I say it every year: Weird things happen on Wild Card Weekend (I had to refrain from using wild twice in that sentence because I just can’t take that pun anymore). From the Marshawn Lynch earthquake in Seattle to Kansas City’s meltdown two years ago in Indianapolis we always are treated to some interesting football on the second weekend of the new year.
Last year we had the NFL’s worst playoff game in history with Ryan Lindley and the Arizona Cardinals losing to Cam Newton’s Carolina Panthers in what became a masterpiece of turnovers. This year we have an interesting slate of teams that thankfully doesn’t include the Patriots. Instead New England waits at Foxboro to play either Cincinnati or the winner of Houston/Kansas City.
Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans…Saturday 4:35 pm
Houston has played well in their last nine games with a record of 7-2 including convincing wins over Tennessee (34-6) and Jacksonville (30-6) in their last two games of the season. Alfred Blue is their leading rusher with 698 yards on 183 carries and two touchdowns as Blue, Chris Polk, and Jonathan Grimes combine to make up for the early season loss of running back Arian Foster.
Houston’s third ranked defense is their centerpiece and have almost singlehandedly carried the team to the playoffs as they dealt with a carousel of quarterbacks. At the nucleus of their defense is the ever-polarizing figure of defensive end JJ Watt who finished the regular season with 17.5 sacks and 57 tackles.
During a time when NFL writers and media members across America were picking the Oakland Raiders to be this year’s surprise playoff time, Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs rattled off a nice 10-game winning streak to end the season. Reid put a ton of faith in Alex Smith and allowed him to run the offense and the result was, in my mind, the most impressive winning streak of the regular season. The game is going to come down to whether or not Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware can run the ball on Houston’s tough defense and I think they’ll be able to.
I’m taking Kansas City
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals…Saturday 8:15pm
I’m amazed at how many people are backing the Steelers and how many people are scared of this team. Numbers aside, this game has the chance to build a rivalry between these two teams. Now that the Ravens have kind of faltered and fallen off the map, it seems as though the Bengals have filled that void to be Pittsburgh’s rival in the AFC North.
If DeAngelo Williams is not 100% healthy or is unable to go in this game, Mike Tomlin and the Steelers will turn to second-year man Fitzgerald Toussaint to carry the load in the running game. The passing game is clearly where the Steelers thrive as Ben Roethlisberger is playing at a Hall of Fame level since returning from injury in Week 10. Landry Jones and Michael Vick just couldn’t hold this team together like Big Ben, so the pressure once again falls on the shoulders of the two-time Super Bowl Champion and wide receiver Antonio Brown who is playing at a level that is beyond elite.
In their first meeting of the season, Big Ben’s three interceptions were game changers as the Bengals were able to leave Pittsburgh with a narrow 16-10 victory.
Obviously, the Bengals 0-5 postseason record under Marvin Lewis can not be ignored, but I think this is the year they finally get that elusive first playoff victory. Behind a very good offensive line, Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard will need to run the ball well against a 5th ranked Steelers rush defense to help AJ McCarron get comfortable. Once McCarron gets comfortable in the pocket look for him to start hitting tight end Tyler Eiffert and AJ Green for big plays that will rival those of Big Ben and his receiving core.
As long as Vontaze Burfict and Adam “PacMan” Jones don’t try and turn this thing into a street fight, I think the Bengals have a chance to knock off the fan favorite Pittsburgh Steelers.
I’m taking Cincinnati.
Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings…Sunday 1:05pm
The Seattle Seahawks have never played a cold weather playoff game.
Ok, I’ll come clean, I didn’t fact check that, but seriously just scan the Seahawks’ playoff games in recent years. They haven’t played an away playoff game since their 2012 divisional round match-up in Atlanta’s domed stadium (I don’t count the New York Super Bowl as an away game).
Granted the Minnesota Vikings have the 31st ranked passing game and a second-year quarterback starting his first playoff game, I still think they have a chance because of the NFL’s leading rusher, Adrian Peterson.
Defensively, I think their linebacking core is one of the best in the league. Anthony Barr (back from injury this week) is a superstar in the making and Chad Greenway is a solid veteran who’s been with Minnesota since his rookie year in 2007.
It is absolutely crucial that Teddy Bridgewater does not turn the ball over because the Seahawks offense, bolstered by the potential return of Marshawn Lynch and his Skittles, will make the former Louisville quarterback pay for it.
In a close and freezing cold game, I’m taking Minnesota.
Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins…Sunday 4:40pm
“YOU LIKE THAT?!” has become this year’s “Do Your Job” and as you can probably already tell, I love teams with catchphrases.
Kirk Cousins and tight end Jordan Reed have turned the narrative of Washington’s season from one about their potentially offensive nickname to one about an NFC East winning team with a shot to make it deep into the playoffs. Cousins finished the regular season with a 69.8% completion percentage (highest in the NFL) for 4166 yards, 29 TDs, and 11 INTs. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, finished the regular season with a 60.7% completion percentage for 3821 yards 31 TDs and 9 INTs. Cousins had a better regular season.
Green Bay has no running game and they consistently try and hand the ball off to a chubby Eddie Lacey who looks like a shell of his old self. Rodgers clearly misses Jordy Nelson who was lost to an injury in the preseason, but still has decent weapons in James Jones and Randall Cobb.
Coming off two straight losses, including a shellacking from Arizona, and underachieving all season in an NFC North division that they typically dominate, I don’t think this is Green Bay’s year.
I’m taking Washington.