Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 1/6/12
1. The Bengals play the first game of the playoffs. What are thechances they get to play one next week, too?PAT MCMANAMON: Good. Very good. Houston is not all that. They've stumbled into the playoffs with a three-game losing streak. They have a rookie quarterback who might just feel the moment. At least he'll feel it more than Andy Dalton will. The Bengals rookie has been irrepressible all year and if he maintains the same attitude Saturday that hes shown for 16 games he should be fine. If the Bengals contain Houstons running game like they did in the regular season meeting, the Bengals should be in good shape and preparing for a trip to New England next weekend. ZAC JACKSON: Based on the last meeting between the teams, very good. The Bengals did everything but cover Kevin Walter on the final play. This time around they have to deal with a fired-up crowd, a power running game and the whole aura of the playoffs, but in a game where both teams have rookie quarterbacks the Bengals have the better one. It will take some points (24 or more) and some poise to win this, but the Bengals should be able to do it. 2. Any chance the Steelers get "Tebowed?"PM: Theres a weird vibe with the Steelers. Usually at this time of year all goes right with them. Thats not happening. The tragic fire at the home of running backs coach Kirby Wilson is the latest incident. Other problems pale compared to a fire, but are meaningful in a game. Center Maurkice Pouncey will not play. Neither will running back Rashard Mendenhall. Ben Roethlisberger is hobbling around on a bad ankle. And safety Ryan Clark will not even make the trip. Those are all significant players, and if Denver were any kind of threat to move the ball on the Steelers defense they would all matter. But Denver is no threat and Tim Tebow is not playoff ready. Pittsburgh wins, though it will be close. ZJ: The Steelers are still the Steelers until proven otherwise. They are clearly dealing with some issues and some adversity, but even at half-strength this is a game they should win. The Broncos can't score enough, even if the Steelers can only score half as many as they'd like to. Look for a close, defensive-dominated game for the first 35-40 minutes before the stronger team takes over. If the Steelers need a defensive score, here's a bet they can get it. 3. The Ravens and Patriots will be watching. Should those teams have apreference on who advances?PM: Of course. Both teams would prefer Denver wins. Baltimore doesnt want to face Pittsburgh, no matter how hobbled the Steelers are. And New England surely would prefer to face Andy Dalton and Cincinnati rather than Pittsburgh. So Baltimore will be rooting for Denver, and New England will be rooting for Cincinnati. Either way, all signs are pointing to a Baltimore at New England AFC Championship Game. ZJ: Yes, but let's operate under the assumption the Broncos have no chance. The Ravens would really, really be rooting for the Texans considering they already trounced Matt Schaub's Texans in Baltimore this year. TJ Yates would have zero chance in Baltimore, and the last thing the Ravens want is a third game with Pittsburgh. Plus, New England-Cincinnati would be all kinds of high-scoring fun, wouldn't it? 4. The playoffs are going on and the Browns are holding 75-minutefeel-good press conferences. Should Browns fans feel good?PM: They said to, didnt they? Promised things would get better, that the front office understands and will solve the problems. Take a leap of faith with them. Again. On the one hand, its a reasonable request given Mike Holmgrens resume and Tom Heckerts past two drafts. On the other, its the same old stuff that Browns fans have been hearing since 1999. Butch Davis said it, with more guts. Phil Savage said it, with more anger. Everyone has said it. Problem is nobody has actually followed through, which is why Browns fans are sooo frustrated. In two years under Holmgrens presidency, the Browns have won nine games. Or as many as Cincinnati won all this season. That is a fact everyone understands. ZJ: Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert have proven NFL track records, and there's no doubt it will take another year to recover from what Eric Mangini was allowed to do to the roster in 2009. But fans also have to trust their eyes, and to see what they've seen and to listen to Holmgren smugly talk about how the Browns are making progress and how all Pat Shurmur needs is time and how Holmgren isn't sweating things anymore must be eye-opening. Or jaw-dropping. When, exactly, are some wins going to come? The Browns have a lot of highly-paid chiefs, but there's legit reason to wonder if they're the right guys to bring playoff football back to Cleveland. 5. Before the tournament starts, predict the Super Bowl teams. Thatway everyone can laugh at these picks later.PM: If Baltimore doesnt win the AFC, it should throw itself in a pot with some crabcakes. Things are set out for the Ravens like a table on Thanksgiving. All they have to do is take advantage. The NFC is a little more tricky, with New Orleans and Green Bay both Super Bowl worthy. Its foolish to go against the Packers given the way they followed last years championship season, but New Orleans offense is so good it makes a person raise his eyes to the sky, scratch his chin and go hmm. The fact that the Saints would have to go outdoors in Green Bay to win is the deciding factor. Green Bay and Baltimore will travel to Indianapolis in February. ZJ: Saints and Steelers. The Saints are playing the best right now and the Steelers are the most stable and experienced team in the AFC field. Their defense can carry them.
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