Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Ginger Prince is ready to roar

It's time for all NFL fans to sit back, crack open a few cold ones and get their favourite pizza delivery establishment on speed dial.

Yes it's NFL playoffs time and this means at least one upset in each round. How else can you explain the Arizona Cardinals (2009) reaching a Super Bowl or the Giants beating the almost immaculate Patriots in the big dance itself (2008).

This weekend we have four very different flavoured Wild Card games and for some teams its going to leave a sour taste in their mouths come Monday morning.

Here are my thoughts and predictions for the two Saturday games:

Game 1 - Bengals @ Texans (Saturday evening UK time)

This should by all accounts be the time the Houston Texans finally show the world they are a decent team, and they should have been able to win by a handsome margin and ultimately take their first playoff win to the bank. Problem is there are some masked raiders waiting round the corner wearing Bengals balaclavas and each holding a sawn-off shotgun.

The Texans are missing their starting quarterback Matt Schaub through injury and have a rookie at the helm in the somewhat still unknown T.J Yates. Yates went down last week and was replaced by a man who should be tending cattle somewhere and not throwing passes any longer in the NFL - namely Jake Delhomme. This wouldn't be so bad but the Texans stud wide receiver Andre Johnson has been out longer than Elton John. Yes he is back but the likelihood of him twanging his hamstring like a hick inbred banjo player is mighty high.

This is why I am going to place my eggs in the handsomely ginger basket owned by none other than Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. In terms of headlines for rookie gunslingers it has been all Carolina Panthers main man Cam Newton, but when it comes to post-season the only rookie starter to play all 16 regular season games and lead his team to the playoffs has been Dalton.

Dalton's stats have not been gaudy, he managed under 3,500 yards passing and 20 touchdowns. What is impressive is that he played all 16 games and only turned the ball over 15 times in the entire season (13 interceptions and 3 fumbles). For a 10 year veteran that is not exactly going to get you big dollars, but for a rookie, throwing mostly to another rookie (Pro Bowl wideout A.J Green) its a pretty impressive feat.

Yes the Texans have a talented backfield in Arian Foster and Ben Tate, but the Bengals have a double headed monster of their own in the shape of Cedric 'the plodder' Benson and the undervalued Bernard Scott.

Yes the Texans won their division but they had arguably the weakest set of divisional opponents in the whole league. Plus the Texans are coming into this wild-card game hot off a 3 game losing skid with more stains than the laundry load collected by the Bombay Curry Club's cleaner.

This is the Texans game to lose and the Bengals game to win.

Prediction - Bengals 23-17 Texans
Game MVP - Cedric Benson - 117 yards rushing and two scores

Game 2 - Lions @ Saints (Sunday very early UK time - get that Sky Plus box working at once)

This game has two things that come to mind - points and fireworks. In a game that could finish 58-55 in double overtime its time to enjoy watching two of the finest conductors the NFL has to offer. Saints QB Drew Brees already has a ring, already has a legacy and now the NFL single season passing record.

What people fail to realise is that Matthew Stafford the Lions QB managed to pass for over 5,000 yards himself this season too. Yes the same Matthew Stafford who managed to play 13 of 32 games in his first two seasons.

Neither pigskin passer would have reached the lofty heights of the 5,000 yard club without some of the finest receiving talent in the whole league. The Lions have the #1 wideout in the whole league in the form of Megatron Calvin Johnson. Johnson has shown that is is superhuman by catching two touchdowns in each of the Lions first four games, and he has scored at least once in his last three. 96 catches seems almost unbeatable (unless you are Wes Welker) but the Saints have a man who doesn't even line up as a wideout who caught more balls than Johnsonm in 2011.

The name of that man is Jimmy Graham (see pic) the tight end who has had one of the greatest seasons ever for a player in his position (yes I know we mustn't forget The Gronk). Graham's 99 catches are pretty magnificent, and I can see raham making mincemeat out of the Lions secondary early Sunday morning.

If the Packers backup qb Matt Flynn can set the Packers all time passing benchmark and throw six touchdowns against the Lions, then Drew Brees could do something absolutely unthinkable like passing for 7 touchdowns or 575 yards passing in the game.

It may have gone un-noticed but the Saints are on an eight game win streak and whilst they lost rookie running back Mark Ingram to injury for the playoffs the Bayou boys simply have too much firepower (like the latest Rambo movie starring the waxwork formerly known as Sylvester Stallone).

The difference separating Brees from his contemporary Stafford is that Brees is not over reliant on one player to be the red-zone target, instead anyone suiting up for New Orleans could be the hero of the week.

I do see significant production from Lions tight-end Brandon Pettigrew, but the Saints are at home, riding a huge win streak and led by the hottest qb in the league.

If you are still with me here and wondering why I haven't broken down any kind of defensive players, that is because they will all spend 60 minutes running up and down the field trying not the be the ones the commentators say were responsible for 'blowing their assignment'.

Sorry Lions fans its gonna be 2013 before you win a playoff game.

Prediction - Saints 37 - 20 - Lions
Game MVP - Who else, who dat, dat man is Drew Brees.

Note: By the way even if my predictions backfire I did manage to prove my fantasy football knowledge to some degree as I finished 50th overall in the Sky Sports NFL Fantasy competition. But you know what they say - 50th place won't get you on the podium.

Happy New Year folks - enjoy the playoffs.

Lawrence Vos
Primetime Sports NFL Blogger

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