Now that all of your crazy relatives have left and you have recovered from your New Year’s Eve festivities, it’s time to collectively turn our attention to the NFL Playoffs. This season has been an unpredictable one, with teams like the Chiefs turning the tides and making the playoffs and teams like the Falcons and Texans completely falling apart. But now, the dust has settled and only 12 teams remain, all with dreams of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at a snowy Met Life Stadium in early February. Saturday afternoon, we kick off Wild Card Weekend, where one team will begin their journey to the Super Bowl.
First, the Saturday games.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Indianapolis Colts, 4:35 on CBS
We got a sneak preview of what could happen in this game just a few weeks ago in Kansas City. The Colts went into Arrowhead and straight up dominated the Chiefs 23-7. I take this game with a grain of salt though. Kansas City really didn’t have anything to gain or lose by winning that game. Not to say that they weren’t trying, but they didn’t have the sense of urgency that the Colts had, who were fighting for playoff seeding at the time.
Case for the Colts:
Andrew Luck has proven that he was worth all the hype coming out of Stanford. In the playoffs, you need to have a quarterback that comes through when the game is on the line, something that Luck has shown time and time again. This Colts team has been banged up all season. The one thing keeping them afloat has been their 2nd year star. Luck made the playoffs his rookie year, so the “first playoff game jitters” won’t be there. If Luck can continue his hot streak, he may earn his first career playoff win.
Case for the Chiefs:
That defense is nasty and can force turnovers. Even though Andrew Luck has shown that he isn’t your average 2nd year QB, he will get rattled if he throws 2 early picks.
Also, they have the advantage of having a coach and a quarterback that have won in the playoffs before in Alex Smith and Andy Reid. History has shown that if you have experience at those 2 positions, you have a much better chance of advancing. They also have one of the most dynamic players in the NFL in Jamaal Charles, who is a threat to break a long touchdown run any time he touches the ball.
Lastly, as I mentioned above, the Colts have been banged up all season. Luck is missing his favorite target in Reggie Wayne, and the offensive line has been suspect all season. With this Kansas City rushing attack, the Indy O-line is going to have its hands full.
I don’t think the banged up Colts will be able to reproduce their performance of a few weeks ago. I see the Chiefs defense overwhelming the Colts and making it difficult to score. Chiefs 24, Colts 10.
New Orleans Saints @ Philadelphia Eagles, 8:10 on FOX
Case for the Eagles:
Chip Kelly’s offense has been borderline unstoppable at points during this season. The Eagles spread the field and keep the defense constantly on its toes. Nick Foles has been lights out, throwing 27 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions since he was named the starter early on in the season. He is the hottest quarterback in the league right now not named Peyton Manning. Also, they have the NFL rushing champion in LeSean McCoy. McCoy had a career year in 2013, rushing north of 1,600 yards.
The biggest advantage they have against the Saints is the fact that they are at home. The Saints have struggled on the road all season, going 3-5 away from the Superdome. This game is not only being played on the road, but it will be played in the elements, which can ground the New Orleans high flying passing attack.
Case for the Saints:
The Eagles defense has been terrible. They are ranked 29th in the league in yards allowed per game. In the last 2 games, the Eagles gave up 48 points to a Vikings team without Adrian Peterson and with Matt Cassel running the show, and made Kyle Orton look good in a lose-and-go-home game last Sunday night. The Cowboys were a Romoesque interception away from potentially getting in field goal range and knocking this Eagles team out of the playoffs. With all that said, do you really want to face Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham after giving up over 300 passing yards to Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton? My guess would be no. It’s a known fact that the Saints have struggled on the road, but, Drew Brees is still one of the top-3 quarterback in this league and Sean Payton is one of the best coaches, and you can never sleep on those 2 facts.
The Saints come into this game with a chip on their shoulder and will be ready to shut everyone up about how they can’t win on the road. Brees and company will be too much for this suspect Eagles defense. Saints 31, Eagles 20.
Now on to the Sunday slate.
San Diego Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals, 1:05 on CBS
Case for the Chargers:
Phillip Rivers has been quietly having an amazing season. Did you realize that Rivers has thrown for just shy of 4,500 yards this season? Me either. Phillip Rivers has had an up and down career, but it looks like now that he has the Norv Turner stink out of his way, Rivers is back to trending upwards. Rivers has not done this alone. Rookie receiver Keenan Allen has been having a heck of a year and will probably end up winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Allen has shown that he has all the tools to be a star receiver in this league.
Defensively, the Chargers have been really good at times. Just a few weeks ago, they were able to keep Peyton Manning and the high scoring Broncos in check. Andy Dalton is no Peyton Manning so if the good Chargers defense shows up Sunday, look for Andy Dalton to have some trouble moving the ball.
Case for the Bengals:
Andy Dalton has improved greatly in his 3 years in this league. It probably doesn’t hurt that he has the opportunity to throw to a top-5 receiver in A.J. Green. This combo has been potent all season. In the Bengals last 4 home games, they have scored north of 30 points in every game. Lucky for them, they are playing this game at home.
As far as the defense is concerned, the Bengals have been dominant. The Bengals finished the season 3rd in total yards allowed in the NFL. Their pass rush has been stellar and they have the NFL tackles leader in Vontaze Burfict at linebacker tackling everyone and everything in his way.
The Chargers shouldn’t even technically be here. They got in the playoffs on a lucky missed call by the refs. The Bengals defense is going to be too much for Phillip Rivers and company and the offense has been scoring points at will at home. Bengals 38, Chargers 20.
San Francisco 49ers @ Green Bay Packers, 4:40 on FOX
Case for the 49ers:
This team has plenty of playoff experience and have a bad taste in their mouth after losing the Super Bowl last year. This game will be played in Green Bay where it’s supposed to be absolutely freezing. For most visiting team, this would pose a problem. The 49ers however, should have no problem. This team is built to play in the cold, even though they have the luxury of playing in sunny California. They have a dominant defense led by Aldon Smith, and a potent rushing attack with Frank Gore and Colin Kaepernick. This isn’t the first time these 2 teams have met in the playoffs. Just last year, these 2 met in the playoffs in San Fran, and the 49ers dominated the game. Kaepernick and Gore ran all over the Green Bay defense.
Speaking of Green Bay’s defense, they just haven’t been the same without Clay Matthews. Matthews reinjured his thumb 2 weeks ago, and has been watching on the sidelines. Without him, it will make it much easier for Frank Gore to get big chunk yardage up the middle.
Case for the Packers:
Aaron. Rodgers. Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the league. I know Peyton Manning had ridiculous numbers this year, but Rodgers can put the ball wherever he wants. In his absence, the Packers looked lifeless at time. Now that Rodgers has had a game to shake off the rust, he is in F-U mode. He is going to be playing with an even bigger chip on his shoulder than he normally does. Also, the Packers finally have a running game. Eddie Lacy has been key for this Packers offense, giving them a running threat, something the Packers have been lacking in years past. Even with an injured ankle, look for him to run as hard as ever.
Normally, you would never bet against the team that has the best quarterback. But, this game is going to be played in the freezing cold and it will be hard to throw the ball, which means both teams are going to have to run effectively. Eddie Lacy has been fantastic but, you can’t run on this 49ers defense. Even in today’s NFL where everyone is pass happy, defense still wins championships. 49ers 24, Packers 17.