Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans
On paper, the Houston Texans do look like the better team here. They finished the regular season with a solid 12-4 record and have one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. Andre Johnson has also looked extremely good during stretches this season and Wade Phillips’ defense has the ability to dominate any given game. However, Gary Kubiak’s team comes in losing three out of their last four games and they have not looked good in the process. On the other side of the field, the Bengals have won seven out of their last eight games (with their only loss coming against Dallas in Week 14; a one point loss). The Cincinnati defense has really stepped it up over the last two months after looking quite average over the first two. Andy Dalton has been fickle at times this season, but has also looked pretty good during others. The same can be said for Matt Schaub who has tailed off a bit over the last few weeks. Through all of this, America gets a chance to see two evenly matched teams square off in Houston on Saturday afternoon. The team that picks up the win will be the one who can sustain an effective pass rush. The key to this one lies in making the opposing quarterback nervous by getting pressure in their face. With J.J. Watt on the field, you can bet that the Texans will have a big edge in that department. He may not be the game-breaker for the home team though. Perhaps someone like Antonio Smith will prove to be the difference (since the Bengals are sure to be chipping and double-teaming Watt the whole time). Either way, the Texans should be able to do just enough at home to get the job done. The home-town crowd will help by being rowdy and throwing Dalton off of his game a little bit.
Houston 16, Cincinnati 10
Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers
The Vikings made life tough on the Packers last week in Minneapolis. They were able to pull off the three point victory via strong performances from A.P. and Christian Ponder. Another big game from Peterson is to be expected here, but relying on #7 to do what he did last week again in Lambeau could be wishful thinking for Vikings fans. Another thing that could be quite worrisome for Minnesota is that they Packers already know their “winning formula”. The Vikes threw the kitchen sink at the Packers last week in order to get into the tournament and now the two teams face off one week later. Having already seen the Minnesota plan of action, it is a sure bet that Mike McCarthy has his team well-prepared for this one. There is not too much new content that the Vikings can offer without deviating from what they did last week (in their best performance of the season). Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers can probably roll out the same blue-print and go to town on Alan Williams’ unit. It is doubtful that the Minnesota defense will be able to play as well on the road in the “Frozen Tundra” as they did at home last week. Because of that, logic dictates that the Pack should win this game. It is just too hard to believe that the Vikings can come up with another A+ game-plane that will confuse Green Bay for the second straight week. In other words, Leslie Frasier showed Mike McCarthy his hand last week and the last thing the Packers need is some inside information on their opponent. Look for this game to be close during the first half, but quickly turn into a blowout after halftime.
Green Bay 34, Minnesota 13
Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens
This contest will be the most emotional one of Wild Card Weekend. With the exception of Ravens fans, all of America will be pulling for the Colts to win this game. Obviously the Chuck Pagano incident is the feel-good story of the year. The man has overcome Leukemia and was rewarded with his team making the playoffs. He now makes his return to Baltimore where the fans are sure to give their former defensive coordinator a standing ovation. In addition to Chuck’s journey, Ray Lewis will be back for this one. This could possibly be the final game of this sure-fire Hall of Famer’s career if the Ravens do lose. Anyways, placing all emotion aside for a moment, it is time to decide who wins this game. It is easy to like what the Colts have done on offense this year, but their defense has become a liability. The same could be said in Baltimore, but at least their defense has picked it up quite a bit over the past month. With that being said, the home team should emerge from this game victorious as well. Indy may play well on offense, but they do not have a playoff-caliber defense. If Joe Flacco is smart, he will turn around and hand the ball off to Ray Rice at least 20 times and have him shred the Colts; defense. This is the same team that was gashed by Kansas City two weeks ago for 350 yards on the ground. That is unheard of in today’s league. The Chick Pagano story is about as enticing as it gets, but unfortunately for him, his team will not have the Cinderella-ending that many people will be hoping for. Their defense is not good enough to stand up to some of the elite offenses that are featured in the 2012-2013 playoffs.
Baltimore 27, Indianapolis 16
Seattle Seahawks @ Washington Redskins
This is probably the most intriguing battle of Wild Card Weekend. For only the second time in NFL history, a Wild Card game is being played between two teams with rookie quarterbacks. Another thing that is hidden beneath the stats is how both the Seahawks and Redskins are playing some good football and are each red hot. Of course, only one can win and since Seattle has the better overall team it is going to be them. Even though the ‘Skins have stepped it up on defense this past month, the ‘Hawks have the edge in that department. Special teams slightly favor the road team as well; they have forced the most turnovers in the NFL. Other than that, the matchups are pretty even. Both teams have a mobile quarterback with a strong running game. It is easy to say that the ball will be on the ground for a majority of this game. The Redskins showed that they are willing to blitz on every third down attempt last week vs. Dallas. There is no reason to believe that Jim Haslett won’t try that again seeing as how it worked so well. The Seahawks will be able to cope with this a bit better than the Cowboys did because they have the ability to run the ball much better. Marshawn Lynch will probably get a nice load on first and second downs so as to help Russell Wilson avoid third and long situations. Doing this will put the Redskins in a bad situation on Sunday and therefore cause them to lose the game. It is also worth noting that Seattle does a great job at containing mobile quarterbacks. Just look at what they did against Colin Kaepernick two weeks back. It would not be surprising to see this game go in the favor of the home team, but it is more likely that the Seahawks become the only road team/ wild card team to survive the first week of NFL playoff action.
Seattle 27, Washington 20
Check back after the conclusion of these games to get in-depth breakdowns.