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RIVER RAT: Bo Jackson curse continues

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River Rat

By Peter W. Zubaty, Sports Editor

Playoff time is here in the NFL, and look who back-doored their way in.

That’s right, the Steelers, the team nobody wants to have to face in the playoffs, especially a certain team that hasn’t won a playoff game in more than two decades.

The sense of dread and self-loathing coming out of Bengals fans is downright comical in its sadness. I get the feeling they would rather have played anybody else than Pittsburgh in this game.

And why wouldn’t they? The Steelers have owned the Bengals for some time, and you just know Cincy fans were extra-crushed by the injury to Andy Dalton, sure that this was the year the Red Rifle would turn the corner and perform well in the playoffs for the first time.

But, alas, A.J. McCarron — the guy some Bengals fans secretly hoped in preseason would win the starting job from Dalton — is the man now. The former Alabama standout has performed admirably and solidly, and that may just be enough, given the outstanding Cincy defense.

But I don’t think it will be. Remember, this is the Bengals we’re talking about here, a team so convinced it is cursed that some fans were asking if Bo Jackson could be brought to Saturday night’s playoff game to exorcise the demons from 25 years ago, when his football career came to an end in a Raiders playoff win over the Bengals in 1991.

Theoretically, the players of today shouldn’t care one whit about what has happened over the years of Bengals futility. But it’s in their heads as well as the fans. We saw what happened before the Steelers’ regular-season win at Paul Brown Stadium a few weeks ago, with players from both teams engaging in plenty of extracurricular stuff before the game. Methinks emotions will get the best of the Bengals, and they will shoot themselves in the foot yet again.

And so, it’s time to dive into my playoff picks for this year. I’ll pick it back up in Sunday’s issue with that day’s NFC playoff games. Just a reminder — last year I went 10-1 on my playoff picks, with most of my prediction scores being nearly right on the money. On top of that, I’m coming off a thrilling win in the fantasy football finals of the toughest league I’ve ever been in, so I’m hot. Ignore at your own risk.

 

KC at Houston

How scary is it that Alex Smith looks like the surest bet in the playoffs? This was a guy as recently as a year ago that I looked forward to picking against in the playoffs. Not anymore. Not when his opposite number with the Texans is Brian Hoyer.

Somehow, Smith and the Chiefs’ offense shook off the loss of Jamaal Charles and kept right on trucking, doing just enough with Travis Kelce, Jeremy Maclin and someone called Charcandrick West on offense to reel off 10 straight wins.

But really, this game is more about the defenses, and the Texans and Chiefs are among the best. If either KC or Houston puts up 30 or more points in Saturday’s game, it will be because the defense scored.

Look for Justin Houston and J.J. Watt to be big factors on the final outcome of what I think will be a low-scoring grinder. Maybe Alex Smith makes a couple plays late to set up the game-winner.

The pick: Chiefs 17, Texans 16

 

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati

On paper, the Bengals should kill the Steelers. They’re deeper and more talented, especially on defense.

But the games aren’t played on paper, and these are still the Bengals we’re talking about. They’ll find a way to screw it up, because that’s what they do in the playoffs.

Look for a whole lot of Big Ben to Antonio Brown action, with some Heath Miller mixed in for good measure. Pittsburgh can overcome an injury to DeAngelo Williams — they’ve been fighting through injuries all year — but if he plays and is healthy, then it could get ugly.

The pick: Steelers 27, Bengals 13