The NFL Playoffs are here, we have fewer games to distract us, and better teams to break down. But that doesn't mean the lives of gamblers get any easier. As we explained earlier this week, if anything, the first few weekends of the playoffs are when the NFL's parity machine takes it up a notch.
To wit, the past three years we've had at least one game that made no sense.
2011: (7-9) Seahawks 41 - (12-4) Saints 35
2010: (9-7) Ravens 33 - (10-6) Patriots 14
2009: (8-8) Chargers 23 - (12-4) Colts 17
2009: (9-7) Cardinals 30 - (11-5) Falcons 24
Most sports just go to 10, but the NFL's parity amp goes all the way to 11 come playoff time. With that in mind, let's pretend to know what comes next!
All picks in BOLD.
Bengals at Texans (-3), Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET
Starting an overmatched rookie quarterback in the playoffs likely spells disaster for just about any team in the league, regardless of how talented the rest of the roster is. So maybe the difference between these two teams is this: The Texans don't need T.J. Yates to be good for them to win on Saturday. Either way they've still got a defense that will attack all game long, and a running game (Arian Foster, Ben Tate) that can pace the offense and control the ball. Yates doesn't need to bring much to the table, so long as he doesn't take too much off it.
On the other hand, Cincinnati needs Andy Dalton to play well if they want to have a chance. If it's between the team that needs its rookie quarterback to do that over four quarters on the road, and the team that can win regardless at home, you gotta go with the latter. (Also: Because the NFL makes no sense, watch these two, kinda crappy rookie quarterbacks DOMINATE on Saturday. Just to screw with us.)
Lions at Saints (-11), Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
The Lions secondary played better than expected this year, but only because they were expected to be one of the two or three worst units in the league. It was a low bar they cleared. They still finished 22nd in pass defense. And then you look at Week 17 in Green Bay -- where Matt Flynn torched them for a zillion yards and a billion points -- and you start to see why people were worried in the first place.
This doesn't bode well for a team about to play the most explosive offense in football.
But this pick's mostly about Matthew Stafford. If you believe he's as good as his numbers looked this year and deserved a Pro Bowl berth because he's one of the best young quarterbacks in football, then you probably think the Lions can make this a shootout and at least keep it within one score. But, yeah. Nahhhhh.
Falcons at New York Giants (-3), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
The Giants came up big in the last two weeks of the regular season, but let's not forget that their two "must-win" games came against two teams (Jets, Cowboys) that were not very good this year. The Cowboys began shooting themselves in the foot Week 1 against the Jets, and then capped the year with some of the saddest defense the NFL saw all season. (#TerrenceNewman4ProBowl). Meanwhile, if there had been any doubt about how dysfunctional the Jets were all year, the exit interviews cleared that up for everyone. And let's not forget the Mark Sanchez safety that sealed the game for the Giants; that's where you were like, "Wow, the Jets really are as bad as we've always joked." And they were.
So yeah the Giants "came up big" down the stretch, but not that big. Beating the Jets and Cowboys in 2011 is like an adult passing his driver's test. All that proves is you're not deeply handicapped.
All this while Atlanta ran through one of the deepest divisions in football, coming together and winning 8 of their last 11, with all three losses coming to playoff teams. All this leads to us going with the Falcons. And, IMPORTANT NOTE: it'd be a lot more fun if they decided this game with nationally televised battle raps between Dungeon Family and Wu-Tang Clan. Alas.
Steelers at Broncos (+8), Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET
Along the lines of Gary Busey wife swapping with Ted Haggard, it would be a lot of fun to see Ben Roethlisberger and Tim Tebow swap lives. Or at least swap former lives. You could put a drunk Big Ben in the Phillipines and tell him he's there to perform circumcisions. Or put Tim Tebow in a Georgia bathroom with an underage girl. Then? SEE WHAT HAPPENS. There would be so much confused mumbling on all sides. It'd be fantastic.
As for the game itself, there's no way you can look at the past three Broncos games and predict anything good happening to them this weekend. But you CAN look at the Steelers (5-3 on the road), the injuries to Rashard Mendenhall (torn ACL) and Ben Roethlisberger (still recovering from an ankle injury) and say they look like a team ripe for upset.
Again: Denver has no business being competitive based on the last few weeks. Tim Tebow has looked worse the past month than any NFL quarterback I've ever seen (and I rooted for Quincy Carter for the better part of three years). But just watch Denver win with some #TebowTime shenanigans.
2012: (8-8) Denver over (12-4) Pittsburgh just feels right.
As Busey explained on Celebrity Wife Swap, "You know what FUN stands for? Finally Understanding Nothing. And that's what's fun about fun." And that's how Gary Busey explained Tim Tebow's entire career and the NFL Playoffs, in general. ENJOY THE MADNESS Y'ALL.