NFL Wild Card Preview: How the Bengals, Pack, Ravens and Seahawks Will Prevail
Wild Card Weekend is the perfect cure for an otherwise-depressing post-holiday foray into the depths of winter.
Gone are the distractions of fantasy football and survivor pools. Gone, for better or worse, is the Red Zone channel mentality of watching multiple games simultaneously. We miss you already, quad box!
It’s just four games, three in cold weather cities, two with potential Super Bowl winners, and one more way to help postpone the kind of weekend that consists of regular season college basketball (meh), spring training baseball (yikes) and college hockey (thanks again, Bettman)…
On a more positive, if nearsighted, note, let's look at some predictions for this weekend's games.
4:30 p.m. EST Saturday:
Princeton/Cincinnati gets revenge for last year’s forgettable loss in Houston in the same time slot and day.
Why the upset pick? The Texans simply haven’t recovered from the Foxborough 42-14 drubbing suffered on Monday Night Football at the hands of the Pats, a game the team declared beforehand as only the most important in its history.
So how does a team recover after making such a statement?
It doesn’t. Since then, Houston has gone from a lock No. 1 seed to a freefalling No. 3 seed, losing three of its last four.
Meanwhile, the Bengals continue to quietly go about their business, having won seven of its last eight, albeit only one of those wins coming against a playoff team, Baltimore in a meaningless Week 17 game.
If Gary Kubiak’s club had a playoff history that suggest they can snap out of such a late-season malaise, that would be another story. But this organization seems to come up small in December and January, unless T.J. Yates is the QB, of course. Saturday won’t be any exception.
Side note: Like many coaches in the NFL this week, expect to see Kubiak updating his LinkedIn page soon after this one ends on a late Cincy field goal.
8:00 p.m. EST Saturday:
Unlike in Houston, things will go according to plan in the late game on the frozen tundra (game-time temp: 15 degrees) and, because of said weather, Green Bay is the pick here.
Christian Ponder, a Florida State guy playing his first playoff game under center, has blossomed nicely in his second season, with last week’s comeback win in the cozy Metrodome over the same Packers serving as his 234-yard, 3 TD exclamation point.
Will Adrian Petersen get his yards? Even half of the 204.5 yards he's averaged against GB this year may be enough to carry the offense. But will the Vikings be protecting a lead or be forced to air it out play catch up? The latter is the more likely scenario and to ask Ponder to complete some of the bombs he did last week in Minnesota is a tall order.
But the bitter cold, combined with the "r" word again (revenge) should be enough for the more experienced quarterback in Aaron Rodgers to grind out a victory Saturday night.
Side note: Need more evidence the NFL couldn't care less about player safety or fan experience? Just look at when this game was scheduled of the four available slots this weekend.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to play this game at 1 p.m. Sunday, when daytime temps are higher and therefore a bit more forgiving to the body?
Wouldn’t an afternoon kickoff be more fair to fans in Wisconsin who pay big money to sit in a freezer for 3 ½ hours until midnight to cheer on their team?
Shouldn’t the Texans, who have the benefit of playing under a roof, be playing at night in early January?
1:00 p.m. EST Sunday:
It’s hard to pick against the Colts and the truly inspiring story around the way it has rallied around its rookie quarterback, motivated by their cancer-stricken coach. On Monday, that’s the way I was going, until Ray Lewis basically one-upped Chuck Pagano in the win-one-for department and announced his retirement following the end of Baltimore’s season.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons for picking against Indy besides the emotional facet of this matchup.
Like the Bengals, the Colts have padded their record by beating bad teams. It has helped them extend their season into January, but they don’t decide who plays them. The the fact they only won two games the previous year, adding nine more to their total this season, is nothing short of remarkable.
But the last time Luck’s troops went into battle on the road against a playoff team, they surrendered 59 points at New England. Other road games against lesser opponents haven’t gone well from a defensive perspective either: 35 points to the Jets; 35 to the Lions; 29 to the Texans; 41 to the Bears. Overall, the defense is ranked 26 in the league.
The Ravens, despite a clumsy finish, losing four of their last five, still have plenty of playoff experience on their side. This is a team that should have gone to the Super Bowl last year, a shout out to Lee Evans, wherever you are. Ray-Ray will maybe hung up the cleats for a life likely involving a camera and microphone and a running back who can control the clock in the form of the other Ray-Ray (Rice), Baltimore should eek this one out, but it won’t be easy.
Side note: When Ray Lewis was drafted by the Ravens in 1996, Andrew Luck was just six years old.
4:30 p.m. EST Sunday:
If RG3 was healthy, this one might be closer. But with the Seahawks playing at such a superior level right now, particularly on defense, it’s hard to imagine a gimpy Griffin surviving this game as a winner, let alone altering it.
Seattle comes in winners of five straight and has outscored opponents at a ludicrous 193-60 during that stretch. This is an offense built on running the football with a bruising back in Marshawn Lynch, a mistake-free, mobile quarterback in Russell Wilson (the forgotten rookie), and a coach in Pete Carroll not afraid to take chances.
The Redskins can run the ball with Alfred Morris, yes,...and Pierre Garcon and Santana Morris are above-average options through the air. But the health of RG3 (knee) is a pressing concern. So is the Seahawks swarming defense. And the roll Seattle is on just seems too great to stop right now.
By the way, upon reading that almost every other writer and prognosticator on the planet absolutely LOVES Seattle, I loathe this pick as much as the Seahawks' uniforms themselves (although the away version is somewhat easier to absorb). Costanza Rule #1 of picking games: If the public loves one side, the opposite has to be right.
Side note: In the last seven years, three No. 6 seeds and a No. 4 seed ended up winning it all. The last eight seasons, the team with the best record hasn’t won the Super Bowl. That said, it’s all about momentum, and nobody has more of it than the guys with the horrific uniforms from the Pacific Northwest.
Follow Joe Concha on the Twitter @ConchSports or email him at email@example.com
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