Sunday, January 8, 2012

2012 NFL Playoff Preview: 'Small Thing To A Giant'

Miller anchors a Broncos D that is praying for more Tebow magic.
AFC Wildcard Playoff
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos
Sunday, January 8th, 2012 - Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, CO

Tim Tebow magic has lost a little bit of its dazzle in the past few weeks (lost last three games of the season) as the Denver Broncos (8-8) had to depend on an Oakland Raiders loss to get into the playoffs after controlling its own destiny.  But if there were ever a time for the Broncos to revive that it would be Sunday against the Pittsburgh SteelersBen Roethlisberger will likely still not be 100-percent after suffering a severe high ankle sprain Week 14 against the Cleveland Browns.  Running back Mewelde Moore is ruled out and Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL in the season finale and was placed on injured reserve.  All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey is nursing an ankle injury and is also ruled out.  The Broncos defense has to hold the crippled Pittsburgh offense to a low score so come 4th quarter Tebow can do his thing.

Pick:  Broncos, 16-13

Key to game for Steelers:  Keep Roethlisberger upright.  He clearly is not fully recovered from his injury and will not be the same guy that we're used to seeing scrambling out of the pocket and throwing on the run.
Key to game for Broncos:  No turnovers.  Troy Polamalu and James Harrison are ballhawks on that Steeler defense and must be accounted for on every single snap.

Cruz has to play big for the Giants to win.
NFC Wildcard Playoff
Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants
Sunday, January 8th, 2012 - Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ

The NFC East was wide open this year and the New York Giants played its way in to the playoff field after handling division rival Dallas Cowboys in the final week of the season.  The Giants (9-7) have been for the most part inconsistent through out the year (lost four in a row after starting 6-2) but much like the team that won the Super Bowl in 2008, they are playing good ball at just the right time.  Eli Manning has put up great offensive numbers (4,933 yards, 29 TDs, 92.9 QBR) despite his receiving corps leading the NFL in dropped passes.  His go to guy is the biggest threat on the field for either team in the form of wide receiver Victor Cruz.  The Massachusetts alumn broke the Giants team record for receiving yards in a single season (1,536) and has been the game breaker in several of New York's wins this season.  The defense has had to deal with multiple injuries in the secondary but the pass rush has been solid all year, including a breakout year for second-year end Jason Pierre-Paul (16.5 sacks).  If the Giants get enough help on offense from running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, and the defensive secondary holds up they should be in good shape.  The Atlanta Falcons have been under the radar all year after being many experts pick to go to the Super Bowl in 2010.  Matt Ryan and rookie receiver Julio Jones head a potent Falcon offense, but its the defense that will be the biggest question mark in this game.  The Dirty Birds (10-6) have to give themselves a chance to win without having to score a touchdown on every drive, and they won't be able to do that if they are playing from behind and the Giants pass rush gets to pin their ears back.

Pick:  Giants, 34-17

Key to game for Falcons:  Stop the run first.  Force Manning and the Giants into third and long situations will take most of the guessing out of the defensive gameplan.
Key to game for Giants:  Stop the run first.  Michael Turner is back and healthy for the Falcons who will look to him to soften up the Giant pass rush.  Stuffing the run will bring up third and long situations and will allow Pierre-Paul, Mathias Kiwanuka and Osi Umenyora to do their thing.

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