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Observations, Opinion & Occasional Silliness by Richard L Gale
Richard L Gale — and his flat friend Paddy — make their picks for the
NFL's Wildcard Weekend
Christmas is a time for lolling on the couch, and New Year is a time for regretting doing so (diet pending). The laziness this festive/bowl season was further exacerbated by one of our new arrivals — an iPad christened 'Paddy' by our three–year–old, who grants it at least parity with her gurgling little brother, and already worships at the Church of Chillingo [app reference for casual gamers only].
My own relationship with Paddy is one that affords me even less necessity for movement, and the option of compiling my sporting thoughts wherever I slump. In the aftermath of Week 17 of the NFL season, I found myself absentmindedly thrumming some notes about the upcoming wildcard weekend. Paddy diligently translated my taps into English ...and occasionally got it wrong. Or perhaps not. Considering my Vince Young–like inability to predict Super Bowl winners, you might be better off with some of Paddy's 'slips'.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos
Pittsburgh are favorites, on the road, in Denver — a circumstance that would have been unthinkable in the glory days of the Broncos or even back in the days of the Orange Crush. Such was the football funk in which Denver was finding itself before Tebow. Recent losses have again given subdued Mile High cheers. The lack of late–season momentum may explain why the Steelers — with gimpy quarterback Ben and a starting running back who's gone for the year — are expected to win. Yet, with Big Ben's passes consistently going high since the ankle injury, and Isaac Redman not one of the most sure–handed backs in the league, the ingredients are here for the Denver defense — the hidden strength behind Tebow's mid–season success — to capitalise. Ignore the four–win difference in record; this could be muddled, messy and temperature–affected.
(Paddy questions that such a thing as 'Tebow' exists but, tellingly, suggests I may have meant 'Tebowing'. Even my tablet accepts that Tebow is less a person than a phenomenon.)
The pick: Richard says playoff experience is the decider in a tight affair. Paddy suggests the Broncos do have a prayer, and the legend erupts again.
Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans
Cincy should feel pretty good about this. Houston did the hard work a while ago, and qualified a few weeks ago, without injured quarterback Matt Schaub, without franchise defender Mario Williams, and to a large extent without marquee receiver Andre Johnson. Last week they sat capable rookie third–string passer TJ Yates for the seasoned experience of Jake Delhomme, who looked in–command despite a loss. The Bengals' own freshman flinger Andy Dalton has been playing beyond his years, however, making good decisions, and has forged a fine relationship with his receivers. I'm calling that evens. So maybe this comes down to Arian Foster running downhill to the Divisional round of the playoffs.
(Paddy suggests 'Cincy' is a 'Cinch'. In the absence of 'Bengals' being mistaken for 'Bungles', 'Bagels' or other sleights, I assume this means they're a Cinch to win, rather than easy to beat.)
The pick: Richard says Houston has built its lines too well to lose at home in a game when playing solid Xs and Os counterbalances rookie passers. However, Paddy reckons the Bengals earn their stripes.
Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees just set the single season record for most yardage (5476), and Matthew Stafford is coming off a game that featured the most pass yardage (a round thousand) in NFL history. In the first NFL game ever to match 5000–yard passers, it's fair to expect this to be the highest scorer of the weekend. However, Brees spent much of the season putting distance between himself and trailing opponents while Detroit's Stafford was often doing his best to keep pace. Brees enjoyed the best O–line in the league, and Sproles has taken advantage on the ground too. The Lions are marketed on the mauling rep of their defensive linemen, but don't be surprised if the Saints' line not only neutralizes the big names but frustrates them into the bargain. This was a win for the Saints a few weeks ago, and nothing has changed.
(Paddy thinks Brees racked the yardage against 'railing opponents', which was arguably the case when they ran up the score on Atlanta).
The pick: We have agreement, then: an angry and out–of–control Lions defense gets epically torched.
Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants
So, the NFL's breakout–player–in–their–second–year was Tim Tebow? How about Victor Cruz? After being injured out as a rookie without playing a meaningful down, Cruz has stolen the Giants' offensive show with 1500 yards and nine scores. New York has big play ability on offense and defense, and while the Falcons have big names and sizeable potential, home field advantage has to count when a dome team from the South heads to an outdoors field and a raucous home crowd. The Giants are feeling good about themselves, while the Falcons have had to overcome moments of doubt and frustration. The Giants just feel like winners.
(I couldn't confuse Paddy with any specific word until I mistyped 'feel' at which point the word 'Fielder' popped up. Another home field advantage call? Then I realized I'd been the one to misread. 'Fiedler' it said. Curious... Jay Fiedler was almost signed for depth by both teams about five years ago, and is a New York native. Of course, if unexpected injury turns this into a battle of the backups, I may have to conclude my little apple–badged assistant is not a tablet but a 3G–enabled Ouija board.)
Pick: Richard chooses the Giants. Paddy, we think, agrees. Then again, Paddy suggests by 'NFL', I mean 'NHL'!