Note: The quotes in this article are fictional.
Cincinnati @ Houston (-3)
Despite a 24-16 loss to the Ravens, the Bengals slipped into the playoffs, benefitting from losses by the Jets, Broncos, and Raiders. Cincinnati, which finished the season 9-7, will face 10-6 Houston, the AFC's No. 3 seed, who edged the Bengals 20-19 in Cincinnati in week 14.
"We're 1-6 against teams with a winning record in 2011," Marvin Lewis said. "That can be a misleading statistic, especially for teams that have played us this year.
"But we're not complaining about losing and making the playoffs, and drawing the vulnerable Texans in the first round. Things really did fall into our laps. And for once here in Cincinnati, I condoned a ???lap' dance."
The Texans clinched the AFC South on December 11th, but have lost three straight since. Quarterback T.J. Yates was dinged up in last week's 23-22 loss to the Titans, but will be ready to go when the Texans host their first playoff game on Saturday.
"We can't be satisfied with simply winning the AFC South," Arian Foster said. "We've set our sights much higher. There are those who say that ???lofty goals' for the Texans is merely the hanging of our AFC South division championship banner high in the rafters of Reliant Stadium. I fully expect us to be playing in late January, or at least those of us that made the Pro Bowl.
"If Yates isn't healthy, we've got wily veteran Jake Delhomme waiting in the wings. I'd say Andre Johnson picked the wrong time to return. In Jake's last playoff start, he tossed five interceptions against the Cardinals. Off the field, Jake's known for raising exceptional horses. On the field, he's known for launching wounded ducks."
Yates shakes off the effects of a left shoulder injury, and manages the game well enough to carry out the Houston game plan, which is to keep the Cincy offense, and Delhomme, off the field. Wade Phillips reenergizes the Texans defense, which forces two turnovers that result in ten Houston points.
Texans win 26-19.
Detroit @ New Orleans (-10)
The 13-3 and third-seeded Saints host the Lions in a rematch of New Orleans' week 13 31-17 win in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints have scored 40 or more points in their last three games, led by Drew Brees, who passed for an NFL record 5,476 yards, including 46 touchdowns.
"If you hear ???Let's Go ???D,' chants arise from the stands," Sean Payton said, "it will only be because the fans didn't have time to spell out ???defense' before one of the offenses scored.
"But all it takes is one big play from a defender to turn a game around. No one knows that better than Ndamukong Suh. Usually, his big plays works in the favor of the opposing team. Ask anyone in New Orleans, and they'll tell you Suh's foot is no big deal. Tom Dempsey did more with half a foot than Suh will ever do with all of his. If the Lions think they can intimidate us, they're sadly mistaken. They've challenged us to an ultimatum--fight or flight. Judging by their pass defense, we'll choose ???flight.'"
The Lions lost a shootout in Green Bay, 45-41, as Matthew Stafford passed for 520 yards, but was outgunned by Packers backup Matt Flynn, who threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns. The loss dropped the Lions from the No. 5 seed to No. 6, so instead of facing the No. 4-seeded Giants, they'll see a tougher matchup against the No.3-seeded Saints.
"We realize we're the least popular item in New Orleans," Jim Schwartz said, "right behind the 2011 most valuable player vote.
"It appears our defense has adopted my short-fused persona and attitude. As Jim Harbaugh proved, I'm easily offended. As Flynn and the Packers proved, the Lions defense is easily offended, as well."
The Saints name former offensive lineman Kyle Turley "honorary loose cannon" for the pre-game festivities, and when Brees calls "heads" at the coin toss, Turley obliges, and sends Lions captain Dominic Riaola's helmet into orbit.
The New Orleans offensive line frustrates Suh early with double-teams and dirty tricks, like tying his shoelaces together. With ample time to pass, Brees throws for 352 yards and three touchdowns.
New Orleans wins 41-26, and Suh stomps off the field in disgust.
Atlanta @ NY Giants (-3)
The Giants toppled the Cowboys 31-14 to earn the NFC East title and a first-round home game at MetLife Stadium, as Eli Manning passed for 346 yards and the Giants defense sacked Tony Romo six times. New York will host the No. 5-seeded Falcons, who finished second in the NFC South behind the Saints.
"Justin Tuck used the term ???dirtbags' to describe the Falcons offensive line," Ton Coughlin said. "In light of the rest of the league's opinion of them, I'd say that was a compliment.
"But this game will be won at the line of scrimmage, or behind the line of scrimmage if Mike Smith feels frisky on fourth and one. We are at our best when our defensive line does its job, which means the rest of our defense doesn't have to do theirs."
Atlanta, who lost to New Orleans 45-16 in week 16, avoided a rematch with the Saints when the Lions lost to the Packers. That moved the Falcons up to the No. 5 seed, whereas the No. 6 seed would have resulted in a trip to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
"There's the ???Big Easy,'" Matt Ryan said, "home of the 13-3 Saints. Then there's the ???Big Easier,' home of the 9-7 Giants. And there's the ???Big Easiest,' home of the 8-8 Broncos. We're happy with our matchup. Revenge on the Saints can wait, preferably to next season."
Tuck and Osi Umenyiora record two sacks apiece, and Eli Manning shakes off an early turnover and throws for two touchdowns.
New York wins 30-24.
Pittsburgh @ Denver (+8)
The Broncos lost to the Chiefs 7-3 last week, but clinched the AFC West when the Raiders lost to the Chargers. Denver took the division based on a better record against common opponents, the third tiebreaker.
"Interestingly enough," Tebow said, "we won the division based on a better record against common opponents. We're only 8-8, so I'm guessing the Steelers like their chances against a ???common' opponent.
"But seriously, this game is a case of ???good versus bad.' And, despite Ben Roethlisberger's status as one of the NFL's least-popular players, it seems I'm still on the side of ???bad.'
"I know I need to improve in a hurry, lest we'll be out of the playoffs in a hurry, and I won't be the Denver starter next year. All of these ???Tebow In 2012' bumper stickers make it look as if I'm entering the presidential election. That can't be, because if I tried to throw my hat into the ring, it would undoubtedly be an incompletion. Or maybe it could happen, because if nothing more, I am a ???running' quarterback."
Ben Roethlisberger is still feeling the effects of a high ankle sprain in his left foot, and although his mobility will be compromised, his leadership skills won't be. Roethlisberger is 10-3 as a starter in the playoffs, including a 34-17 win over Jake Plummer and the Broncos in the 2005 AFC title game.
"That was the day I joined the ???Mile High Club,'" Roethlisberger said, "with a 'Mile High Chub.' Membership has its privileges, most notably favorable treatment in the legal system.
"But ???knockin' boots on heaven's door' aside,' I beat Plummer, and I'll beat Tebow. Plummer lived up to his nickname of the ???Snake.' Who else but a ???Snake' would give his own fans the finger? Tebow would never do that. Therein lies the contrast: with Plummer, it was ???go to hell;' with Tebow, it's ???come to Jesus.'"
The Steelers are aching-Roethlisberger's foot is not improving, and Rashard Mendenhall is out for the season with a knee injury. The Pittsburgh offense won't be dominating anyone, but their defense will. Indeed, James Harrison does believe in violence. The righteous Tebow does not believe in violence-he would never hit an intended receiver.
The Broncos defense keeps the team in the game early, but the Steel Curtain-ers force three Tebow turnovers, and pull away for victory.
Pittsburgh wins 26-11.