Wild card weekend predictions

January 7, 2012, 4:33 am
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Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) at Houston Texans (10-6), Saturday, 1:30 pm PT, NBC

This is when the duct tape comes off for the Texans who put on a game effort all year long after losing not only their first- and second-string quarterbacks in Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart, but also defensive end Mario Williams and rode a not-completely heathy Arian Foster to the division title. The Bengals' rookie combination of QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green will prove just enough to end the Texans' first-ever playoff experience.
Prediction: Bengals 20, Texans 16

Detroit Lions (10-6) at New Orleans Saints (13-3), Saturday, 5 p.m. PT, NBC

Five weeks ago, the Lions had the Saints right where they wanted them, and couldn't get out of their own way with so much undisciplined play. The Lions had 11 penalties for 107 yards in that 31-17 loss in New Orleans, which diminished the fact they actually out-gained the Saints that night, 466 yards to 438. But Drew Brees is on such an historical run it's hard to see the Lions being disciplined enough on defense to slow him.
Prediction: Saints 38, Lions 27Atlanta Falcons (10-6) New York Giants (9-7), Sunday, 10 a.m. PT, Fox

With a white-hot QB in Matt Ryan, who threw 15 TDs compared to just two INTs the last seven games, and a punishing rusher in Michael Turner, and rolling into the playoffs having won three of four, the Falcons have the look of last year's champion Green Bay Packers. The key this weekend, then, is to give Ryan time to pick apart the Giants' shockingly sometime suspect defense. While limiting receiver Victor Cruz's salsa steps.
Prediction: Falcons 17, Giants 13Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) at Denver Broncos (8-8), Sunday, 1:30 p.m. PT, CBS

The game all Raiders fans will watch, with their nose plugged. Tim Tebow has not won a game since being skewered on Saturday Night Live and that streak doesn't figure to be broken here. Not with such a punishing defense opposing him. Not even with the Steelers' offense hamstrung with Ben Roethlisberger's ankle still gimpy and Rashard Mendenhall lost for the year. Yes, pray for Tebow if James Harrison gets a beat on him.
Prediction: Steelers 24, Broncos 6