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NFL playoffs: Who will advance from the wild-card games? [Poll]

January 5, 2012 |  8:27 am


Eight teams enter this weekend's wild-card round of the NFL playoffs, but only four will continue on to the divisional round. Two of the games look to be pretty tough to call, while the other two appear to be blowouts in the making -- although appearances sometimes can be deceiving.

The AFC South champion Houston Texans (10-6), making their first-ever playoff appearance, are three-point favorites over the visiting Cincinnati Bengals (9-7). The game features a pair of rookie quarterbacks in Houston's T.J. Yates and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton.

Yates started the year behind the now-injured Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart but has delivered solid play in his six games this season. Dalton has been the starter in Cincinnati since Week 1 and has led the surprising Bengals to only their third playoff appearance since 1990.

The NFC South champion New Orleans Saints (13-3) routed the Detroit Lions (10-6), 31-17, back in Week 13 and are expected to do so again, entering Saturday's game as 10-point favorites. Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for an NFL record 5,476 yards, but Detroit's Matthew Stafford wasn't far behind with 5,038, which was third-best in the league this year and fifth-best all-time.

The New York Giants (9-7) needed a Week 17 win over the Dallas Cowboys to clinch the NFC East and a playoff spot. They are three-point favorites over the visiting Atlanta Falcons (10-6), although the game basically is a toss-up, with the Giants going 4-4 at home and the Falcons 4-4 on the road.

Quarterback Eli Manning has carried much of the load for the Giants this season, passing for 4,933 yards with 29 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, while the Falcons have a balanced offensive attack featuring running back Michael Turner (1,340 yards, 11 touchdowns) and quarterback Matt Ryan (4,177 yards, 29 touchdowns, 12 interceptions).

The Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) are eight-point road favorites over the AFC West champion Denver Broncos (8-8), who enter the playoffs on a three-game losing streak and with quarterback Tim Tebow seeming to have lost the magic that carried him through most of the season. But the Steelers are riddled with injuries, with running back Rashard Mendenhall out for the playoffs with a torn ACL and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger attempting to play with a badly sprained ankle.

Writers from around Tribune Co. will try to predict which team will make it out of each game. Check back throughout the day for their responses. You can join the discussion by voting in the polls and leaving a comment of your own.

[Updated at 9:29 a.m.:

Dan Pompei, Chicago Tribune

Momentum is huge in the NFL postseason, so it makes sense that the four teams with the most momentum will advance this weekend. The Texans and Broncos both have lost three straight as their quarterback magic has disappeared. Both are prime candidates to lose at home on wildcard weekend, the Texans to the Bengals and the Broncos to the Steelers. Tim Tebow has looked more like man than myth since his fourth quarter/overtime heroics against the Bears.

In the NFC, the Giants have the look of a team that could be peaking at the right time. Plus, quarterback Eli Manning has been clutch all season long.  The Saints, meanwhile, have not lost since the day before Halloween and look like a good bet against the Lions, who couldn’t beat the junior varsity Packers last week.]


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Photo: The New Orleans Saints are 10-point favorites this weekend. Credit: Chris Graythen / Getty Images