Wild Card Weekend Predictions

Courtesy of www.49ers.com

Courtesy of www.49ers.com

Last week, I finished the regular season with a 12-4 record in my Weekly Predictions. Not a bad way to finish the season. I missed on Washington, Miami, Arizona and Dallas.

I just can’t believe I thought Washington would play well… They had already packed in their season a couple weeks ago.

Miami just fell apart with the playoffs within their grasp. I can’t believe they lost two in a row to the Bills and Jets, which… if I’m not being clear… were very, very winnable games. Props to the Bills and Jets though. They looked like they could be factors next season as both are young and both should only be trending up.

Arizona was a close game, losing on an overtime field goal. The Cardinals are another team that will factor into an already loaded NFC West discussion next season.

I was very close to correctly picking the upset in Dallas. Dallas did utilize DeMarco Murray, as I said they should, but it was ultimately Kyle Orton’s pick at the end of the game, which reminded me too much of something Tony Romo might do, that doomed the Cowboys. From a pure spectators standpoint, it’s nice to see Philly make it in, so we can see teams at relative full strength. Dallas wasn’t going anywhere if they made the playoffs without Romo.

If you have any questions or simply want to discuss my Wild Card Weekend Predictions, simply contact me and I’ll try to get back as soon as I can.

Saturday, 1/4 – 4:35 pm ET

Kansas City Chiefs 11-5 @ Indianapolis Colts 11-5

Prediction: Indianapolis Colts

I’m taking the Colts. Indianapolis won 23-7 in Kansas City in Week 16 and I think Indy will be able to beat a talented Chiefs’ team once again… this time at home with a trip to the divisional round at stake. There are a couple major factors that come into this game as each and every playoff game can go either way. I have always felt that teams that lose their first matchup have an advantage come round two against that same opponent. Kansas City gets to look back at the game film from the loss a couple weeks ago, see what it was that the Colts did to earn that 23-7 victory and account for it. While Indy must prepare for the preparations the Chiefs will make, Kansas City can see what was successful against them firsthand.

The biggest factor in this matchup, in my mind, is the momentum that each team carries into this game. On one hand, the Colts looked like pretenders during the midseason (post-Reggie Wayne injury), but finished strong. Indianapolis was lacking balance offensively and their defense was struggling to cover for the offense’s inability to control games. Over the last two games, including the Week 16 matchup, the Colts have looked like the team that knocked off San Francisco, Seattle and Denver in the early part of the season. I think that momentum is key as the Colts are playing well now, or “getting hot” when it counts. Andrew Luck will be able to move the ball on the Chiefs and should be able to outscore the Chiefs.

Kansas City enters the game coming off a loss where they played mostly backup players and still probably should have beaten the Chargers on the road. To me, this is good and bad. It shows tremendous depth for the team as a whole and allows players like Jamaal Charles, Alex Smith and other key defensive contributors to rest. However, there is a risk of rust. Sure, taking a week off is essentially the same as having a late bye week, but coming back for a playoff game is a different beast and with the Colts playing well, and all their starters last week, the lack of cohesiveness that you would expect from the starting players could be a factor. If Indianapolis struggles out the gate like they did during their rough mid-season stretch (went 4-3 only beating Tennessee and Houston), then Kansas City will be in the driver’s seat. I think Luck gets Indy going quickly though, making the Chiefs play catch-up. I like the Colts to win that sort of game.

Saturday, 1/4 – 8:10 pm ET

New Orleans Saints 11-5 @ Philadelphia Eagles 10-6

Prediction: Philadelphia Eagles

Both teams are incredibly interesting and fun to watch. The Saints are always high-octane and the Eagles are on fire right now with head coach Chip Kelly calling all the right shots. With that said, the game could be heavily decided by Mother Nature more than anything. The Eagles play at home as the NFC East Champion, which is bad news for the Saints. It’s hard to overlook the Saints’ struggles outdoors this season on the road. At home, they are almost automatic picks, but playing in the elements (below freezing) on the road, is a different story. All five of the Saints’ losses have come on the road and each game has been characterized by struggles on both sides of the ball for the Saints. In fact, three of those five games have been games where Drew Brees didn’t surpass 300 yards passing and Brees successfully passed for over 300 in every other game this season. The defense, while ranked fourth in yards allowed, isn’t as tenacious or formidable on the road either, giving up over 26 points in four of the five road losses.

You get the point.

