By Balraj Dhillon (Contributor) – Email

Print Edition: January 11, 2012

It was wildcard weekend in the NFL, which means the NFL playoffs have begun. The New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers were all awarded first round byes for finishing in the top two of their respective conferences, thus giving them a chance to rest this weekend. In Houston the Texans hosted the Cincinnati Bengals which marked Houston’s first ever playoff game in the franchise’s history. The other AFC match-up saw the Denver Broncos, who barely squeaked into the playoffs, host the Pittsburgh Steelers and their number one defence. On the NFC side, the Detroit Lions visited the high-powered New Orleans Saints which turned out to be a record breaking game for both offences. The second NFC match-up saw the New York Giants host the Atlanta Falcons.

The Houston versus Cincinnati game marked the first time two rookie quarterbacks (QB) had ever started in a playoff game. It was T.J. Yates, the third string quarterback for the Texans taking on sensational rookie QB Andy Dalton of the Bengals. Yates looked nothing like a third string quarterback as he threw for over 150 yards and a touchdown without ever turning the ball over. However, the hero for the Texans was the un-drafted running back Arian Foster, who rushed all over the Bengals for 153 yards and two touchdowns. Bengals QB Andy Dalton, despite showing tremendous skill in the regular season, epically melted down in his first ever playoff game. The young rookie threw for 257 yards, but also threw three costly interceptions. The Texans won their first and only playoff game in team history and will head to Baltimore next week to take on the Ravens.

It was another dramatic finish in Denver, but that’s the norm for the Broncos and rookie QB Tim Tebow. The Broncos were underdogs heading into Sunday’s match-up against the Steelers—who held top ranked defence. Tebow is not known to be a passing quarterback, so it was a big surprise to the Steelers when they saw the quarterback drop back 21 times to throw, completing 10 of those passes for an astounding 316 yards and two touchdowns; Tebow also rushed for 50 yards and added a touchdown on the ground. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger played with a high ankle sprain and did not look like his usual self. He was unable to get out of the pocket much and instead took sacks. Despite the injury, the QB still threw for 289 yards and a touchdown, along with an interception. The Steelers were also without their starting running back Rashad Mendenhall, however back up Isaac Redman more than filled the void as he rushed for 121 yards on 17 carries. The game went to overtime, where on the first play in extra time Tebow dropped back and delivered a perfect pass in stride to running back Daerius Thomas for 80 yards and the game winning score. The Broncos will head to New England to take on the Patriots next week, a team which is nearly unbeatable at home and beat the Broncos 41-23 just a few weeks ago.

In New Orleans it was a match-up of two 5000 yard passers in Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees. The two combined for over 800 passing yards and the two teams combined for over 1000 yards of total offence—both setting NFL post-season records. However, it was New Orleans who came out on top as Matthew Stafford threw two interceptions, resulting in points for the Saints. The Saints came away with a 45-28 win behind Brees’ 466 passing yards and three touchdowns. Despite getting 380 passing yards and three touchdowns from Stafford, the Lions defence couldn’t stop the Saints when they needed it most. The Saints will head to the west coast for a match up with the 49ers and their second-ranked defence.

It was a sleeper in the Meadowlands as the Giants beat the Falcons 24-2. The Falcons clearly did not look like a team deserving of a playoff spot. The defence was largely ineffective and the offence struggled throughout the match. It was an easy game for Eli Manning and the Giants – good practice as they head to Green Bay next week to take on the former Super Bowl champions in a divisional round match up. The Giants and Packers played in the regular season with the Packers squeaking out a narrow three-point win.

The divisional round next week is guaranteed to feature games that come down to the wire.


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