Last week I finished 12-4. That means two straight weeks to close out the regular season at 12-4. Not bad. After adding up all my records this season, I have found that I finished 153-87 this regular season. Remember that I didn’t do predictions for Week 1, so there are a couple games missing from that final record. 153-87 means I finish the entire season with around a 64% correctly predicted percentage. Definitely room for improvement, but a solid first season of predictions.
This week begins the NFL playoffs with the Wild-card matchups. I will do my best to provide some insight on each of this weekend’s games and hopefully predict the winners. The teams fortunate enough to have earned a first-round bye are Denver, San Francisco, Atlanta and New England.
Saturday, 1/5 – 4:30 pm ET
Cincinnati Bengals 10-6 @ Houston Texans 12-4
Prediction: Cincinnati Bengals
This is the upset pick of the weekend across the sports media and for good reason. Let me start by saying that Houston is still a great team certainly capable of running the floor with Cincinnati like they did when they met last season in the playoffs. This season has a different feel. Cincinnati has some momentum, which they lacked last season, and they have a defense that is pressuring the quarterback (2nd in the league with 51 sacks), while also limiting opposing running games. Cincinnati’s offense has been lacking in the past couple weeks, but Cincinnati has still managed to pull off wins in hard fought games.
Houston, in the past couple weeks, has struggled mightily, losing 3 of their last 4 games. In part because of their struggles, they gave up the first seed in the AFC, any chance of a first-round bye week and really any momentum. I think that takes a mental toll on a team when things go wrong. Houston could certainly use that to motivate themselves into a great showing, but I feel that Cincinnati isn’t intimidated after last season’s playoff experience and their recent success.
Saturday, 1/5 – 8:00 pm ET
Minnesota Vikings 10-6 @ Green Bay Packers 11-5
Prediction: Green Bay Packers
Minnesota is in the playoffs because they managed to beat Green Bay just a week ago. They won the game at home with a strong showing from QB Christian Ponder (16/28, 234 passing yards, three touchdowns) and RB Adrian Peterson (34 attempts, 199 rushing yards, one touchdown rushing and one receiving). Does it happen again one week later at historic Lambeau? Doubtful. Sure, Peterson will probably go off against the Packers again (he has rushed for 210 and 199 yards against Green Bay this year), but Ponder having another quality game is doubtful. Back Week 13 at Green Bay, Ponder only managed 119 passing yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in a 23-14 loss. If he plays like that this week, Minnesota won’t overcome Green Bay’s home-field advantage. If he plays like he did a week ago, and Peterson goes off again, Minnesota has a chance. I don’t like the odds.
Green Bay, on the other hand, is finally getting their offense and defense healthy just in time for a playoff push. Receivers Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson are all playing together healthy for the first time in awhile. That means QB Aaron Rodgers will have all his weapons to lead an offense, which has thrived even lacking one or two of those receivers for most of the season. That means Green Bay will put up points even on a Minnesota defense that has been playing very well all season. I just think Green Bay will put up too many points for Ponder and the Vikings offense to keep up. I think Peterson plays very well again, but it just isn’t enough.
Sunday, 1/6 – 1:00 pm ET
Indianapolis Colts 11-5 @ Baltimore Ravens 10-6
Prediction: Baltimore Ravens
This has also been the trendy upset pick. Indianapolis has been playing very well and has an emotional pull with head coach Chuck Pagano returning to the sideline after being diagnosed with leukemia earlier this season. This season has been about being “ChuckStrong”, which has been a huge motivating factor in the Colts magical season. On the field, Indianapolis has flaws, but is still a very talented team with a solid defense capable of slowing down quality offenses and an offense that finished 10th in total yards. The offense is led by rookie QB Andrew Luck, who has played incredibly well this season, and is more than capable of moving the ball on Baltimore’s secondary. Luck alone will keep this game interesting and he could very well have an opportunity to win the game late.
I like Baltimore in this one though because of a couple main factors. First of all, Baltimore is at home. Baltimore, specifically their offense, is much better when they play in Baltimore. QB Joe Flacco is sometimes thrown into the “elite” category (not by myself) because of how he plays at home. The Ravens offense should be explosive against a Colts defense that does have some flaws stopping the run and could struggle slowing down Baltimore’s passing attack. The other main factor here is LB Ray Lewis. Lewis announced that he would retire at the end of this season after 17 seasons. Lewis has been the spokesperson and vocal leader of the Ravens for all of those years and he just announced this week, that he was done. This retirement announcement means that this week will be the last time Lewis plays a game in Baltimore, which will be a very powerful motivator in getting the best out of the Ravens. I think this game will be close, but Baltimore will have enough to win this one and move onto the next playoff round.
Sunday, 1/6 – 4:30 pm ET
Seattle Seahawks 11-5 @ Washington Redskins 10-6
Prediction: Seattle Seahawks
Let’s start with Washington. It all starts with QB Robert Griffin III and RB Alfred Morris on offense. They lead the top rushing attack in the NFL and RG3 uses that rushing attack to set up an explosive play-action passing offense. The real problem here for Washington is that they are matched up against Seattle’s 4th-ranked defense in the league. I think Morris will still manage around 80 rushing yards and push for the century mark, but Morris will most likely have to have a very good game against Seattle’s big physical defense, which is exemplified by their big talented cornerbacks Brandon Browner, who is back from a suspension, and Richard Sherman, who narrowly avoided a similar ban. Both create a frightening secondary paired with safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. Point is, Washington’s passing attack will have to be spot on to move the ball and that only works if the running game is successful early on.
Washington’s defense has played well in recent weeks, but they will have quite the challenge stopping a Seattle offense that has suddenly been very hot. QB Russell Wilson has finally been given the reins to the offense, which sports a solid receiving core and RB Marshawn Lynch. I think Seattle has the offensive firepower to not only move the ball, but score more points than even RG3’s high-powered offense will be able to muster against Seattle’s defense.