Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Wild Card Round Picks
The start of the 2012 NFL playoffs means that it's "win or go home" time in the NFL, where the men are separated from the boys and everything is on the line. Forget Christmas—for many NFL fans, this is the most wonderful time of the year!
The playoff field doesn't exactly match what people thought it would look like at the beginning of the year (or even halfway through the season), but Wild Card Weekend has some ridiculously exciting matchups.
We here at B/R will pick them all, just like we did all season. A bonus for all you readers out there: Every B/R lead writer will be offering his or her commentary on every playoff game! It's just a little something to make sure we're providing extra bang for your buck in the postseason. Plus, it helps that there are fewer games!
On to the picks!
Our B/R Panel of Experts
Note: All betting odds are for informational purposes only and courtesy of Statfox.com. Although spreads are provided, all picks are straight up.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Houston Texans
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B/R Consensus: Bengals (9-2)
Vegas: Texans (-4.5)
The Texans have lost their edge, while the Bengals are just starting to find theirs. If these teams play the way they're trending, the Bengals could win in a rout.
The Texans may have dominated the regular season, but their 1-3 record down the stretch shows that they're fading. The Bengals win.
Bulls on Parade? More like Cows to the Slaughter. The Texans come into the playoffs playing their worst football at the worst possible time. The Bengals flip the script on last year's playoff game between these teams.
The Bengals don't have to change a thing to defeat the Houston Texans this week, but the Texans have a lot of work to do to return to the form that at one time had them the AFC's top team. With that in mind, the Bengals finally pick up an elusive playoff win. They are just far more consistent at present on offense and defense.
The Texans are in free fall, but they still have the better squad in this game. Houston wins for the last time in 2012.
The Texans are a good team, even if they've played some bad football over the past few weeks in dropping three of their past four games. Andy Dalton threw three picks the last time these two teams faced off, and his ball security could be the difference if it's an issue again.
The Texans backed into the playoffs, and it's not easy to just flip a switch. The Bengals defense will get after Matt Schaub and force him to make mistakes. The Bengals offense might struggle, but A.J. Green should be able to make enough plays to get them a win.
Cincinnati's peaking at the right time. Houston is in the opposite situation. The Bengals have proven they can do everything the Texans can, so I'm taking the much hotter team in a close game.
Houston has not been good the last few weeks, and while it has home field and talent on both sides of the ball, that bad momentum will carry over into the playoffs. The Bengals are determined to avoid repeating last year's playoff loss to the Texans. They'll focus on limiting J.J. Watt, and Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will have one of their most prolific days against a slumping secondary.
Winning on the road is tough, especially in the playoffs. But what has happened to the Houston Texans? Matt Schaub has had a December that he doesn't want to remember, while J.J. Watt has been doing it all alone on the defensive side of the ball. I like Cincinnati because it has won seven out of its last eight, not to mention that it has proven it can win on the road.
Cincinnati has won seven of its last eight games, and that's exactly the kind of momentum that teams who make deep playoff runs need. Houston, on the flip side, has lost three of its last four and is going in the wrong direction. Come playoff time, talent goes a long way, but so does momentum.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers
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B/R Consensus: Packers (11-0)
Vegas: Packers (-8)
It's difficult to count the Vikings out any time Adrian Peterson takes the field, but it's impossible to bet against the Packers at Lambeau in the playoffs. Rodgers is going to catch fire. Packers win big.
The Green Bay offense is red-hot, and the Minnesota Vikings won't catch the Packers off-guard like they did in Week 17.
The Vikings winning is a better story, but I expect that Minnesota spent all its emotion in winning a big Week 17 game. It's difficult to beat a team two weeks in a row. The Packers have a tremendous offense and a tough defense. At home, I'll take experience over youth.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers simply can't lose to the same team two weeks in a row...can they? They'll have to shut down Adrian Peterson to make sure it doesn't happen, so this game could be close again.
The Minnesota Vikings had an incredible win over the Green Bay Packers to get into the playoffs (good). But they have to turn around and face them in the playoffs in the following week (bad). As well as the Vikings have played at times, and as good as it would feel for Adrian Peterson to be among the players to win a Super Bowl ring, I don't see them pulling out back-to-back victories over the Packers in such a high-pressure situation.
It's hard to imagine the Packers losing to the Vikings two weeks in a row. The Packers also get to play at home in the cold, which could slow down Adrian Peterson just enough for them to get the win. Taking the better quarterback at home in the playoffs seems like the right choice. Aaron Rodgers is one of the best.
The Vikings barely beat the Packers at home. The result will be different at Lambeau. Green Bay wins big.
Different story at Lambeau. I know it's not all about the quarterbacks, but I can't see Christian Ponder getting a win in Green Bay in January, regardless of how good Adrian Peterson is again.
