With matching 10-6 records in Week 17, I finished the regular season seven games behind Rosenthal.
But there are still 11 games to go. (Counting the Pro Bowl, there are 12.)
So I’m saying there’s a chance. . . .
For the regular season, Rosenthal is 169-87. I’m 162-94.
Bengals at Texans
Florio’s take: With neither team having any realistic shot at advancing beyond the division round, this one feels like a bowl game that, fortunately for the Texans, is being played on their home field. The Texans have little playoff experience, but they get to play another team that doesn’t have much more. With a flu bug possibly snaking through the Cincinnati locker room, there’s a chance that Bengals fans will be feeling nauseous by Saturday night.
Florio’s pick: Texans 23, Bengals 17.
Rosenthal’s take: There’s a “happy to be there” vibe to both of these teams. But only the Bengals are lucky to even make the playoffs. They can’t beat quality teams. Houston’s defense is more dangerous and more balanced. The Texans running game is superior too. Throw in one of the best home atmospheres in the league, and the Texans may win going away.
Rosenthal’s pick: Texans 23, Bengals 13.
Lions at Saints
Florio’s take: Through the first eight games of the 2011 season, Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford repeatedly connected, with 11 touchdowns and 804 yards. After the Lions’ bye, teams spent more time blanketing Johnson. When defenses took him away, Matthew Stafford had nowhere else to go — especially without a running game. Eventually, Stafford decided to throw it to Johnson even if Johnson wasn’t open. In the last three games, Johnson and Stafford have connected for 530 yards and four scores. The Saints beat the Lions by 14 points during the period when Stafford wasn’t throwing it to Johnson when Johnson appeared to be covered. And so, partially under the influence of a desire to catch Rosenthal and partially under the influence of one or more potent beverages, I’ve got a feeling that the Lions will make the last three-pointer in the basketball game that will unfold on the floor of the Superdome.
Florio’s pick: Lions 44, Saints 41.
Rosenthal’s take: This isn’t the matchup Detroit wanted. Matthew Stafford struggles against the blitz; the Saints love to blitz. You beat New Orleans by running; Detroit can’t run. The vaunted Detroit defensive line is no longer a difference maker. This is like an Arena League game for New Orleans’ defense. Get three stops and they win.
Rosenthal’s pick: Saints 44, Lions 31.
Falcons at Giants
Florio’s take: So Eli Manning once again is elite, even though Victor Cruz has saved Eli’s salsa with big catches — and runs — in the last two weeks. And the Giants have some Super Bowl buzz, given the memories of what they accomplished back in 2007. But these Giants have a bad habit of showing up only in huge moments, and there’s nothing about a wild-card visit from the Falcons that will make the Giants feel like they did in the past two games against the Jets and Cowboys. If — and it could be a big if — the Falcons resist the urge to justify trading up for Julio Jones and/or to prove that Matt Ryan is a big-time quarterback and simply run the ball and run the ball and run the ball some more, they can get the Giants on their heels and infest MetLife Stadium with the same funk that existed when the Redskins, Seahawks, and Eagles won there.
Florio’s pick: Falcons 24, Giants 21.
Rosenthal’s take: The Falcons traded up for Julio Jones to get more explosive on offense and they were more explosive down the stretch. The Giants defense is prone to giving up big plays. This just feels like a game the Falcons have been building towards for a few years. It’s their time. At least for one week.
Rosenthal’s pick: Falcons 24, Giants 21.
Steelers at Broncos
Florio’s take: If Lions-Saints is destined to be a basketball game, a hockey match could be breaking out in Broncoland. The Steelers are sluggish on the road, losing in Baltimore, Houston, and San Francisco, and barely winning in Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Cleveland. But the Broncos aren’t the Ravens, Texans, or 49ers. And the Steelers, despite any real or imagined or embellished injuries, will find a way to shut down the Denver running game, and in turn ensure that Air Tebow will be nothing more than a paper airplane.
Florio’s pick: Steelers 13, Broncos 9.
Rosenthal’s take: If the Chiefs and Browns can keep things close against Pittsburgh, the Broncos can make this a game. When Tebow Time arrives, however, the Steelers defense seems more likely to score a touchdown than this dreadful Denver passing attack.
Rosenthal’s pick: Steelers 16, Broncos 10.