NFL Playoff Bracket 2012: Who Is Advancing from Wild Card Weekend?

Marc FreshmanContributor IJanuary 5, 2012

Playing the Bengals or the Broncos may be an easier ticket to the AFC Championship, but it won’t necessarily whip the Patriots into shape for the storm to come.

And there is a storm coming.

If you consider New England’s potential opponents of the future, it’s a brutal picture. Take your pick: the Ravens, the Giants, the 49ers, the Packers or the Saints. All extremely tough teams.

Hoping they play the Steelers may not be a smart move, but it may be a wise one. It depends how comfortable you feel throwing the Patriots into the deep end to see if they can swim. Personally, I think they can. But many may not agree.

Fans will have to decide which scenario they prefer: advancing to further rounds on the backs of easier teams, or testing the Patriots early to prepare them for the Super Bowl.

Make your choice, Patriots Nation. Because this weekend will go a long way to deciding which path New England takes.

On the surface, the Broncos are no match for the Steelers.

However, Denver has one positive thing to lean on. The Steelers don’t like the taste of their own medicine. They’re a defensive-minded team who hates playing against other defensive-minded teams.

The Steelers only banked 14 points and 13 points in their two meetings with the Browns, 20 against the 49ers, 13 against the Chiefs and 17 against the Texans.

In their two meetings with the Ravens, the Steelers racked up 35 points and 23 points. Impressive, when you consider the excellence of Baltimore’s defensive unit. But it’s worth noting that the Steelers lost both games.

And since the Broncos are a defense-first team, they can take comfort in the fact that they have a shot. It’s their best chance to win. Keep the score low, and sweep in for a last-minute win.

Problem is, I don’t have faith in the Denver Broncos. They haven’t shown me enough this season to prove they can spin any magic in the postseason.

Despite Ben Roethlisberger’s ankle sprain, and the absence of Rashard Mendenhall, the Steelers are a battle-tested team with too much playoff experience for the Broncos to handle.

The Steelers have won Super Bowls, and they’ve lost them. That kind of experience mentally hardens a team.

Tim Tebow’s college experience vs. Ben Roethlisberger’s Super Bowl experience: the Steelers win.

The Bengals vs. the Texans is intriguing. The Texans have the second-best defense in the league in terms of yards (4571), and they’re ranked seven spots above the Bengals on offense.

Still, it’s easy for many people to pick the Bengals because they have Andy Dalton, and the Texans are scraping the bottom of their bench for a quarterback.

Everyone I know is picking the Bengals, but I’m not convinced.

All year, the Texans have overcome incredible setbacks and managed to have a pretty memorable season for their fans.

It ended on a sour note with three straight losses diffusing their momentum. But I’m a strong believer in games being won on energy and emotion. I’m not sleeping on this Houston team. I expect Arian Foster to come out and dominate, and I expect the Texans to play on emotion.

It’ll be a competitive game. Texans win by a hair.

On to the NFC.

Lions vs. Saints. On the surface, this seems like a great game. But it won’t be. The Saints are going to destroy the Lions.

The Lions were terrific this year, but they weren’t quite terrific enough for me to believe in them. Their tendency to make sloppy mental mistakes makes them a postseason disaster waiting to happen.

And while Matthew Stafford is a remarkable talent, he’s going against a battle-tested guy who effortlessly broke a record that nobody was able to touch in 27 years.

Drew Brees is in the zone right now. He’s throwing touchdowns to everyone on his team, and he doesn’t even seem to be breaking a sweat out there.

The Saints are not the best team in the NFL, however, they probably have the sharpest mindset. They’re finally healthy in the postseason, everyone is contributing and Brees is making the quarterback position look easy. They’re firing on all cylinders.

Easy win for the Saints.

Ah, at long last we come to the Giants, my favorite team (I say, clenching my jaw and making a fist).

Their matchup with the Falcons seems like it would be a fun one to watch. Like the Lions vs. Saints game, one might be tricked into thinking this is going to be a close game.

But the Giants are vastly superior to the Falcons. Emotionally, mentally and physically, the Giants are the better team.

Ahmad Bradshaw, Jason Pierre-Paul, Brandon Jacobs, Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Justin Tuck are an unbelievable group of guys to have on one team. Now throw in Victor Cruz, and top it off with a Super Bowl MVP quarterback.

The Falcons will be defenseless against this team.

This game is going to play out just like the Cowboys game last week. People expect an epic battle, and they get four quarters of Giants, Giants, Giants and more Giants.

All season long, I’ve been warning people not to sleep on Big Blue. This team is for real. Their talent level is off the charts. We shouldn’t scoff at their mediocre record. This team is right where they want to be: under the radar.

I expect this game to be over by halftime. Big Blue advances, and will cause mayhem for others to come.


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