Christian Ponder had his best game as a pro against Green Bay in Week 17, but I wouldn't expect that same kind of performance at Lambeau Field. It's probably safe to say he will be the reason Minnesota falters in Green Bay. I think his performance will more resemble his Week 13 performance in the Vikings' 23-14 loss to the Packers. Moreover, it doesn't hurt that the Packers should get Charles Woodson back this week.
When all is said and done on Saturday, Minnesota and Green Bay will have played each other three times over the span of 34 days. The Packers won the first matchup, the Vikings the second when they had to win to get a playoff berth. There's still a lot on the line for both teams, but I expect Green Bay to step up when it matters.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Baltimore Ravens
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B/R Consensus: Colts (7-4)
Vegas: Ravens (-6.5)
The Ravens are home, getting healthier by the week and learning to live in the post-Cam Cameron era. The Colts are a great story, but the Ravens have been here before.
Betting against Andrew Luck? I don't think so. Colts win.
The Colts have been a wonderful story, both on and off the field. The Ravens help write the final chapter behind a dynamic performance from Ray Rice.
Baltimore hasn't been right in two months, and the Colts have a major tactical advantage with Chuck Pagano vs. Jim Caldwell. The dream ride continues for Indy.
On the one hand, it's the Ravens at home, and they seemed to find consistency on offense and defense in the latter part of the season; they're also running so well that it seems inevitable they'll win. But the pendulum has swung wildly for the Ravens this season, and any step back this weekend will doom their playoff run.
The Ravens are riding a downswing into the playoffs. They have played some of their worst football in losing four of their past five games. Andrew Luck should be able to capitalize on what has been a lackluster Ravens defense.
The Ravens aren't a young team anymore and aren't invincible at home. While I can't see Andrew Luck and the Colts going deep into the playoffs, I feel they can steal one from the Ravens. Something about Joe Flacco and an offensive coordinator change make it impossible for me to pick the Ravens.
Indy proved last week that it can beat good teams, too. The Colts are getting better as the season progresses, while the wheels have basically come off in Baltimore.
As with the Vikings, the better story is a Colts win for Chuck Pagano. However, the Ravens were close to the Super Bowl last year, and while the defense isn't what it used to be, it should be able to force rookie Andrew Luck into some bad decisions. It could be close, but the Ravens defense will force the one turnover that is the difference here.
A rookie quarterback heading into Baltimore is not usually a situation I like. However, Andrew Luck has proven that he is no normal rookie quarterback. Plus, the Ravens aren't the same team they were last year or even the year before. Ray Lewis should return for Baltimore, yet that still won't be enough to stop the red-hot Colts.
Youth versus experience will be on display Sunday when the Colts face the Ravens. In a playoff game, contrary to the way both teams ended their respective seasons, I like experience just about every time. This is no exception. Joe Flacco will find a way to win. He always does at least once in the playoffs.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Washington Redskins
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B/R Consensus: Seahawks (8-3)
Vegas: Seahawks (-3)
At this point, Redskins fans expect me to pick against them, so why not? In all seriousness, I would take Robert Griffin III and company against almost any other team, but the Seahawks defense is just too good to pick against.
The toughest game to pick all week, but the Seahawks don't travel well.
The Seahawks aren't the same team on the road as they are at home, but it won't matter much this week. Seattle's defense will punch the Redskins' read option in the mouth as Russell Wilson piles on the points against a suspect Redskins secondary.
The Washington Redskins have been an incredible story all season. They have had their backs against the wall since their Week 10 bye. Who would have imagined they would put together seven straight wins to close out the season? Not me, but that's not enough for me to pick them over Pete Carroll's Seattle Seahawks. The 'Hawks are the hottest team in the league. It's as simple as that.
Seattle has the better defense, but the Seahawks were only 3-5 on the road this year, and Washington is pretty much just as hot. I think the 'Skins win a close one.
The Seahawks have rolled over all comers over the past four games, but their defense has not faced a challenge like RG3 all season.
Both teams have been feel-good stories this season, but only one rookie quarterback-led team will move on to the divisional round of the playoffs. In my estimation, that's the Seahawks. They're the more well-rounded team, with more weapons on both sides of the ball than the Redskins. That's why they'll win.
The Seahawks are the better club, and their defense will punish RG3. Wilson will do just enough to win a matchup of super rookies.
If Griffin was 100 percent, maybe this would be different, but he clearly is not, and Seattle's defense is way better than what Dallas had to offer Sunday night. Expect a healthy dose of pressure on RG3, some outstanding play by the Seattle corners and plenty of Marshawn Lynch's Skittles-fueled beast mode.
What Washington did, winning its last seven games after starting 3-6, is nothing short of amazing. But Seattle is scoring points like it's a video game, and I expect that trend to continue against the Redskins' 22nd-ranked scoring defense. And let's not forget Seattle's defense is stellar. In a game featuring rookie quarterbacks, I'll take the better defense.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.