Since the NFL realigned the playoff format to the current system in 2002 (four division champions, top two seeds on bye, two wild card teams), three wildcard teams have raised the Lombardi Trophy. The 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, the 2007 New York Giants, and the 2010 Green Bay Packers.
There’s nothing quite like NFL Wild Card Weekend. There’s an electricity in the air, two games on national television each day, and there’s a better-than-good chance you don’t have to watch the Jaguars (sorry Jacksonville).
What more could you ask for?
Kansas City Chiefs @ Indianapolis Colts (-2.5)
A few weeks ago when it seemed all but certain that these two teams would match up in round one, it looked like a near lock that the Colts would open as home underdogs, but a lot has changed.
The Chiefs lost five of their last seven after a 9-0 start, with their only two wins in that stretch coming against awful Raiders and Redskins teams.
In Week 16, the Colts traveled to Arrowhead in a game that many believed the Chiefs would dominate, but shocked Kansas City by controlling the clock and simply outplaying them en route to a 23-7 victory.
That victory alone should be more than enough for Andrew Luck and Colts need to feel confident in this one, especially now that they’re hosting the Chiefs in the friendly confines of the RCA Dome. The Chiefs will be well rested though, the sat 20 of 21 healthy starters in Week 17 when they were locked into their playoff seeding, including Jamaal Charles, Alex Smith, and Dwayne Bowe. Expect them to ride Charles and his 132 yards from scrimmage per game as long as he can go.
As for the Colts, they’ve been a team struggling for an identity on offense since they acquired Trent Richardson and struggling on defense, period. But recently the team seems to have found balance offensively with Donald Brown as their primary running back. That’s been able to take a large amount of pressure off Luck’s shoulders.
The Colts would be wise to try to contain Charles, but I doubt they’ll be completely successful because of his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and their personnel is unlikely to keep up. On defense the Chiefs will have premier pass rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston back, so Luck might have to use his legs a lot more this time around, but I expect the Colts will try to use the same blueprint that made them successful in Week 16.
They’ll see what Brown can do for them.
Prediction: Chiefs 27, Colts 24
The Chargers haven’t won a road playoff game since 2007, but that’s alright, because the Bengals haven’t won any playoff game since 1990. Something has to give, right?
Turnovers will have the most impact in this game than any other during Wild Card Weekend. The team that doesn’t beat itself is likely to come out on top. Andy Dalton has five games this year in which he’s thrown two or more interceptions and we know that Phillip Rivers can turn the ball over in bunches, but to his credit, is enjoying one heck of a bounce back season in 2013, with just 12TO all year after an eye-popping 28 in 2012.
The Chargers are likely to play conservatively early and will be best served going with the game plan that allowed them to beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Week 15. Dominate the time of possession, and force the Bengals to become one-dimensional on offense. That’s going to give them their best chance to win, but with the Bengals scoring 40+ four times over their last five home games, it’s doubtful to be a walk in the park.
The only problem is, even if the Chargers do force the Bengals to pass, they should have no problem exploiting the the 29th ranked secondary in the NFL with A.J. Green and Co.
To be honest, it’s just not a very good matchup for the Chargers.
Prediction: Bengals 34, Chargers 20
New Orleans Saints @ Philadelphia Eagles (-2.5)
If you like points, big plays, and more points, then you might want to watch this one and record it. That’s just what you get when the 2nd and 4th ranked offenses get together.
First off, let us applaud Chip Kelly. He brought Oregon’s offense to the NFL, and not only did it work, it took off. DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy enjoyed the best seasons of their careers, and Nick Foles, a gangly 2nd year quarterback from the University of Arizona who the offense supposedly didn’t fit, enjoyed a breakout season, posting an absurd 27:2 touchdown to interception ratio and showing off his underrated athleticism.
As for the Saints, a season with Sean Payton at the helm is a good season. They even mixed in Rex Ryan’s heavier, hairier, and if it’s even possible, louder twin brother in as their defensive coordinator and he’s been a huge success transforming a unit that was from 32nd in total defense in 2012, to 4th this year.
On paper, the Saints look like they might have the advantage. They have as equally as high powered of an offense as the Eagles do with a much stronger defense. Drew Brees could easily have a field day against the NFL’s worst pass defense.
However, the Eagles defense has been playing much better of late, and their running game with McCoy causes problems against even the stiffest front sevens. Throw in the fact the Saints are 3-5 this season out in the elements, and you have the recipe for the most predictably unpredictable game of the weekend.
Prediction: Saints 38, Eagles 34
Let’s first acknowledge that this has be one of the best rivalries in all of sports, from each team’s franchise history and success, all the way down to the recent trash talk between Colin Kaepernick, Clay Matthews, and the coaches on both teams.
I understand that the Packers have been labeled a dangerous team with new life after playing without Aaron Rodgers for seven weeks and still making the playoffs, but there’s holes on Green Bay’s defense that even Rodgers can’t compensate for.
Also, despite what I consider a subpar overall season from the 49ers 2nd year quarterback, like Pedro vs. the 03-04 Yankees, Kaepernick is the Packers “Daddy.” His 675 passing yards, 203 rushing yards, and seven total touchdowns in his two career games against them indicates as much.
The Packers will key on stopping him, but I just don’t see it happening with all his weapons at his disposal and Clay “I pushed you while you were way out of bounds so what?” Matthews in street clothes.
I see a big early advantage for the 49ers, and a late push that falls a little bit short by the Packers in a game not nearly as close as the score.
Prediction: 49ers 31, Packers 24