Happy New Year everybody! Another year has come and gone, and in the process we have survived yet another doomsday and avoided falling off the fiscal cliff; not too shabby. January is great for two reasons; first of all, being the start of a new year, it revitalizes a countless number of people looking for a fresh start. More importantly, it means that the NFL playoffs are set to begin and I can watch my precious Steelers compete for another Lombardi trophy. The only problem is that the Steelers were ousted before even getting into the playoffs. Despite that small tragedy, there are a lot of great match-ups set for this weekend, including a rematch from last year’s playoffs, a showdown between divisional rivals, and a battle between two rookie quarterbacks. This is probably the most excited that I have been when it comes to watching all of the playoff games, as there are so many interesting story lines and potential upsets. Well, without ado, here are my picks for Wild Card Weekend.
Game 1: Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans
The first game of the weekend features a rematch of last year’s Wild Card round, one in which the Texans, behind rookie quarterback T.J. Yates, dominated the Bengals at home. This time, both teams come back with some experience after having two very different seasons. The Texans began the season with a 11-1 record and looking like one of the best teams, if not the best team, in the NFL. They did not look like the same team over the last four weeks; they have dropped three out of their last four games and lost their number two seed in the AFC. The opposing Bengals started off the season with a 3-5 record, but have caught fire in the last half of the regular season. They went 7-1 in the second half of the season, and their only loss was by a point to the Cowboys. After the last few years, it has seemed that momentum is key when playoff time comes around, no matter your seeding, so this makes it hard to say which team is the favorite. Hopefully this game lives up to my expectations, but there is a possibility of a blowout here.
Prediction: The Bengals are hot, but I think that there is just too much power on the Texans’ side. I like Houston to win 27-17 at home.
Game 2: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
This division rivalry to me is possibly the biggest toss-up out of all of the games this weekend. Being division rivals, they meet twice a year, which means that they know each other very well. The Packers had won five straight games against Minnesota before the Vikings finally snapped the streak last week. Like the Bengals, the Vikings are coming in hot, winning four straight weeks to sneak into the playoffs. This means that the Packers may not be so dominant this time around, as the Vikings have begun to figure themselves out thanks to Adrian Peterson. Peterson has just been scary down the stretch, rushing for about 850 yards over the last five games, falling just short of Eric Dickerson’s rushing record. Another Viking who is getting much attention this week is quarterback Christian Ponder, who is coming off of his best game all season. This means that the Packers must be ready for a more confident Ponder. On the other hand, the Packers have been a great team over the last few years, and they have Aaron Rodgers, who has continued to dominate the NFL this season with 39 touchdown passes and 8 interceptions.
Prediction: I think that the Packers are too good to lose two consecutive weeks to the same team. I would not be surprised if the Vikings gave them a solid game, but I think the Packers will win in a blowout, 38-14.
Game 3: Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens
Sunday’s first game is one that is very unexpected; the Ravens were supposed to win the AFC North, and did, but who they are playing is quite interesting. One year ago at this point, the Colts got to watch Wild Card Weekend from their living rooms, as all they had to worry about which quarterback they would take with the first pick in the NFL Draft. They finished 2-14, and were not expected to make much noise this season despite having Andrew Luck under center. Without much to work with, Luck made it work, and they now enter the playoffs with an 11-5 record, better than that of the Ravens. They have the better record, but the Ravens have a lot to play for. First of all, they were a missed 32-yard field goal from overtime in the AFC Championship Game last season. Second of all, Ray Lewis announced earlier this week that this season would be the last season of his illustrious NFL career. There would be no better way to end his career than to win a second Super Bowl, and I believe that every one of those players will be playing their hardest to let him run off into the sunset.
Prediction: The Colts were a great story, but it is not their time. The Ravens have too much to play for. Baltimore wins this one 24-14.
Game 4: Seattle Seahawks at Washington Redskins
The final game of the weekend features my favorite match-up. Both teams have had great seasons and deserve some respect, but the focus should be on the rookie quarterbacks, because neither team would be where they are now without them. To me, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III have been the two best rookie quarterbacks this season. Both quarterbacks ended the regular season with quarterback ratings of at least 100, and both have over 20 passing touchdowns and 10 or less interceptions. They have stepped up and have become the leaders of their offense and carry a swagger that is not seen very often from a rookie. This should be another great game; Seattle has the better record, but they are known for being less productive on the road. At the same time, they have had a much better defense this season than the Redskins, ranking in the top ten in both passing and rushing defense.
Prediction: The ‘Skins are at home, but I feel that Seattle’s defense is strong enough to hold back the Redskins. The Seahawks win 20-17.
The games start in ten minutes…so all I have to say is getcha popcorn ready.