The AFC Playoff Picture
The stage is set and the teams are locked in. Just like the good ‘ol days, Brady & Manning are resting up for divisional round match-ups at home next week. Who the future Hall-of-Famers square off against will be more clear following the first AFC Wild Card match-up:
(6) Cincinnati Bengals @ (3) Houston Texans – 01/05 – 4:30 – NBC
After losing their final two regular season games and slipping out of a first-round bye, the (12-4) Texans host the (10-6) Bengals on Saturday. Houston started out hot with an (11-1) record but got dismantled by the Patriots in Week 14 and lost to Minnesota and Indianapolis in Week 16 and 17 respectively. While the momentum is not in their favor, you have to believe HC Gary Kubiak can muster up a gameplan to utilize stud Arian Foster.
Take away his 16 CAR/96 YDS/1 TD performance in Week 17, Foster has been less than impressive in the other three losses. Examine his Week 6 performance against the Packers, 17 CAR/29 YDS but 2 TDs saved his day. In Week 14 against the Patriots he posted a 15 CAR/46 YDS/1 TD line. Two weeks later he rushed 10 times for 15 yards against the Vikings.
If the Bengals can limit Arian Foster, they have a shot of traveling to Mile High stadium to take on Peyton Manning. That is of course under one condition; Andy Dalton (3669 YDS 27 TD) needs to play the game of his life. His highlight reel TD connections with A.J. Green (1350 YDS 11 TD) have been impressive this year, his 16 INT – not so much. Add in another 4 FUM and Dalton averages 1.25 turnovers per game, yikes. They do have intriguing weapons like Andrew Hawkins and Jermaine Gresham that can be gamechangers. Old friend BJGE broke 1,000 yards for the Bengals and continues to do what he does best, protect the football and pound the rock in between the tackles.
Unless Cincinnati studies the game tapes of our Texan beat-down, I believe Andre Johnson, J.J. Watt and other skill players will prove to be too much for the young Bengals to handle. Thus stated, I predict Houston traveling to New England after a 31-21 victory that stays close until the fourth quarter.
(5) Indianapolis Colts @ (4) Baltimore Ravens – 1/06 – 1:00 – CBS
Has there been a better story than the transformation of the Peyton-less Colts? Rookie QB Andrew Luck (4,374 YDS/23 TD/18 INT) is living up to the hype of his number one selection and will battle QB Robert Griffin III for the ROY. Chuck Pagano’s perseverance through leukemia has inspired Indy to stay #chuckstrong and the team has gone from (2-14) in 2011 to (11-5) in 2012. Pagano was a secondary coach and then defensive coordinator for the Ravens before taking the head coach job with the Colts this year.
Similar to Houston, Baltimore has been on a December slide – losing their last four of five games. To their credit, they were defeated by Pittsburgh, Washington, Denver and Cincinnati – three of which are in the playoffs. QB Joe Flacco reduced his interceptions by two and added two more TDs in comparison to 2011, rounding off the season with (3,817 YDS/22 TD/10 INT). Ray Rice took a dip in production but turned in another solid season, gaining 1,143 YDS and 9 TDs on the ground. Combine that with 61 REC /478 YDS and you have one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL.
While the Colts have young, budding talent in Luck, TEs Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, WR T.Y. Hilton and RB Vick Ballard, this game will be a challenge on the road. Ray Lewis is poised to make his return after missing the last ten games with a torn tricep. Who knows though, the Colts just knocked off the Texans. The Ravens are 6-2 at home this year and you can bet on #52 bringing crazy amounts of energy and motivation in the middle of that defense. On the contrary, I predict Indianapolis to upset the Ravens 21-17 and head to Denver to take on Manning and the Broncos.
Are you ready for some playoff football?