The Saints have all the pieces in place to make a deep playoff run, but if they cannot successfully play to their abilities in the Philly cold, the Saints could be sitting at home by this time next week. As for the Eagles, you have to love what they are doing. Their defense is still a major question mark, but playing at home is a bonus and playing in the cold is a bonus for containing Brees. The offense hasn’t really been influenced by weather this season, even in the snow game against Detroit, because they have the NFL Rushing Champion in LeSean McCoy, who is nearly impossible to contain. Being about to pound the ball with McCoy and the Eagles’ number one rush offense, will allow them to move the ball in a way the Saints may not be able to. It would also allow the Eagles to run the clock, which keeps Brees off the field. The Saints are too good to let the game be anything, but a nail-bitter, but I like the Eagles to win.

Sunday, 1/5 – 1:05 pm ET

San Diego Chargers 9-7 @ Cincinnati Bengals 11-5

Prediction: Cincinnati Bengals

As I mentioned above in my Saints @ Eagles prediction, weather figures to have some impact in this one, but it is always tough to say how much the cold and ice can affect either team, particularly the San Diego, California based one. Philip Rivers has enjoyed a wonderful season with new head coach Mike McCoy, but the bigger factor for San Diego could be the run game with Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead. The Chargers rush offense finished the regular season 13th in the NFL as part of the Chargers’ fifth best total offense. With the game figuring to be influenced by rain/ice/snow, the run game for both teams, and their ability to stop the run, could be essential in determining the outcome for this Wild Card matchup. It certainly won’t be easy with the Bengals finishing the season with the third-best defense in terms of total yards allowed and the fifth-ranked rush defense. If the run game can’t get going, there will be a lot of pressure on Rivers to not only perform, but to avoid the Bengals’ pass rush that was missing Carlos Dunlap (7.5 sacks on the season) when these two teams met in San Diego in Week 13 when Cincinnati won 17-10.

The Bengals’ biggest issue in this one should, honestly, be their history. Over the past two seasons, the Bengals have gotten to the Wild Card round of the playoffs, only to lose to the Texans on the road. Questions then swirl for a couple months about Andy Dalton’s ability to led a playoff team before the Bengals are once again written off as a team that can’t win when it matters. The Bengals have an opportunity to move past that at home where they have excelled this season with an 8-0 home record with convincing wins. Dalton, while up and down all season, has the ability to make the Chargers’ 23rd ranked total defense suffer with a heavy dose of the Bengals’ playmakers like A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard. The defense has stepped up all season at home when playing top-tier quarterbacks and I expect they will again. I think Cincinnati flexes their muscles and wins a playoff game for the first time since 1990, finally getting the monkey off their back.

Sunday, 1/5 – 4:40 pm ET

San Francisco 49ers 12-4 @ Green Bay Packers 8-7-1

Prediction: Green Bay Packers

You’re going to have to hear me out with this. The 49ers are a hot team right now. They have a power run game, a nasty defense headlined by playmakers in every key position and the quarterback, in Colin Kaepernick, who gashed the very same Packers on the ground in the playoffs last season before picking them apart through the air in Week 1 this season to a 34-28 win. If there is a team built to travel to the “Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field” and pull off a win, it is the 49ers. However, I am sticking with the Packers. I picked them in my “Season Outlook” and I’m staying true to that prediction because of one thing… Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers was injured in Week 9. The Packers lost a couple games (and tied a game), so the Packers considered shutting Rodgers down for the remainder of the season thinking they were out of the playoff race. Long story short, they weren’t and in a “play-in” game last week in Chicago, Rodgers returned and led the Packers into the playoffs in dramatic fashion. The real MVP for the Packers this season has been Eddie Lacy, who has led the Packers’ seventh-ranked rush offense even though defenses have been able to key-in on the rookie. Now, the Packers’ defense is pretty awful, ranking 25th the NFL in total yards allowed, but that’s where I think the home-field advantage comes in. There is something about having to play playoff football at Lambeau Field. With Rodgers back, you have to throw out what you have seen of the Packers lately because Rodgers changes the entire dynamic of the Packers. His ability to move the ball and control the game offensively helps the defense stay rested, helps the Packers’ receiving core, that is finally healthy again, and opens up run lanes for Lacy simply because of Rodgers’ presence. I am sure that San Francisco will be able to move the ball, which makes this a great game to watch as it figures to be close, but I really like the Packers to pull this one out at home in frigid temperatures (below zero).

Author: Blaine

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