The NFL Wild Card weekend is here and there is bound to be some epic football played. There are matchups only Hollywood could write. This is possibly Baltimore Ravens great middle linebacker Ray Lewis’ last home game. Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, fresh out of chemotherapy, will lead his charges against his old team, the Baltimore Ravens.
While the likes of Drew Brees, Eli Manning and Tony Romo are at home on the couch, three rookie quarterbacks (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson) lead their teams onto the field this weekend. The Houston Texans host the Cincinnati Bengals in a rematch of last year’s Wild Card round.
Having just played last week, the Green Bay Packers face the Minnesota Vikings on the Frozen Tundra, where the weather is sure to play a major impact on the game. With so many story lines in each contest, here are 15 bold predictions that could happen this weekend.
Both defenses finished in the top five in the NFL for sacks in a season. Cincinnati’s defense was third in the NFL with 51 sacks on the season. Houston tied the Minnesota Vikings for fifth with 44 total sacks.
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt led the NFL with 20.5 sacks. The most prolific sack-artist from the interior defensive line, Bengals' Geno Atkins, finished the year with 12.5. Atkins’ teammate, defensive end Michael Johnson, finished the 2012 regular season with 11.5 sacks.
Both quarterbacks, Andy Dalton and Matt Schaub, better prepare for a long day at the office.
Matt Schaub needs to play better for the Texans to have a chance to win the game. Schaub only threw for over 300 yards twice in 2012. The last time Schaub had a 300-yard-plus game, the Texans beat the Detroit Lions in overtime on Thanksgiving.
Both of Schaub’s 300-plus passing yardage games came in overtime wins for the Texans. Schaub will be dialed in this Saturday and will make up for missing the contest last season with a confidence-boosting performance.
Adam Jones has been reborn in Cincinnati and the once bad boy poster child of the NFL has been playing some of his best football. Jones has always been a dynamic returner and has five punt return touchdowns in his career.
Jones scored a touchdown this season for the Bengals on an 81-yard return versus the Cleveland Browns. Jones finished the season ranked as the seventh-best punt returner with an average of 11.6.
The Texans special teams has been depleted due to injuries at the linebacker position, and this should allow Jones to break a long return versus the Texans.
With a banged up running back group, the onus will fall on Andy Dalton to lead the Bengals to a victory. His favorite target, A.J. Green, is one of the top wide receivers in the NFL and will be targeted on at least 15 of those passes.
Starting running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis hurt his hamstring in Week 16 and sat out the Week 17 contest versus the Baltimore Ravens. Cedric Peerman and Brian Leonard are serviceable backups, but the Texans defense is one of the best in the NFL versus the run. The Texans defense allows only 97.5 yards a game on the ground.
Dalton will be icing his right arm after this game, win or lose.
Even though Adrian Peterson had an incredible regular season rushing the football, the former Oklahoma Sooner was held under 100 yards in six games in 2012. In last year’s contest in Green Bay, Peterson was limited to 51 yards on the ground.
The Packers defense is better with outside linebacker Clay Matthews back on the field, and safety Charles Woodson is finally back from injury as well.
The Packers defense will focus on stopping Peterson and force quarterback Christian Ponder to beat them with his arm in the cold.
The Packers offensive line has given up 51 sacks on the season and allowed Allen to get on in Week 17. Jared Allen has three sacks versus the Packers this season and finished with 12 on the season.
Clay Matthews has recorded four sacks in his last three games and was credited with one last week versus the Vikings. In two games versus the Vikings in the 2011 season, Matthews had three sacks total. Matthews knows his pressure will be needed to get the Packers a victory.
This prediction may not look too bold considering Aaron Rodgers threw for four touchdowns last week versus this same Vikings defense. But to have back-to-back four-touchdown games is a rarity in the NFL. With the weather sure to play a factor, four touchdowns by Rodgers will only add to his legacy in Green Bay.
The Vikings pass defense is ranked 24th in the NFL and has given up 28 touchdowns. Rodgers has a healthy Greg Jennings back and Jordy Nelson is supposed to play. With those weapons at his disposal, Rodgers will light up the scoreboard.
The former practice squad player is the Packers' top rushing option entering the playoffs. Alex Green was active last week but did not get any carries. DuJuan Harris has gotten the lion’s share of the workload over Ryan Grant.
On 14 carries in Week 17 versus the Vikings, Harris rushed for over 70 yards and averaged five yards a carry. Harris will get more than 20 carries versus the Vikings this week and will get his first career NFL 100-yard rushing game.
Adam Vinatieri is one of the greatest kickers in NFL history and has the most postseason field goals ever with 45. The former Patriot will add to that total in Baltimore.
Vinatieri is no stranger to playoff pressure and playing in the elements. One of his legendary kicks was the infamous “Tuck Rule” game when Vinatieri hit the game-winner in a blizzard.
The Ravens have allowed 15 rushing touchdowns on the season. Even with getting emotional leader middle linebacker Ray Lewis back on the field, the Ravens rushing defense has been susceptible all season.
Andrew Luck is a better athlete than given credit for and already has two games this season when he has rushed for two touchdowns. Luck will be forced to scramble due to the pressure of Paul Kruger and Terrell Suggs. Luck will get a touchdown outside the pocket with his feet and another on a quarterback keeper.
Joe Flacco has all the talent in the world but has not been playing with a lot of confidence. His Week 16 performance versus the New York Giants was the catalyst he needed. Flacco threw for two scores that game and for over 300 yards.
Flacco has thrown for three touchdowns in eight games in his career. Three of those games came this season. Flacco will add a fourth versus a Colts secondary that has given up 23 touchdowns on the season.
Ray Lewis is back after a lengthy layoff and announced on Wednesday that he is retiring after the season. Lewis has always been a leader for the Ravens, and getting him back versus an upstart Colts team will be huge for a depleted Ravens defense.
Lewis will cause a forced fumble or get an interception in his return. The play will be one that will swing the momentum in the favor of the Ravens and will end up being a deciding factor in the game.
Lewis has 31 career interceptions, 19 forced fumbles and 19 fumble recoveries.
Marshawn Lynch does not even have the highest total rushing yardage on the season in this game. That honor belongs to Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris.
But Lynch will prove to be the better runner on Sunday night as he rips through a Redskins defense that is actually very good against the run. Lynch has rushed for 100 or more yards in the last five games and will do so again Wild Card Sunday.
Robert Griffin III has been very good at protecting the football this season and has only thrown five interceptions on the entire year. That will change when he goes up against two of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman.
The Seattle defense has produced 31 takeaways on the season, with 18 of those coming in the form of interceptions. The rush of the Seahawks will get to Griffin III, who will force throws as he tries to produce on the big stage.
Russel Wilson has been the biggest surprise of all the rookie quarterbacks in 2012, but a case can be made that he has been the most valuable to his team. In three games this season, Wilson has thrown for three-plus touchdowns.
Wilson threw for four touchdowns versus the San Francisco 49ers in the Week 16 matchup. So the young gunslinger has the ability to get the feat done. The Redskins have allowed 31 touchdown passes on the season and will allow three more on Sunday.