Since I was on the road in New Hampshire last week, I didn’t get much of an opportunity to watch the wild-card round of football games … with one exception.  Thanks to the last really bad day of a nasty head cold, I ended up staying in my hotel room to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Tim Tebow-led Denver Broncos, and … let’s just say it didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped.  It was actually a fantastic game, and the Steelers came back from 14 down at the half to take it into overtime.  However, it took longer to explain the convoluted playoff-OT rule than it did to actually end the OT period, which only took 11 seconds and one 80-yard TD pass on a slant route.

Needless to say, I went 1-1 in my first set of picks for the playoffs.

Today we have two great games on tap:

  • Saints at 49ers — San Francisco has only lost one game at home all year, while New Orleans has lost three on the road.  The Niners had a whole division of weak competitors, although Seattle came on in the second half and looked pretty good.  The Saints destroyed the Lions last week, and while their defense looks like it will have some problems, the Saints have the top-ranked passing offense going up against the 16th-ranked passing defense.  They also have Drew Brees, who has playoff and Super Bowl experience, while the 49ers have not been here in a long time.  I’ll take New Orleans, 34-30 in a shootout.
  • Broncos at Patriots — Hey, I like Tim Tebow.  I even liked him when he beat my Steelers.  Tebow is a class act, especially off the football field, to which I’ll return in a moment.  Tebow even has playoff-like experience by way of the college national championship game at the end of the 2008 season, which he won.  But let’s not kid ourselves here.  The 8-8 Broncos defeated a beaten-up Steeler team without key personnel (including their starting running back and two defensive starters) at home, and it took them an overtime period to do it.  They have to go on the road to face the #1 seeded Patriots, taking with them the 31st-rated passing offense and a defense rated 18th against the pass and 22nd against the run.  Oh, and who do they face?  Only 4-time Super Bowl QB Tom Brady and the 2nd-rated passing offense in the league.  I’ll be rooting for Tebow, but it would take a genuine, Lazarus-like miracle for the Broncos to beat the Patriots in Foxboro tomorrow evening.  The line has New England by 14 points, but they’ll beat the spread with a 35-14 win at home.

But I’m not kidding about Tebow being a class act.  ESPN’s Rick Reilly has a must-read essay titled, “I Believe in Tim Tebow” (which AP also linked last night), and you will too after reading it:

I’ve come to believe in Tim Tebow, but not for what he does on a football field, which is still three parts Dr. Jekyll and two parts Mr. Hyde.

No, I’ve come to believe in Tim Tebow for what he does off a football field, which is represent the best parts of us, the parts I want to be and so rarely am.

Who among us is this selfless?

Every week, Tebow picks out someone who is suffering, or who is dying, or who is injured, flies them and their families to the Broncos game, rents them a car, puts them up in a nice hotel, buys them dinner (usually at a Dave and Buster’s), gets them and their families pregame passes, visits with them just before kickoff (!), gets them 30-yard line tickets down low, visits with them after the game (sometimes for an hour), has them walk him to his car, and sends them off with a basket of gifts.

Home or road, win or lose, hero or goat.

Remember last week, when the world was pulling its hair out in the hour after Tebow had stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers with an 80-yard OT touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomasin the playoffs? And Twitter was exploding with 9,420 tweets about Tebow per second? When an ESPN poll was naming him the most popular athlete in America?

Tebow was spending that hour talking to 16-year-old Bailey Knaub about her 73 surgeries so far and what TV shows she likes.

It’s worth noting that there are more than a few NFL players who do this kind of outreach, and some that will soon come to the NFL, such as Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon, who brought a young girl who has fought cancer into remission to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl with him after a long correspondence between the two.  Tebow does this constantly, though, and for the most part does it quietly as well.  Be sure to read the whole column, and you’ll understand why even those of us who don’t give Denver a snowball’s chance in you-know-where will still be rooting for Tebow and his teammates tonight.  I’ll be delighted to be proved wrong with this pick.