An ongoing narrative this wild-card weekend will be the familiarity these teams have with one another.
On the AFC side, the Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts meet Saturday for the second time in as many weeks. Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals play host to the San Diego Chargers, who lost to “WHO DEY” Nation the first of December.
The NFC side pits the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles Saturday, and these two have not met in the postseason since 2006. On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers host the San Francisco 49ers. They have had the Packers’ number recently, as they beat the Pack at the beginning of the season and in last year’s divisional playoff round.
Survive and advance: Keys to wild-card games
In the Saturday matchup between the Saints and the Eagles, experience or lack thereof will be the biggest intangible in determining the winner. For the Eagles, they have not seen the playoffs since 2006 when Donovan McNabb and Jeff Garcia were under center. Their fans have been overdue for an exciting season, and they got it this year with the arrival of head coach Chip Kelly.
This year’s Eagles team has been the fastest it has ever been, owning the top-ranked rushing attack in the NFL. The Saints have the tall task of stopping not just LeSean McCoy, but also open-field threats Chris Polk and Bryce Brown. Against the second-ranked run offense Buffalo Bills and third-ranked run offense, the Saints allowed 88 and 81 yards, respectively. If the Saints can stop that three-headed monster, they have a good chance of winning.
They are confident they will be able to contain Shay and Co., so this matchup should be a deciding factor in the game.
Quarterback play will be key as well, as this matchup features two quarterbacks — Nick Foles and Drew Brees — who have yet to play one another. In fact, they met for the first time last year at the New Orleans Superdome. There is a narrative going around that dome teams are not good in cold weather, and that apparently holds up as the Saints were 3-5 on the road in the regular season. However, this is playoff football where anything can happen.
Weather conditions in GB will be key factor in outcome
The wind chill Sunday in Green Bay is said to be 30 below, according to the National Weather Service. Compared to last year’s contest in balmy San Francisco, this weather should make for a whole new ballgame.
Look for the running game to have a big impact for both teams, since the cold air will make the ball very difficult for wideouts to catch. Especially since the Packers defense has the 25th overall rushing defense, 49ers running back Frank Gore should have a big game. In the last three match-ups, he has rushed for an average of 91.7 yards and a touchdown in each game.
Packers’ running back Eddie Lacy has been hampered with an ankle injury, so keep an eye on him as he goes up against the fourth-best rushing defense. In the Week one matchup, Lacy was limited to 41 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. He and Aaron Rodgers need to have great starts and must hold onto them if they want to keep up on offense.
From a wide receiver standpoint, these teams have some of the most explosive receivers in the playoffs. Randall Cobb, last week’s hero for the Packers, is just one half of a dynamic duo along with Jordy Nelson. In the teams’ last meeting, the two combined for two touchdowns and 138 yards on just 14 receptions. They will miss a big help in tight end Jermichael Finley, who has been out for the season since late October with a neck injury. In the games he had played, Finley played a big part in helping keep Rodgers upright, along with producing big numbers for the offense.
The 49ers may have too much firepower for the Pack. Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis have been wreaking havoc all season, consistently putting fear into defenses. Davis has been a big help in the blocking game as well, keeping Colin Kaepernick upright and at the same time giving him more time to shred defenses with his arm. In their previous matchup, the quarterback had three touchdowns and 412 yards on 27-of-39 passing.
Rodgers had missed a considerable amount of time with the collarbone injury he suffered back in Week seven, but that could not stop him as he showed little rust on the way to a 33-28 victory in last week’s do-or-die de facto NFC North championship game against the Chicago Bears. In the week one matchup with the 49ers, he had 333 yards along three touchdowns and one interception on 21-of-37 passing.
This time around, the numbers of both quarterbacks should be limited with the weather, but expect the unexpected in the playoffs.