Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) vs. Houston Texans (10-6)
Bengals - 20th
Texans - 13th
Bengals - 7th
Texans - 2nd
You have to love a good underdog story. You have two with the Bengals and the Texans. Cincinnati has a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton and a rookie wide receiver in A.J. Green leading the way on offense. RB Cedric Benson isn't a terrible option as a runner, but the Bengals bread and butter this year has been through Dalton and Green. The Bengals have also had one of the leagues best defenses this season. They are a stellar run defense and have been above average against the pass. They will have to stop the Texans rushing attack to have any chance of moving on.
Houston would be favorites to go farther if QB Matt Schaub was healthy. Also WR Andre Johnson has been limited by hamstring injuries. Either way their identity is through their running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate. They will need both of them to play up to their capabilities to win a playoff game. Rookie QB T.J. Yates has a banged up shoulder, but the good thing is that it's his non-throwing shoulder. He has been adequate for Houston, but the Texans need to rely on their backs and defense to win this game. They also need Yates to stay in the game because if QB Jake Delhomme has to appear in the game they will most likely lose.
Matchup to watch for: Bengals D vs. Texans RB Arian Foster and RB Ben Tate
Detroit Lions (10-6) vs. New Orleans Saints (13-3)
Lions - 5th
Saints - 1st
Lions - 23rd
Saints - 24th
The most exciting matchup had better not disappoint. The Lions were on a roll to finish the season. QB Matthew Stafford was nearly perfect throwing the ball. And why wouldn't he when he has WR Calvin Johnson to throw the ball to. The one major flaw with the Lions offense though is their lack of a running game. I don't know who their main running back is. Jahvid Best went down with a concussion early in the season and they haven't had any rushing attack since. The Lions also have no secondary either to help stop the Saints passing attack. They will have to outscore the Saints to win this game.
New Orleans has Drew Brees and a slew of weapons at his disposal. It won't be an easy task for any team to stop the Saints this year, but if you can pressure Drew Brees you might have a chance. The Saints know that and they will try to run the ball more to help keep the Lions defense honest. Defensively the Saints will do their best to contain Calvin Johnson, but it will be hard to keep him out of the endzone. New Orleans hasn't lost a game at home this season and they will look to keep it that way.
Matchup to watch for: Lions WR Calvin Johnson vs. Saints secondary
Atlanta Falcons (10-6) vs. New York Giants (9-7)
Falcons - 10th
Giants - 8th
Falcons - 12th
Giants - 27th
Atlanta is in a new position this year. They are flying under the radar. Last year they were the favorites and were beaten by the eventual Super Bowl champions the Green Bay Packers. They hope it works this time as they take on the sneaky New York Giants. One thing the Falcons must do is establish their running game with Michael Turner. If they can involve him early then they can open up their passing game with QB Matt Ryan throwing to Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez.
With New York it all comes down to their pass rush. If they can disrupt Falcons QB Matt Ryan for most of the game, then they will win easily no matter how badly the may play on offense. That's the x-factor for the Giants. QB Eli Manning has a not so secret weapon in WR Victor Cruz who has been the toast of New York. The Giants would welcome a consistent rushing attack from Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs.
Matchup to watch for: Falcons QB Matt Ryan vs. Giants pass rush
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) vs. Denver Broncos (8-8)
Steelers - 12th
Broncos - 23rd
Steelers - 1st
Broncos - 20th
This is setting up to be a defensive struggle. The Steelers will be without their best running back Rashard Mendenhall for the entire playoffs. QB Ben Roethlisberger is still limping around in the pocket. Their offense has become stagnant to end the season. They won't need to score a lot of points to win this game, but they will need to put it away early. Pittsburgh doesn't need to keep the Broncos in this game for another Tim Tebow come from behind victory.
Denver needs to have a short leash for Tebow. I'm not downgrading Tebow so much as I'm being honest. If he continues to struggle like he was at the end of the season Denver needs to think about replacing him. But their only other option is Brady Quinn. What the Broncos will need to do is shutdown the Steelers offense and do just enough on offense to get Matt Prater in position to win it for them with a field goal.
Matchup to watch for: Steelers D vs. Broncos QB Tim Tebow
Texans over Bengals
Saints over Lions
Giants over Falcons
Steelers over Broncos