 Wild Card Preview: Pittsburgh vs Denver”

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2012 Wild Card Preview: Atlanta vs New York

This is the third of four posts this week examining the Wild Card matchups in the NFL Playoffs. Check back tomorrow for the final preview:

Sunday’s Wild Card games get going when the Atlanta Falcons head up to New York to take on the Giants at 1 pm ET on FOX. The Giants ended the year with a huge win-or-go-home victory over the Dallas Cowboys to the NFC East and earn a playoff spot while the Falcons have won five of their past seven, with their only losses coming at New Orleans and at Houston. However, they haven’t beaten anyone that good in that stretch either. The teams did not face each other during the regular season so both will be preparing using lots of video team instead of analyzing a previous meeting. Here’s a look at the matchup:

Offense: Eli Manning has had a much better season than experts have given him credit for. He threw for just under 5000 yards with 29 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. The interceptions number is a bit high, but he’s had one of his best years this season and has come through in pressure situations. The emergence of star wide receiver Victor Cruz has helped Manning tremendously as well. Neither Ahmad Bradshaw or Brandon Jacobs were particularly adept at running the ball this year (the Giants as a team were dead last in the NFL in yards per carry) so the onus will on Eli Sunday to lead his team to victory.

For Atlanta, quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner offer the Falcons a two-headed offense that can beat both through the air and on the ground. Ryan through for over 4000 yards and 29 touchdowns and threw just 12 picks while Turner rushed for 1340 yards and 11 touchdowns himself. The Falcons will show the Giants a couple of different looks and have the luxury of attacking New York’s secondary or trying to wear down its defensive through a hard-nosed running game. Continue reading “2012 Wild Card Preview: Atlanta vs New York”

2012 Wild Card Preview: Cincinnati vs. Houston

This is the first of four posts this week examining the Wild Card matchups in the NFL Playoffs. Check back during the next few days for more previews:

The first matchup of the 2012 NFL Playoffs will see the Cincinnati Bengals travel to Houston to take on the Texans at 4:30 et. Saturday on NBC. The Bengals lost a tough game to the Baltimore Ravens yesterday in yet another loss to a team with a winning record. In fact, Cincinnati defeated just one team with a winning record the entire year. Houston, on the other hand, won four games against teams with winning records, including a 20-19 victory over the Bengals in Week 14. Since then though, the Texans have gone winless with losses to the Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts and Titans. After the Texans starting quarterback Matt Schaub went down with a season-ending injury in week ten, rookie TJ Yates took over and has performed okay during the final six games. However, left the Texans’ final game against the Titans with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, but is expected to play on Saturday. Here’s a brief look at how the teams matchup:

Offense: Yates hasn’t had to carry a huge load for the Texans but he may need to do more against the Bengals. Luckily for Houston, the injury is to his non-throwing shoulder so he should be in good shape come Saturday. Nevertheless, running back Arian Foster will have to carry the brunt of the load in the game as he has done, along with running back Ben Tate, for most of the year. Look for Houston to continue using its second-ranked rushing offensive to plow through the Bengals’ defensive line. If Yates isn’t 100 percent, the Texans will have to rely even more on their running backs, which could limit their effectiveness over the course of the game.

For the Bengals, rookie Andy Dalton threw for more than 3000 yards this year and 20 touchdowns to lead his team to the playoffs. At running back, Cedric Benson surpassed the 1000-yard mark for the third consecutive year. Cincinnati sits in the middle of the league in both categories, but the two-thronged attack gives head coach Marvin Lewis plenty of options on the offensive end. I expect an even mix of Dalton and Benson, but look for Dalton to go deep to wide receiver AJ Green as the combination has proven lethal throughout the year. Continue reading “2012 Wild Card Preview: Cincinnati vs. Houston”