Saturday, 4:30 pm: Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) at Houston Texans (10-6)
Bengals QB Andy Dalton — a rookie — has been so sick with the flu that he was hospitalized this week. He should be good to play, but there’s no way of knowing if he’ll be as good as he has been earlier this season or if the illness will take a lot out of him. On the other hand, Texans QB T.J. Yates — also a rookie — was never supposed to be involved at this point. He’s a third-string quarterback, despite being better than a couple second-stringers most Colts fans could mention. What’s more, Yates has a separated shoulder; he can play, but he can’t absorb many hits. The Bengals defense shut down Arian Foster fairly well earlier this season, and if the Texans can’t pass effectively or run effectively, they’re going to be in serious trouble. The one thing I think the TExans have going for them in this game is that Dalton and Green are rookies trying to win in one of the loudest stadiums in the league, in a city that’s stoked beyond belief that their team has made the playoffs for the first time. I personally think this game will give more support to the theory of the 12th man, as Cincy will rack up false start penalties when the game gets tight.
Prediction: Houston 20, Cincinnati 17
Saturday, 8 pm: Detroit Lions (10-6) at New Orleans Saints (13-3)
I like the Lions. I do. I love watching the high-powered offensive plays of Stafford-to-Johnson. But the Saints are just so good right now, and I don’t think even Ndamukong Suh will be able to consistently hassle Brees when the Saints have such a phenomenal O-line. Also, Calvin Johnson has had some Achilles tendon issues which may slow him down a little. I still think this one ends up a high-scoring shootout, but I give the advantage to the Saints at home.
Prediction: New Orleans 48, Detroit 37
Sunday, 1 pm: Atlanta Falcons (10-6) at New York Giants (9-7)
Atlanta reminds me so much of the Colts several years ago. Matt Ryan has games in which he is very Peyton Manning-like. White and Jones often play like Harrison and Wayne. And Michael Turner is good but can be ineffective, much like James (although nobody watching the two running backs play would confuse their styles). Much like the Colts of old, I think the Falcons have a good shot at taking advantage of their opponent’s weaknesses (the Giants secondary has not impressed this year), but also of making some major mistakes. Although the Bengals/Texans game is considered the tightest game of the weekend, this is the one I feel least confident about predicting.
Prediction: Atlanta 24, New York Giants 21
Sunday, 4:30 pm: Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) at Denver Broncos (8-4)
Big Ben is hurt. Maurkice Pouncey is out. Brett Keisel? Not sure. And with all that, I still think the Steelers are ten times better than the Broncos on offense, and comparable on defense.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 17, Denver 9