With my attention having been on the hirings and firings around the NFL, it’s a nice change of pace to be looking ahead to a weekend full of playoff games. Wild doesn’t even begin to describe how most of these games will play out. From a first-round rematch from last year, to two rookie quarterbacks facing off, it’s sure to be one of the more entertaining Wild Card Weekend’s in recent memory.
Just as a quick recap–for those who were keeping track–for the final week of the season we wrapped things up going 11-5 bringing the season record to 162-95 (better than 5 of the 12 NFL Experts who picked games each week, all year long). Boom! Time to keep that momentum rolling into these playoffs.
Let’s hit it.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans — Saturday, 4:30pm, NBC
How unfortunate for these two teams that they get thrown back into the crappy Saturday afternoon time slot for the second year in a row. In the previous edition of this first-round matchup, then-rookie QB Andy Dalton was making his first start against a Texans team that was appearing in the franchise’s first postseason game (third string QB T.J. Yates led the Texans to a 31-10 win).
In this go-round, Texans QB Matt Schaub will be making his postseason debut, and will be trying to break Houston out of their current funk–they could’ve clinched the number-one seed, a first round bye, and home-field throughout with one win in either of their final two games, but failed to do so. Now they’ll have to find a way to bounce back against a Bengals team that has won seven of their last eight.
Some time ago I debated about the importance of momentum in sports. I’m throwing all of that out the window right here. And it all has to do with the Texans defense. It’s been one of the more dominating groups in the game this season, led by J.J. Watt, the swat machine. They’ll be squaring off against the NFL’s 22nd-ranked offense. Of course, we’re talking about the same 22nd ranked offense which bested two AFC North leaders to help Cincy secure their playoff spot, but both of those defenses can be (kindly) classified as old and decrepit. They haven’t seen the likes of a fast and athletic defense like Houston’s.
The matchup on the other side should be interesting–two top-10 units. One that knows how rack up the yards, while the other thrives on turnovers. I’ll take Andre Johnson and Arian Foster over Law Firm and A.J. Green any day though.
An entertaining start to the weekend this will be. Texans win 30-27
Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers — Saturday, 8pm, NBC
Nothing better than divisional matchups in the playoffs. Add to that, the fact that these two teams just got finished playing one another (coaches must be happy that they don’t have to rewind their game film too far to prepare for this one!). The Vikings needed to win their Week 17 game at home against the Packers in order to get into the post season. I’d imagine Green Bay isn’t too happy that they let the opportunity slip to eliminate a divisional foe–granted, it would have just let the 10-win Bears into the postseason instead–but at least they’ll have a home field edge in this one.
As much as I like the talent at the skill positions for Minnesota, there’s no competing with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense. Attempting to do so (compete that is) with Christian Ponder is practically pointless. I get that he did well under pressure in that last game of the season, but look at his first three games against the Pack–a 45.1 percent passer rating and three TDs to five INTs. Looking at the box scores of Ponders first and second games in Green Bay doesn’t help his case either. He’s been bad.
I don’t think much more analysis is needed here. This is really the only lock of the weekend. Packers win 23-16
Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens — Sunday, 1pm, CBS
If there’s an upset that I’m craving to pick, in a terrible terrible way, it’s this one. I’d love nothing more than to see the Ravens go down at the hands of Andrew Luck. Aside from the fact it would set up an intriguing Divisional Round matchup with Peyton Manning going against his former team, it would just be an incredible story, with the remarkable turnaround and the return of a head coach who battled Leukemia for the better part of the season.
I can’t bring myself to do it, though. Especially after Ray Lewis’s announcement that this will be his final “go-round.” There’s no chance he misses this game on Sunday, and there’s no chance he let’s his team get bounced in the first round.
Baltimore knows how to bring it in the playoffs. It’s starters are well rested and ready to go.
They’re defense will have their hands full, though, going against one of the best rookie quarterbacks the game has ever seen. Andrew Luck set myriad rookie records this season, and is likely on his way to the offensive rookie of the year award. It’s a well deserved title, and he’s had an incredible year. But it’ll be difficult to compete with the level of emotion that’ll be running through M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. Ravens win 34-26
Seattle Seahawks @ Washington Redskins — Sunday, 4:30pm, FOX
Last but not least. The game featuring two of the three rookie quarterbacks in these playoffs. Both teams are coming in riding some scathing hot streaks, five in a row for Seattle, and seven straight for the Skins.
The key in this one is going to be which defense can slow the opposing offense. Yeah, I know.. “Thank you, John Madden.” But’s that will be easier said than done in this one. Both offenses know how to move the ball; the Redskins lead the NFL with 6.2 yards per play, the Seahawks aren’t far behind with 5.8. They both have solid run games that help take some pressure off of the young ball-slingers, and in turn, open up their passing games.
So which defense can step it up? Well, only one of them carried their team early in the season while their rookie got settled. Only one of them remains in the top five in the league in total defense, fourth to be exact (the other is 28th). That would be the Seahawks defense.
How that defense handles the unconventional/college style that Washington runs is going to be fun to watch, but when it all comes to pass, I think they will. Funny how the No. 1 and 2 picks in last years draft will have been knocked out during Wild Card Weekend (cause all of these predictions will absolutely play out this way), but a third-rounder out of Wisconsin will be marching on to the next round. Seahawks win 35-24