The 2013 NFL Playoffs are bound to be the best in recent years. There is no shortage of storylines heading into this years postseason. Whether that be Comeback POY and MVP candidates Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson leading their squads into the playoffs, or the tale of the three rookies RG3, Andrew Luck, and Russell Wilson starting at quarterback for their respective teams in the postseason. The road to the Super Bowl begins with an exciting Wild-Card weekend that won’t disappoint. Here are my game previews and game predictions for the first round of the playoffs.
No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) at No. 3 Houston Texans (12-4) – Sat. 4:30 ET
This match-up is the tale of two teams heading into this year’s playoffs. The Bengals come into this game a red-hot, having won 7 of their last 8, while the Texans have trotted into the playoffs backwards, having lost 3 of their last 4. Ever since the Week 14 beating that the Texans took at the hand of the Patriots, Houston hasn’t seemed the same since. Home advantage, at least a first-round bye, seemed all but certain about a month ago but it has slowly slipped out of the Texans’ hands, and they are now forced to play in Wild Card weekend. The Bengals have been a completely different story. Since their Week 9 loss in Denver, which had them at 3-5, they have gone on a complete tear behind Andy Dalton’s stellar sophomore season, and finished 7-1 in the last 8 games, which included a 31-13 win over the defending Super Bowl Champion Giants in Week 10, and wins against both division foes Steelers and Ravens in the last two weeks of the season. Even though this game is on the road for Cincinnati, they are not afraid in the least. The Bengals went 6-2 away from Paul Brown Stadium in 2012, and look to continue their road success in Houston. Unlike last year when T.J. Yates started for the Texans when they beat the Bengals 31-10 in the AFC Wild Card Playoffs, Matt Schaub has been healthy all season long and gets to start in the playoff rematch. But which team really has the advantage at the quarterback position? Matt Schaub has seemed to step away from the spotlight when he needed to be in it, whereas on the other side, Andy Dalton has shined in the spotlight for the Bengals to go along with their 6th ranked defense. Schaub has only had 1 touchdown to go along with 3 interceptions in their last 4 regular season games, which is far from what they Texans needed to wrap up the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and he just might be the reason why they didn’t do just that. As bad as quarterback play has been for Houston, it’s been that good for Cincy. Andy Dalton had 13 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions in their last 8 games, where they won 7 of those 8 to head to the playoffs. Why do I put some much focus on the quarterback play in this match-up instead of paying more attention to how good both defenses are behind J.J. Watt for Houston and Rey Maualuga for Cincy? Because this is a quarterback driven league of course. And because I think the quarterback play of both teams will decide who wins this game. And it sure seems like Matt Schaub folds under pressure when they needed to win to get better positioning in the postseason, whereas Andy Dalton had to be at his best to lead his team to the playoffs after sitting at 3-5 through 8 games. The defenses of both the Bengals and Texans will be the highlight of the game when it comes to national coverage, but whoever has the better quarterback play on Saturday, will win this game. Even though the Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1990, this year has shown that it will be Andy Dalton who will lead his team to a victory.
PREDICTION: Bengals 24, Texans 20
No. 6 Minnesota Vikings (10-6) at No. 3 Green Bay Packers (11-5) – Sat. 8 ET
The third match-up between these two teams this season will be the most important, as it will be in the playoffs. The teams split the regular-season series as division foes, where each home team won the game. In both match-ups, Comeback POY and MVP candidate Adrian Peterson ran hard and ran well. AP ran for 210 yards in the first game, and 199 yards in the second. The Packers swear that they won’t let Peterson ran all over them in this playoff match-up, but with the success that he had in the first two match-ups, who’s to say he won’t do it again? Well, because it’s the playoffs. The game will slow down and Green Bay’s playoff experience will prove to be huge. Just two years removed their Super Bowl victory, Green Bay comes into this game having won 9 of their last 11, and ready for another postseason run behind their future hall of fame QB, Mr. Discount Double Check, Aaron Rodgers. ARod has had another fantastic season, throwing for 39 TD’s, only 8 interceptions, and nearly 4300 passing yards. If there was no Peyton Manning nor Adrian Peterson, he would be my leading candidate for NFL MVP. Even without a consistent running game, the Packers still seem to roll over most of their opponents. Their defense has been beat up most of the year, but are getting healthy at the right time. Charles Woodson is expected to play in his first game since October 21st, and along with a seemingly healthy Clay Matthews, that defense should be ready to handle a third game against the Adrian Peterson-led Vikings, where familiarity with the team will be key. And when it comes to familiarity, that’s something that many Vikings players don’t have with the postseason. Many players on the Vikings team are young, or haven’t seem playoff action, whereas the Packers are quite comfortable with postseason play. Having this game take place in Green Bay, I look for the Packers’ home advantage and playoff experience to pay off against the Vikings, and their defense finally just might be able to slow down Adrian Peterson.
