Wild card weekend predictions


Wild card weekend predictions

Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) at Houston Texans (10-6), Saturday, 1:30 pm PT, NBC

This is when the duct tape comes off for the Texans who put on a game effort all year long after losing not only their first- and second-string quarterbacks in Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart, but also defensive end Mario Williams and rode a not-completely heathy Arian Foster to the division title. The Bengals' rookie combination of QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green will prove just enough to end the Texans' first-ever playoff experience.
Prediction: Bengals 20, Texans 16

Detroit Lions (10-6) at New Orleans Saints (13-3), Saturday, 5 p.m. PT, NBC

Five weeks ago, the Lions had the Saints right where they wanted them, and couldn't get out of their own way with so much undisciplined play. The Lions had 11 penalties for 107 yards in that 31-17 loss in New Orleans, which diminished the fact they actually out-gained the Saints that night, 466 yards to 438. But Drew Brees is on such an historical run it's hard to see the Lions being disciplined enough on defense to slow him.
Prediction: Saints 38, Lions 27Atlanta Falcons (10-6) New York Giants (9-7), Sunday, 10 a.m. PT, Fox

With a white-hot QB in Matt Ryan, who threw 15 TDs compared to just two INTs the last seven games, and a punishing rusher in Michael Turner, and rolling into the playoffs having won three of four, the Falcons have the look of last year's champion Green Bay Packers. The key this weekend, then, is to give Ryan time to pick apart the Giants' shockingly sometime suspect defense. While limiting receiver Victor Cruz's salsa steps.
Prediction: Falcons 17, Giants 13Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) at Denver Broncos (8-8), Sunday, 1:30 p.m. PT, CBS

The game all Raiders fans will watch, with their nose plugged. Tim Tebow has not won a game since being skewered on Saturday Night Live and that streak doesn't figure to be broken here. Not with such a punishing defense opposing him. Not even with the Steelers' offense hamstrung with Ben Roethlisberger's ankle still gimpy and Rashard Mendenhall lost for the year. Yes, pray for Tebow if James Harrison gets a beat on him.
Prediction: Steelers 24, Broncos 6

Bowman out to prove something with Raiders: 'I have a lot of juice left'

Bowman out to prove something with Raiders: 'I have a lot of juice left'

NaVorro Bowman hasn’t been a Raider long. The inside linebacker visited the team’s training complex Monday morning, signed a one-year, $3 million contract that afternoon and was on the practice field a few hours later.

Bowman’s in something of a rush. His new team plays the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night. Bowman plans to face them.

That’ll take a crash course in Raiders defense. There’s new terminology to learn and roles to master, even if he hones on a specific package.

It won’t be easy. Even a perfect week might come up short with but one real practice in an incredibly quick turnaround.

It’s rational to think he won’t be ready, fair to give him two weeks practice before a Raiders debut.

That’s not the tack he’ll take.

“Hey,” Bowman said, with a wry smile. “I’m going to show you something.”

He understands the situation. The Raiders are 2-4, in desperate need of an AFC West win. A loss might put the Raiders too far down to rebound. The four-time All-Pro knows he’s needed, and believes he can help if he can get some scheme down.

“It’ll take a lot of hours, a lot of studying, a lot of repeating the same words and things like that,” Bowman said after Monday’s walk-through. “It’s part of being a good football player. You have to put the time in. It doesn’t come easy.

“I’m the guy to do it. I won’t let them down. I’ll put the work in that’s needed to be done.”

Immersing in brand new can be a cleansing process. Bowman left the only NFL team he’s ever known Friday when the 49ers cut him loose. He wanted to spend his career with one team. After seven-plus seasons, a switch was required. He didn’t like losing snaps. The 49ers wanted to go younger at the position. A trade was attempted. He didn’t like the suitor, and the 49ers respectfully pulled back. An outright cut was the decisive action.

It gave Bowman an opportunity to choose his next step. He didn’t go far. Bowman’s new job sits 35 miles north in Alameda, which offered plenty of advantages for a family man.

“My twin girls are five and my son is eight and they’re in school,” Bowman said. “They’re doing really well so you always want to keep that going as a parent. You don’t want to keep switching them in and out. That played a big part in what I was going to do. For the Raiders to show as much enthusiasm in wanting me to come here made my decision a lot easier.”

Enthusiasm was evident in two ways. The bottom line comes first. The Raiders offered $3 million to make this deal quick, adding a solid sum to the $6.75 million base salary guaranteed by the 49ers under his previous contract.

The second was clear in a Monday morning conversation with Jack Del Rio. The Raiders head coach spoke plainly, saying Bowman could make a major impact as a player and veteran leader of a shockingly young position group.

“It was really upfront, letting me know their position and how bad they want me,” Bowman said. “He let me know exactly what he wanted to get out of me coming here and being a presence for this defense. Being more vocal, getting guys to understand the urgency to be really good at the NFL level.”

His lessons start Tuesday morning. Starting weakside linebacker Cory James introduced himself in the locker room Monday and asked Bowman when he’ll start watching film. The answer: bright and early.

Bowman has a game to play Thursday. That’s possible because he didn’t have to relocate. He can just hit the ground running. He’s been constantly learning new systems during the 49ers coaching carousel, so he’d a quick learning. He also sees similar concepts between schemes.

“It’s not too different,” Bowman said. “The terminology is really the hard part. I’m a fast learner. I went out there today and I think I did pretty well. I’ll get in here early tomorrow and learn from my mistakes and try to keep getting better.”

That’s Bowman’s first goal. He also wants to show knee and Achilles’ tendon injuries haven’t sapped his effectiveness as many believe.

“I’m only 29 years old,” Bowman said. “I still have a lot of juice left in me.”

With Bowman heading to Oakland, everyone ends up happy, unless...

With Bowman heading to Oakland, everyone ends up happy, unless...

NaVorro Bowman’s employment odyssey lasted three days, and he didn’t have to get his mailing address changed.

The one-year, $3 million deal he reportedly signed with Oakland Monday came after a fairly quiet weekend for all parties. It was an easy choice for him, since there is minimal disruption, and an easy choice for Oakland, which needs all the defensive expertise it can get and has players that Bowman’s diminishing speed cannot expose.

In other words, everyone ends up happy . . . unless Bowman suddenly improves to the point where John Lynch has some ‘splainin’ to do.

The Raiders and 49ers have often shared players, thus belying their often overblown rivalry. The convenience was too . . . well, convenient, and will not be in evidence once Las Vegas becomes an NFL city.

And lord known the Raiders need some new voices in a room that has seemingly gone stale as expectations start to brown into disappointment. Bowman brings an effervescence borne of deep playoff runs, without being too loud a voice in a room that needs to develop more permanent leadership.

As to how much any of this translates into improved defensive play, or just a better vibe coming from Oaktown, well, put it this way.

If Bowman can stanch that level of bleeding, he shouldn’t be playing, he should be an EMT.

But at least he won’t end his career with a sour meeting with the people who run his original team, and that must count for something.