Tebowing fanatics, take heart. Though Tim Tebow doesn’t take the field until Sunday afternoon, there’s still plenty of football to go around beforehand. The NFL starts its four-game weekend playoff schedule with two games on Saturday and then two more on Sunday, offering plenty more than camera angles of a celebrity quarterback on the sideline.
The winners of this weekend’s games will advance to next week’s games. Then, on Jan. 22, the AFC and NFC championship games will determine who plays in Indianapolis on Feb. 5 in the Super Bowl. NewsFeed caught up with former Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl champion coach and current CBS NFL analyst Bill Cowher and former Indianapolis Colts Super Bowl champion coach and current NBC Football Night in America analyst Tony Dungy to pinpoint what the average fan should look for in this year’s playoffs.
What do we need to know about Cincinnati (9-7) at Houston (10-6)?
Cowher: I think the number one thing is that for the first time in a long time, we have two rookie quarterbacks facing each other. In the playoffs that is a big deal. The year Andy Dalton has had in Cincinnati and the combo of (wide receiver) A.J. Green is good. In Houston you are looking at a team so good at running the football.
What about Detroit (10-6) at New Orleans (13-3)?
Cowher: It has all the makings to be an offensive shootout. Possessions will be very important and whichever defense can take the ball away will be crucial. New Orleans has one of the hottest offenses (led by quarterback Drew Brees) in the NFL right now and they are looking to atone for last year’s early playoff exit.
Dungy: Everyone is jumping on the New Orleans bandwagon and (quarterback) Drew Brees has really lit up the competition, scoring points rapidly. Detroit is just excited to be in the playoffs and (quarterback) Matt Stafford will be under a lot of pressure to match Brees point for point.
What are key takeaways for Atlanta (10-6) at New York Giants (9-7)?
Cowher: New York is getting healthy on the defensive line and when they are all healthy, they can get pressure (on the quarterback). But can they stop a team playing as good as anyone? Look for a big week from Michael Turner (Atlanta running back). He is the key to Atlanta and New York has trouble stopping the run.
Dungy: The Giants have been hot and Atlanta has been a little under the radar. New York has a great pass rush.
What can we expect for Pittsburgh (12-4) at Denver (8-8)?
Cowher: When was the last time a road team in the playoffs was favored? Pittsburgh has the experience and everything on paper says this should be a game that Pittsburgh should win and win big. Denver does some unorthodox and unconventional things with Tim Tebow, so take nothing for granted.
Dungy: It is obviously going to be Tebow versus the great Pittsburgh defense. And you will want to keep an eye on (Steelers quarterback) Ben Roethlisberger. How healthy is he? Will he be able to move around and give Pittsburgh mobile quarterbacking?
How can you tell if Tebow is starting the game well?
Cowher: The biggest key for Tim Tebow is Denver’s ability to run the football, not just with Tebow, but with Willis McGahee. Tebow is left-handed and likes to run, roll and throw to his left. He will have to prove the ability to move to the right.
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We know about Tebow, but who else should we watch?
Cowher: Look for (running back) Arian Foster for Houston and A.J. Green for Cincinnati, a dynamic rookie receiver who makes acrobatic catches. New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham is a 6-7 basketball player who is a matchup nightmare. Detroit’s Calvin Johnson is a special, special receiver and you will watch (quarterback Matt) Stafford just throw it up to him. The New York Giants’ Victor Cruz is phenomenal and you’ll see the best salsa dance if he scores a touchdown. He is very good at it, so hope for a TD by Cruz. Atlanta’s Julio Jones makes acrobatic catches. Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown is a good receiver and look for Denver linebacker Von Miller to rush the quarterback.
Does having this week off (like Green Bay, San Francisco, New England and Baltimore) help or hurt?
Dungy: There is something in you as a coach where you want to keep playing, especially when you’ve been hot. Having rest and getting guys healthy is something you look forward to and I don’t think any of these teams would trade that.
Who do you like in the Super Bowl?
Cowher: I will take New Orleans and Pittsburgh. I think Pittsburgh is a team that can go on the road, they are built to do that with their great defense, and do that all three games. Pittsburgh has great matchups with New England (13-3) or Baltimore (12-4). New Orleans is the one team that can go back up and beat Green Bay. I’m picking the hot hand there.
Dungy: Well, I started out early on with Pittsburgh and Green Bay and I’m going to stick with that. If Ben is healthy, that has a good chance to play out. The team that is scary to me is the Giants. I think they can make some noise.
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