PREDICTION: Packers 31, Vikings 17
No. 5 Indianapolis Colts (11-5) at No. 4 Baltimore Ravens (10-6) – Sun. 1 ET
The former Baltimore team, the Indianapolis Colts, head to Baltimore to take on the current Baltimore team, the Ravens in an AFC Wild Card match-up that has no shortage of headlines in just this game alone. Head Coach Chuck Pagano leads the ChuckStrong Colts into Baltimore to face his former team where he was an assistant coach from 2008-2011. This will be Pagano’s second game on the sideline since battling leukemia and chemotherapy treatment for the past three months, and his presence alone in his season debut on the sidelines inspired his Colts to win their regular season finale at home against the Texans. It will be emotional storyline against emotional storyline, as the Colts face a Ravens team who will be trying to win Ray Lewis’ last game in Baltimore, as he announced his retirement for whenever the Ravens’ postseason run comes to an end. With how much of an emotional leader Ray Lewis is for his Ravens squad, it’s almost scary how hard the Ravens might fight to send him out a winner with another Super Bowl ring. But even with Ray Lewis returning to the middle of that Ravens defense, you still can’t ignore the glaring holes still remaining all over the field. The Ravens have been riddled with injuries all season long, mainly on the defensive side of the ball. The Ravens D was pretty good early on in the year, but now rank 17th in overall defense, and allow 21.5 PPG. That doesn’t sound too terrible, but isn’t very good for this formerly feared defense. The Ravens rank 20th against the pass with that banged up secondary, and that’s not good news against a 7th ranked Colts passing game. 1st pick overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, rookie Andrew Luck has had a solid, rookie of the year caliber year for the Colts. Luck had 23 touchdowns and nearly 4400 passing yards. The only blemish on Luck’s 2012 resume was his 18 interceptions and 9 fumbles, which did cost the Colts early on in the season. But in the last three weeks of the season, Andrew Luck had no turnovers. A statistic that just might have gotten the Colts into the postseason. The Colts have been a consistent team, offensively and defensively, all season long. It’s been a much different story for the Ravens, who have been a real two-faced team throughout the season. Not knowing which Ravens squad will show up to face the Colts on Sunday has a huge factor in my prediction. I know what the Colts will bring to the table, but will the Ravens come to the game with a balances offense with Ray Rice and Joe Flacco, or will it be just the opposite like in the Ravens’ bad losses of the year. The factor of the unknown keeps me from picking the Ravens.
PREDICTION: Colts 31, Ravens 20
No. 5 Seattle Seahawks (11-5) at No. 4 Washington Redskins (10-6) – Sun. 4:30 ET
Maybe the most intriguing match-up of the Wild Card round, will be the final game of the weekend between the Seahawks and Redskins. The reason for the intrigue lies with the starting quarterbacks for both teams. Both the Seahawks’ and Redskins’ postseason hopes lie with rookies Russell Wilson for Seattle and Robert Griffin III for Washington. For the Redskins, picking No. 2 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft and choosing RG3, they knew he would be their starting quarterback for the future. But for the Seahawks, it was a different story. In the off-season, the Seahawks won the Matt Flynn sweepstakes and he was going to be their starting quarterback. But 73 overall picks after RG3 was selected by the Redskins, the Seahawks selected Russell Wilson in the 3rd roung, 75th overall in the draft. Russell Wilson was set to be the back-up, but he straight-up just won the job from under Matt Flynn’s nose, and the Seahawks haven’t looked back since. Under Russell Wilson, and with Pete Carroll’s spread type offense, the Seahawks went 11-5 and only 1 game back of winning the NFC West which the 49ers were supposed to win handily. Even with that 11-5 record which is better than the Redskins 10-6 record, the Seahawks must go on the road to the nation’s capitol to face the Redskins. The Seahawks had their road woes early on the season, losing 5 of their first 6 games away from CenturyLink Field, but have won their 2 of their last 3 on the road, and ended the season on a 5-game winning streak overall. Although, that’s not the best winning streak of these two teams heading into the playoffs. The Redskins ended the season on a 7-game winning streak, winning the winner-take all season finale against the Cowboys to take the NFC East division crown. Not just on the road, but the Redskins season didn’t start very well either. Sitting at 3-6 through their first 9 weeks, head coach Mike Shanahan was already talking about how their team was more of a project for the future, but lo and behold, the Redskins are headed to the playoffs in their first year with RG3 under center. The Seahawks and Redskins are very similar teams. Both the Seahawks and Redskins have well respected defenses, a solid running back, and obviously skilled rookie quarterbacks. But when I look at the Seahawks, I see a more complete team. I see a solid defense that travels well, and that running back in Marshawn Lynch that can run all over a defense hard up the middle. This will be a heck of a game that just might come down to the wire, but I see the Seahawks coming out of this one with a win. The Seahawks just might go on to be this year’s dark horse.
PREDICTION: Seahawks 34, Redskins 31
RECAP OF MY WILD-CARD GAME WINNERS: Bengals, Packers, Colts, Seahawks