There isn’t an introduction worthy of this day. It’s finally playoff time, and these are the best days of our lives this week.
You know what to do. Make a giant sandwich, ensure that all plans for the day and evening involve a sitting area in front of a large television with several beverages that come in a brown bottle, and don’t move for seven hours.
You’re likely already deep into pre-game prep mode, drawing offensive and defensive game plans and such, and preparing for your speech and run out of the tunnel amidst the roars of an adoring crowd.
I know it’s difficult to type with the foam finger and the initial coats of body paint, but let’s take a quick Saturday afternoon stroll through these two games that open the 2012 NFL playoffs.
Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans (4:30 p.m. ET)
- One of the primary story lines and matchups in this game will be A.J. Green against Johnathan Joseph, pitting one of Cincy’s new, young offensive stars against the team’s former defensive star. In Week 14 when these two teams met, Green finished with a very pedestrian 59 receiving yards, and Pro Football Outsiders has another set of numbers that favor Joseph. The Texans cornerback typically plays on the right side, and Houston is giving up 4.67 yards per pass on throws to the right, compared to 8.43 over the middle, and 6.95 to the left.
- Hey, did you know that this is the first time two rookie quarterbacks have been on opposite sidelines in a playoff game? It’s difficult to get through any preview of this game with mentioning that little factoid. Matt Bowen of the National Football Post thinks the presence of T.J. Yates and Andy Dalton could lead to a greater reliance on the running game, but the rookies will still have to thrive in the red zone.
- Both of today’s playoff games feature matchups that we saw in the regular season, and relatively recently too (we’ll talk more about the Saints-Lions game in Week 13 below). The Dec. 11 game between Houston and Cincinnati was Yates’ second career start, and it ended in a 20-19 Texans win. But while it’s educational to look back on the stats to gauge positional mathups in these playoff rematches, drawing any conclusions from the final score is foolish and impossible. The Battle Red Blog looked back on the playoff regular-season rematches since 2002, and found that half of the time, the team that lost in the regular season won during the playoffs.
- A year ago there was a toxic environment in the Bengals’ locker room, one that resembles the current Jets locker room. Now with Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, and Carson Palmer long gone, some really heavy elephants have left the room.
- During a roundtable discussion yesterday, Cincy Jungle already explored a matchup with the Patriots next weekend if the Bengals are successful today. Here’s to hoping they held that conversation in a wood cabin, with at least one knuckle touching wood the entire time. The conclusion? Cincinnati likely can’t score enough points to beat New England, but they wouldn’t be a pushover either, and they’d provide an entertaining divisional round scare.
Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints (8:00 p.m. ET)
- Drew Brees was sacked twice and hit four times when these two teams met in Week 13, a game that ended in a 31-17 New Orleans win. Canal Street Chronicles thinks that opening sight lines and creating a more secure pocket against Ndamukong Suh should be one of the Saints’ primary goals.
- While providing a thorough breakdown of how these two teams match up statistically, Pride of Detroit notes that Matthew Stafford is playing the best football of his professional career right now, with a quarterback rating of 95 or higher in seven of his last nine outings.
- The Lions were one of the most penalized and undisciplined teams in the league this year, and their unhinged and wild nature was highly criticized. Highlighted by Suh’s infamous stomp, Detroit ranked third in accepted penalties (128), and second in yards lost due to penalties (1,075). But as ESPN’s Kevin Seifert observed, the eight penalties per game Detroit averaged is tolerable by itself, and often it’s the timing of those penalties that’s crippling. In that Week 13 game against New Orleans, mental mistakes and undisciplined play cost the Lions 113 yards in offensive gains.
- The ideal way to slow down Suh and an aggressive Lions pass rush is to utilize Darren Sproles in the flats, a strategy that’s worked often for the Saints this year after they signed the Reggie Bush clone. Whether it’s through a hand off, dump off, or kick return, Sproles has excelled, with 2,402 all-purpose yards, and 7.59 yards per touch.
- If we’re going to keep referring back to the Week 13 Lions-Saints game–and everything you read and watch everywhere will until kickoff tonight–then we should remind you again that the Lions are much healthier, and two significant pieces of Detroit’s secondary were sidelined during that dreary day in early December. The replacements for Louis Delmas and Chris Houston gave up two deep balls to the Saints for a combined 105 yards.