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NFL 2013 Wild Card Playoff Matchups
The crazy roller coaster regular season has finally come to an end and the playoffs now stand before us. I think we have an interesting slate of games ahead of us this weekend. I've detailed each below in the order that they will be played.
Sat 4:05 #5 Kansas City at #4 Indianapolis
These teams played just a few weeks ago, and the outcome wasn't pretty for the Chiefs. The Colts pretty much dominated the Chiefs in Kansas City throughout the game en route to a 23-7 win. As I mentioned in my Week 16 article, I don't trust either of these teams. I do think the AFC is wide open this year, but I'm not buying either of these team as 11-5 clubs. At that time, it seemed as if Indy was trending up and Kansas City was trending down, but if that was the case the Colts righted that ship.
Kansas City's defense was one of the best in the league in the first half of the year, but injuries and poor play have seen them drop significantly since then. The Colts offense has switched up their scheme a bit lately, moving more to short passes rather than being run-heavy. The offensive line, which has been hit hard by injuries, has only allowed three sacks the past three weeks. This one will be much closer than the first meeting, but I think the Colts do enough on offense to stay ahead of the Chiefs and are able to somewhat contain Jamaal Charles. I think the game comes down to Alex Smith throwing the ball down the field, and I don't see him being successful enough to pull out the victory.
Prediction: Colts 20 Chiefs 17
Sat 8:10 #6 New Orleans at #3 Philadelphia
The biggest topic people will be talking about in this game is whether or not the Saints can win a cold weather game on the road. The Saints were 3-5 on the road this year, and even lost an indoor road game to the Rams. Philadelphia hasn't been excellent at home this year, but have won four straight at Lincoln Financial Field. When this game kicks off temperatures are expected to be in the 20s, which will be to the Eagles' advantage.
This is a hard game to predict because I think New Orleans is the better team. If the game is at the Superdome they're easily the favorites in this one, but they're unproven on the road and it's all they've been hearing from the media all week. Does this motivate them or get in their heads even more? As a fan of the Eagles I've seen all their games this year, and while they haven't all been pretty, they have those games where everything comes together and they find a way to win the close games. The Saints strength on offense is their passing game, and I don't know that the Eagles have an answer for monster tight end Jimmy Graham, although they did handle Jason Witten and Dez Bryant pretty well last week. I think the Saints try to run the ball a bit more in this one and it plays into Philadelphia's hands. I think the Eagles offense finds a way to outscore the Saints.
Prediction: Eagles 27 Saints 24
Sun 1:05 #6 San Diego at #3 Cincinnati
Of the four AFC teams competing for the final wild card spot last week, I felt that the Chargers would be the most dangerous team if they got into the playoffs. San Diego always seems to make a run late in the season, but they are usually too far out of the playoff picture for it to matter. I love the passion and competitiveness that Philip Rivers plays with, and I know he's pumped to be playing in January. The Bengals come into this home game a perfect 8-0 at home on the year. I've said before that I don't trust the Bengals because Andy Dalton is not consistent. If he plays well they are a Super Bowl contender; if he plays poorly they will be at home next week.
These teams met earlier in the year in San Diego, with the Bengals winning 17-10. Neither team played particularly well, but Cincinnati gutted out the victory. I expect this week's game to be more high-scoring than their previous. San Diego's defense isn't great, but they're much stronger against the run than the pass. If the Bengals are forced into several 2nd and 3rd and longs and Dalton is forced to throw the ball it will play into the Chargers' hands. Dalton played awful last week, throwing four interceptions, but the Bengals still won because the Ravens were unable to capitalize on his mistakes. If Dalton plays a clean game the Bengals could win by 10, but I expect a turnover or two from Dalton. I think this game will come down to quarterback play, and I like Rivers more than Dalton.
Prediction: Chargers 24 Bengals 23
Sun 4:40 #5 San Francisco at #4 Green Bay
In the weekend's finale, we have a matchup repeat from Week 1 of this season. While that seems like an eternity ago, San Francisco pulled out the home game by a score of 34-28. This game will be in a much different setting, January at Lambeau Field. Gametime temperatures are expected to be in the negatives, so the Niners will be a long way from home. An interesting note from their first game is that the Packers spent all off-season preparing to defend quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the read-option, which he used to torch them in last year's playoffs. The Packers were well-prepared, but the Niners didn't use the read option. I think in this game they pull it out a few times and try to catch Green Bay's defense by surprise.
The Packers are banged up, but they have their most important player, quarterback Aaron Rodgers back. Rodgers was shaky in last week's game, and had they lost, it would have been on him. He missed receivers a few times and had two turnovers in the red zone. I expect Rodgers to be back in regular form this week, but ultimately I think the game comes down to the play of each defense. The Packers defense has been awful this year and the Niners has been one of the best in the league. Rodgers and the offense will put up some points, but I think San Francisco will run the ball successfully and won't need to rely on Kaepernick's arm to win it. I think the frigid conditions give Green Bay a much needed advantage, but not quite enough.
Prediction: 49ers 26 Packers 24