Predictions for NFL Wild Card Weekend

Happy Wild Card weekend everybody! It’s that time of year again when the Tom Brady’s and the Peyton Manning’s get a little break from their day jobs while the rest of us dig in to some playoff football. Without much further ado, I will be looking at the four games on tap for this weekend and who I think has the best chance of advancing to the divisional round.


#5 Chiefs (-3) at #4 Texans

I think in most cases you start by looking at the offensive side of the ball, but in this matchup I went straight to the defense. I mean, it’s hard not to when you’ve got JJ Watt playing. Pair him with teammate Whitney Mercilus and they combined for the most sacks (29.5) of any duo in the league this season. Not only that, but in four career playoff games Watt has a total of 5 sacks and a pick 6. This defense has been on fire lately and on the season has had six games where they allowed less than 10 points.

Not to be outdone, Justin Houston and his Chiefs have had a pretty good run this year as well. Winners of 10 straight, the Chiefs bring the NFL’s third lowest PPG total (17.9) to face the Texans. Houston, the one named Justin that is, had three straight seasons of double-digit sacks, but fell short this year (7.5). However, the Chiefs still have the second highest sack total among playoff bound teams (46).
It’s hard to pick against either of these teams with defenses like these, but I’ll take the Texans at home, 20-14.

#6 Steelers (-3) at #3 Bengals

Any time Big Ben and Antonio Brown are on the field together, the Steelers have a shot to do some pretty nice things. Even though Roethlisberger only played in 12 games this season (which is coincidentally the number of times I had to spell check his name) the Steelers still finished with a prolific offense, finishing third in both total offense and passing offense, and finished tied for fourth in PPG (26.4).

They won’t be the only high-scoring offense on the field Saturday night as the Bengals look to finally break through with a playoff win. They’ll be without their leader and starting QB Andy Dalton, but his replacement hasn’t been too shabby. With AJ McCarron under center, the Bengals haven’t exactly been the high-flying offense they were with Dalton, but they’re not far off. With Dalton the Bengals have averaged close to 28 PPG, with McCarron they’re averaging just over 21 PPG, good but not great.

Still, with a defense allowing only 17.4 PPG on the season I think Cincy relies on their defense and gets the job done. Pittsburgh is a tough matchup for the Bengals, but the loss of DeAngelo Williams will be too much for them to overcome at this point in the season. I like the Bengals in this game, 23-20.

#6 Seahawks (-5) at #3 Vikings

It’s going to be freezing in Minnesota this Sunday.  It’s numbers like that that bring me back to the ’07 NFC Championship game in Green Bay.  The game time temperature for that game was 0°F with a wind chill of -23°F.  Tomorrow’s game won’t be quite as cold, but it’ll be close.

This Vikings team is powered by two things: a very good Mike Zimmer defense and the amazing feats of Adrian Peterson. Banished last year by Roger Goodell, Peterson has shown a remarkable resilience this season. Peterson led the NFL with 1,485 rushing yards this season along with 11 rushing TDs. Minnesota ranks fifth in the league in scoring defense with 18.9 PPG. This is old school football. Great running and solid D.

Things started out pretty rough for the Seahawks as they began the season 2-4, and looked like they had lost the spark on defense that helped them make two straight Super Bowls.  And even with the loss of Marshawn Lynch (a moment of silence for my #1 pick in fantasy football) and Jimmy Graham, they still managed to win 10 games.

Russell Wilson was spectacular in the second half of the season, and their defense is on fire.  They’ve held teams to a touchdown or less in 3 of their last 5 games, which includes the Minnesota Vikings, who they beat on the road.

As good as the Vikings running and defense is, Seattle is better.  They’re allowing a league best 17.3 PPG, and even without Marshawn Lynch, they’re still averaging 141.8 YPG on the ground. Seattle takes this one easily. 26-13.

#5 Packers (-1) at #4 Redskins

What is going on in Packerland? 2015 marked the lowest passing total of Aaron Rodgers career over a full season (3,821), also a 92.7 QB rating; the lowest of his career. The Cheeseheads are definitely missing Pro Bowl wide receiver Jordy Nelson. I mean, check out this QB comparison since week 7: Rodgers vs. Cousins. Now, I realize that’s just a snapshot and it doesn’t tell the full story, but after starting 6-0, this Packers team finished the season 4-6. Their running game has been up and down, and Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy are struggling to find a reliable secondary option in the passing game behind Randall Cobb.

The Redskins have some nice talent on offense, and with a breakout year by QB Kirk Cousins, took advantage of the maddeningly inconsistent NFC East. Though their running game hasn’t been very good this season (3.7 YPG), it has shown flashes recently. Jordan Reed is having a great season (87 REC / 952 YDS / 11 TD) and should have made the Pro Bowl.

Washington and Green Bay were ranked 17th and 23rd in offensive YPG, respectively. The teams ranked 17th and 12th in scoring defense, respectively. Neither team is likely to win this game in a blowout, but it just might end up being the most interesting game of the weekend. How can any team led by Aaron Rodgers not be interesting to watch? It’s a tough call, but I’m taking the ‘Skins with home field advantage in this one. 21-17.

That’s all for now, enjoy the games. Check back in next week, I’ll take a look at the Divisional round and make some more predictions!

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