And then there were 12.
We start the 2012 NFL playoffs with four games that should all be entertaining. The AFC games figure to be running and defense oriented while the NFC games look to be QB oriented, where the team with the ball last may win. Here’s a quick preview of Saturday’s and Sunday’s games, and what each team has to do to win.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans
Why the Bengals can win: The Bengals have a workhorse in Cedric Benson, and need to establish a run game early and often. The Texans QB woes are well documented, so stopping the run is key for the Bengals. The Bengals offense is more explosive than the Texans, giving them the edge in potential to overcome a slow start
Why the Texans will win: Arian Foster and Ben Tate are punching every defense in the mouth, and I don’t see that stopping this week. TJ Yates figures to be back in action, and has proven capable of managing games. They have the two toughest match ups (Andre Jonson and Foster) and that should be enough to win a seemingly low scoring game. They defend opposing TE’s as good as anybody in the league, so stopping AJ Green is the only challenge.
Soppe Score: Texans 24-17
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos
Why the Broncos can win: They have Tim Tebow and a dominate running game. Willis McGahee is ready for 25 carries and is very good in short yardage situations. The Broncos can keep this game in the teens by holding the ball for 40+ minutes. They are trending in the wrong decision, and need things to go their way in the early going.
Why the Steelers will win: They are simply the better and more experienced team. Injuries will come back to haunt them, but not this week. Big Ben is playing at 70% strength, but has the guts to make enough plays this weekend. I like Issac Redman more than most, and believe that he can approach 100 rushing yards with Mendenhall (torn ACL) out for the season. Troy Polamalu figures to spy Tebow, and I trust him to contain the most polarizing player in sports.
Soppe Score: Steelers 20-16
Detriot Lions @ New Orleans Saints
Why the Lions can win: Matthew Stafford is going to be an elite QB sooner rather than later, and he can use the 2012 playoffs as a spring board. The SAints pass game is great, but the Lions have the games best receiver in Calvin Johnson. Detroit’s lack of a consistent run game shouldn’t hurt them in what figures to be a shootout. A motivated Suh chasing Brees could disrupt the Saints high flying act.
Why the Saints will win: Drew Brees isn’t satisfied with the NFL single season passing record. They have the most complete offense in the game, and the leagues top TE in Jimmy Graham. Mark Ingram is out for the season, but Christopher Ivory has stepped into the featured back role nicely. Darren Sproles is often the X factor, as he is a mismatch every week. The Saints defense is opportunistic enough and figures to make a big play or two.
Soppe Score: Saints 35-31
Atlanta Falcons @ New York Giants
Why the Falcons can win: Michael Turner can control the clock, even given the ball consistently. Matt Ryan hasn’t really progressed the way most projected, but he is good enough to lead a team. Roddy White is an elite talent, and Julio Jones is a nice Robin to White’s Batman. Tony Gonzalez is in the twilight of his career, but far from finished. Atlanta is playing as good as any team in the NFL at this very moment.
Why the Giants will win: Eli Manning has been the best QB outside of the big three (Rodgers, Brady, Brees). Victor Cruz has emerged as the teams top target. The pro bowl snub figures to make voters regret their decision by continuing to produce at an elite level. Hakeem Nicks is still a very good WR, and is dangerous near the goal line. Their two headed running tandem of Jacobs and Bradshaw gives the G-men the ability to physically dominate. This will be the weekends top game.
Soppe Score: Giants 27-24