Pick up the Slack: NFL wildcard playoff picks

By PATRICK SLACK
Sports Editor
patrick.slack@mcrecord.com

I’ve been feeling pretty good lately.

Christmas, New Year’s, no angry voice/e-mail messages to return.

Rather than let something unexpected come up and snap me out of it, I figured it would be best if I was proactive.

So, I’m taking a shot at some NFL wildcard round playoff predictions and hoping that my picks are almost as accurate as a Tim Tebow windmill pass.

With that …

 

Pittsburgh (12-4) at Denver (8-8)

The last shall be first in this pick-off (obligatory religious reference when discussing Tebow game: check), with CBS gobbling up the Broncos  in the late Sunday slot and praying they can make a game of it against Pittsburgh (optional second reference: double check).

It wasn’t long ago that Pittsburgh was considered too old. Of course, that talk turned out to be premature. Nevertheless, the Steelers got stuck with a wildcard despite a 12-win season and will have to work their way through three games to return to the Super Bowl.

Can they do it?

Maybe if Ben Roethlisberger was healthy, but after this game, they’ll need to score more points than they’ll be capable of.

As for the Broncos, their defense for the most part has proven to be strong enough to keep them in games.

Denver will need absolutely everything that unit can give them to have a shot against Pittsburgh.

Prediction: Home-field advantage won’t save the Broncos, who went only 3-5 at Mile High this year, as the Steelers move through by a touchdown.

 

Cincinnati (9-7) at Houston (10-6)

One of the most overused and recently misused phrases in sports is that “defense wins championships.”

Whether or not that’s true can be debated, but this much really can’t: third-string quarterbacks don’t.

Houston is blessed with perhaps the best defense in the league but cursed with the most precarious quarterback situation of the 12 playoff teams, even Denver.

The Texans dropped their final three games of the regular season to non-playoff teams, including 6-10 Carolina and two-win Indianapolis.

Five of Cincinnati’s losses came to Baltimore, Pittsburgh and San Francisco.

The Bengals aren’t elite, but they are tough and battle-tested.

Prediction: These two teams met up in Week 14, with Houston pulling out a clutch 20-19 win.

Don’t expect the injury-riddled Texans to be able to repeat that feat as Cincinnati earns a trip to New England.

 

Atlanta (10-6) at New York Giants (9-7)

It’s hard to erase the image of Atlanta getting torn apart by Green Bay in the divisional round last year.

The Falcons tried to improve by shoring up its offense, trading away a handful of picks to move up and get wide receiver Julio Jones in an effort to match scores in the playoffs.

The Giants, on the other hand, were one less Jason Garrett gaffe away from yet another late-season collapse.

Prediction: Atlanta somehow managed to escape the regular season without playing a single cold-weather road game.

That’s definitely a red flag for a dome team, but even the cold and Eli Manning can’t save the Giants from an early exit.

 

Detroit (10-6) at New Orleans (10-6)

Two high-powered offenses will meet off in a climate-controlled setting in a game that should produce plenty of offensive fireworks.

Drew Brees had a record-breaking season at the helm of New Orleans this season.

Matthew Stafford had a very impressive, if not quite as brilliant campaign guiding Detroit.

The Saints have an opportunistic (and dirty) defense, though, with an ability to at least create a couple of turnovers while allowing yards by the bunch.

Prediction: I’ll be cheering for the Lions after New Orleans slipped past the Vikes in the NFC Championship game two years ago, but I think the Saints will have just a little too much in a shootout.

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