While I've always felt that the divisional round of the NFL playoffs is the best weekend of the season, the Wild Card Round this year presents a foursome of intriguing matchups, compelling superstars and a few rematches for NFL fans to enjoy.
Will the teams coming into the playoffs hot stay that way, or will they be cooled off? Can teams limping into the playoffs regain their early-season form? How will the three rookie quarterbacks in action this weekend fare?
While I don't know the answers to those questions just yet—and I'm not ready to make my predictions quite yet, either—I do know those questions make each of these games extremely watchable. But we all like ranking things, right, so this is my list of this weekend's most intriguing games.
Let the fun begin!
4. Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens
In a weekend with four solid matchups, one of these games had to be ranked last. It's not that the matchup between the Colts and Ravens isn't a good one, it's simply that if I had to choose one game to skip next weekend, it would probably be this one.
I expect an absolute shootout in this one, however. Andrew Luck has proved that he's already one of the better quarterbacks in this league when he limits his turnovers, while Ray Rice and the Ravens should have little trouble running the ball at will.
The Colts have been one of the best stories all year as they've rallied around head coach Chuck Pagano, so I'm hoping they have one more win in them. Then again, if Ray Lewis returns to action next week, the Ravens may be working with some added inspiration of their own. This one should be fun.
3. Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Who doesn't love a good trilogy?
The Packers won the first meeting, 23-14. The Vikings took Round 2—and nearly got Adrian Peterson the rushing record, falling short by just nine yards—37-34, in one of the most entertaining games of the year.
So what do these teams have in store for us in this trilogy's finale?
The Vikings come into this game hot, having won four straight. But Green Bay will be playing on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, have won nine of its final 11 games and, oh yeah, still have that Aaron Rodgers guy.
Divisional rivalries in the playoffs are always fun. While I'm leaning toward the Packers, this game should be a dandy.
2. Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans
There are two reasons I'm intrigued by this game, in a matchup many folks might have lower on this list.
- This is a rematch from last year's playoffs, when the Texans defeated the Bengals, 31-10, in the Wild Card Round. And that was with T.J. Yates at quarterback, though players like Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have been excellent in their sophomore campaigns.
- Can the Texans recover after losing three of four down the stretch and blowing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs? Can this team still be a Super Bowl contender?
Both of these teams play solid defense and have stars on the offensive side of the ball that must be involved, otherwise the offense will sputter. For the Bengals, it's Green. In Houston, it's Arian Foster and Andre Johnson.
Plus, Matt Schaub needs to pick his game up. He's been miserable down the stretch, and he alone can sink this Texans' ship. This is a game Houston should win, but given how they've finished, I wouldn't be surprised if the Bengals pull off the upset.
1. Seattle Seahawks at Washington Redskins
Nothing is better this weekend than a matchup between the Seahawks and Redskins. Think of all the storylines.
Russell Wilson takes on Robert Griffin III in a battle of excellent rookie quarterbacks.
Two of the NFL's hottest teams—the Seahawks have won five in a row and seven of eight, the Redskins have won seven in a row—face off.
The Seahawks' excellent defense takes on the Redskins' big-play offense, unique running attack and the many skills of RG3.
I'm leaning toward picking the Seahawks in this game, and if it was being played in Seattle, I wouldn't hesitate to make that pick. But the Redskins are hot right now, and they shouldn't be so quickly dismissed. This game promises to be a doozy.
Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets earned a first-round bye.