NFL Playoff Schedule 2013: Matchups to Watch on Wild Card Weekend
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The first round of the 2012 playoffs offers a full slate of competitive games.
The fifth-seeded Seattle Seahawks may be the hottest team in the NFC and have the pieces in place to make a run to the Super Bowl. On the other hand, home teams like the Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans both have complete teams that could make it out of their respective conference.
Let's take a closer took at the four games on Wild Card Weekend.
No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals at No. 3 Houston Texans
In a playoff rematch from last season, the red-hot Cincinnati Bengals will travel to Houston to play the Texans.
At the beginning of the season, Houston looked like the best team in the NFL. The defense was stout, while quarterback Matt Schaub and the passing game provided great balance to perhaps the best running game in the league. But lately, Schaub's confidence has been shaken and the Texans don't look like the same team.
Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green has emerged as one of the best in football. Houston has proven to have a leaky pass defense, so Green and Andy Dalton could certainly expose the Texans' secondary.
Prediction: Houston 24, Cincinnati 17
Despite the Bengals being the "hotter" team, the Texans are the better team. Houston may not go very far in the playoffs, but I think it'll get through the first round for the second consecutive season. If the Texans can protect Matt Schaub, they should score enough points to win.
No. 6 Minnesota Vikings at No. 3 Green Bay Packers
These two teams squared off last week in the regular-season finale. The Vikings took the game and earned a spot in the postseason, whereas the Packers lost out on a first-round playoff bye.
In two games against the Packers this season, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson averaged 7.4 yards every time he touched the ball. No matter what the Packers tried on defense, their tackling was porous, allowing Peterson to rush for 210 yards in the first meeting and 199 in the second.
On the other side of the ball, the Packers have been able to expose the Vikings' secondary. When veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield left the game on Sunday, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers went wild in the second half.
One thing is certain: If the game comes down to quarterback play, the Packers will be moving on.
Prediction: Green Bay 31, Minnesota 20
Minnesota won last week's game, but the Packers were the hottest team in the NFC before Week 17. This is still a very dangerous football team capable of making a run to the Super Bowl, so it's hard to see them going one-and-done at home for the second straight season in the playoffs.
Green Bay's wide receivers are simply better than Minnesota's defensive backs. Packers win relatively easily.
No. 5 Indianapolis Colts at No. 4 Baltimore Ravens
The connections here are obvious. The Colts used to play in Baltimore and Chuck Pagano used to be the defensive coordinator for the Ravens.
Most years, a Baltimore Ravens defense would be a stiff test for a rookie quarterback like Andrew Luck. But with 16 professional games under his belt, Luck appears more than capable of carving up the current Baltimore defense.
When the Ravens have the ball, there figures to be a heavy dose of Ray Rice running the football. The Colts haven't been very good on defense all season and their leaky run defense figures to give Rice numerous opportunities at big plays. The more Baltimore runs the ball, the less likely Joe Flacco is to turn the ball over.
Prediction: Indianapolis 27, Baltimore, 24
This is not a typical Baltimore Ravens team. When star cornerback Lardarius Webb went down to injury, the pass defense went from a top-tier unit to one of the most inconsistent in football. Colts running back Vick Ballard could also enjoy a solid day against a relatively weak Baltimore front seven.
It should be a close game, but I think the Colts will come out on top. This is a team of destiny.
No. 5 Seattle Seahawks at No. 4 Washington Redskins
In the last, and perhaps best, matchup of Wild Card Weekend, two rookie quarterbacks will be matched up against one another.
Robert Griffin III was selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and he's led the Washington Redskins to an impressive 10-6 record. The Redskins were one of the league's most pleasant surprises this season, winning their last seven games of the season.
The Seattle Seahawks are led by rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, who was selected in the third round of the 2012 draft. Seattle has perhaps the league's best defense at this point of the season, and with Richard Sherman avoiding suspension, it'll be at full strength in the playoffs.
Prediction: Seattle 31, Washington 24
This should be an interesting, back-and-forth game. Washington's read-option is one of the hardest offenses in the league to scheme for, so it should negate Seattle's strong defense to a certain extent.
But when push comes to shove, the Seahawks should be able to score points at will against the Redskins. Seattle wins.
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