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NFL Pro Football 2011 Wild Card Picks

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Fearless Rick's NFL Wild Card Picks - Early Games

Rick Gagliano | January 7-8, 2012

All times Eastern - Click here for late games.

Saturday, January 7

4:30 pm Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans (-3, 39) - While the Texans clinched the AFC South weeks ago, with a 20-19 win against these very same Bengals, they really haven't played well since, losing three straight to Carolina, Indianapolis and Tennessee. The Texans are probably the unluckiest team in the playoffs, having lost their starting QB, Matt Schaub, and backup Matt Leinart, and will start rookie T.J. Yates for the sixth straight game.

The Bengals backed into the playoffs, losing three of their last five games, including their regular season-ender to Baltimore, 24-16 and needed losses by Denver and Oakland to qualify. Cincy will have a rookie at QB, too - Andy Dalton - but he's started every game and has performed well, improving with each game.

Cincinnati's defense has been a stalwart bunch through most of the season, allowing 20.2 points per game, but Houston's is even better, giving up just 17.4 ppg and allowing 96 yards rushing on average, fourth best in the league in both categories.

Houston arguably has the better offense, featuring wideout Andre Johnson and running back arian Foster, but Yates will be a key to how well the Texans are able to move the ball.

As the low O/U line suggests, this should be a closely-played, low-scoring affair, possibly won on a field goal late, though the Texans, which have never played in a playoff game in their ten years of existence, so the uniqueness of the situation could have deleterious effects upon the young team.

Of course, the Bengals are not playoff regulars, either, having played in only three post-season events in the past 21 years - losing all of them, and that's a record that should continue.

Houston will be able to move the ball on the ground with Ben Tate (942 yards) occasionally spelling Foster, and the Houston defense should be up to the task, producing a win by more than three points.

Prediction: Texans 20 Bengals 14

--- Story continues below ---

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8:00 pm Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints (-10 1/2, 59) - Everybody knows by now that Drew Brees is an elite quarterback, capable of hitting receivers on long routes from just about any position on the field and generally receiving perfect protection from his stable, experienced offensive line, so the likelihood of a Saints victory rests upon the probable-MVP's shoulders.

What should give the Saints a bit of concern is the 41 sacks the Lions recorded during the regular season, along with Detroit's own high powered offense, led by QB Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

The Saints had an awesome second half of the season, winning eight straight, with four of those wins resulting in absolute blowouts in which New Orleans put up 42 or more points, including the demolition of Atlanta, 45-16, in week 16 and the 45-17 bombing of Carolina to close out the season.

At home, the Saints were perfect, winning all eight of their games. Their three losses were on the road at Green Bay, Tampa Bay (go figure) and St. Louis (go figure again). New Orleans is loaded on offense, and their defense hasn't allowed more than 24 points over their eight game winning streak.

Detroit will have something to say about those defensive stats, having the 4th-highest-scoring offense in the league (29.6 ppg), but the Lions are still very inexperienced, especially in big games, while the Saints still have the core of a superior defense left over from their Super Bowl victory two years ago.

Detroit will keep this interesting for a while, but New Orleans is too hot, too motivated and virtually unbeatable at home. One would like to think that the Lions would go score-for-score with them, but New Orleans is one of the league's most opportune teams and their players in the secondary will be ball-hawking when not batting away Stafford's passes.

The matchup problems caused by Johnson will be an issue, but eventually it won't matter because the Lions aren't the defensive unit needed to stop the New Orleans express to the NFC Championship.

Prediction: Saints 44 Lions 28

All times Eastern - Click here for late games

Copyright 2011, 2012, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.


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