Last-Minute Picks, Predictions for NFL's Wild-Card Round Games
The playoff journey will begin for eight of the 12 postseason teams during the NFL's 2013 Wild Card Round this weekend.
The Houston Texans (12-4) host the Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) in the afternoon game Saturday before the Minnesota Vikings (10-6) travel to Green Bay for the nightcap with the Packers (11-5) at Lambeau Field.
On Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts (11-5) are in Baltimore to play the Ravens (10-6) before rookie quarterbacks from both the Washington Redskins (10-6) and Seattle Seahawks (11-5) clash in the nation's capital to close out the weekend.
By Sunday's end, only eight teams will remain capable of putting their name on the Lombardi Trophy in February.
In the following slides, we'll break down and predict each of the four Wild Card Round games this weekend.
Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) at Houston Texans (12-4)
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Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (20.5 sacks) is this matchup's featured player on the defensive side of the ball, but check out these numbers for Cincinnati's defense: Over the last eight games, the Bengals allowed an NFL-best 12.75 points a game and also caused 19 turnovers. Arguably no defense was better in the second half.
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has thrown just one touchdown pass against three interceptions over the final quarter of the season, numbers that could foreshadow the struggles he'll have against one the NFL's most underrated defenses Saturday.
If Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who threw three interceptions in last season's wild-card loss in Houston, can just protect the football on the road, Cincinnati should advance with its first playoff win since 1991.
Pick: Bengals 27, Texans 17
Final: Texans 19, Bengals 13
Minnesota Vikings (10-6) at Green Bay Packers (11-5)
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Adrian Peterson did run for 409 yards in two meetings, and the Vikings had every chance to beat the Packers at Lambeau Field in an eventual 23-14 loss in Week 13. But the difference between these two teams—especially in the postseason—has to come at the quarterback position.
While Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder was as close to perfect as he could be indoors last Sunday (234 yards, three touchdowns, 120.2 passer rating), he also hasn't won outdoors in 2012 (0-4) or practiced fully this week because of an elbow injury.
Aaron Rodgers, who has six games of starting playoff experience, led the NFL in passer rating and touchdown-to-interception ratio. In most seasons, he'd be the NFL MVP again.
He'll settle with advancing to the divisional round by helping the Packers win their 21st game in 23 tries at Lambeau Field.
Pick: Packers 31, Vikings 20
Final: Packers 24, Vikings 10
Indianapolis Colts (11-5) at Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
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Basing a prediction on the last two weeks for Baltimore might be a risky proposition, but it's difficult to deny what the Ravens accomplished against the Giants and Bengals. In each game, Baltimore rushed for over 200 yards and held the opposing offense to under 200—the only such two-game stretch in the NFL this season.
The Colts are one of the worst defenses against the run this season (29th in the NFL), so the Ravens could control this game on the ground.
But even if this game is won and lost through the air, picking against Joe Flacco and his nine games of playoff experience hasn't been smart. All four of Flacco's NFL seasons have included at least one playoff win.
He'll make it five straight by knocking off Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, who is asked to do too much to win a playoff game on the road.
Pick: Ravens 24, Colts 16
Final: Ravens 24, Colts 9
Seattle Seahawks (11-5) at Washington Redskins (10-6)
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The second-ever playoff game between two rookie quarterbacks should be considerably better than the first. Last January, the Texans (led by T.J. Yates) took down Andy Dalton's Bengals in Houston.
Dynamic rookies Russell Wilson (26 touchdowns, 100.0 passer rating) and Robert Griffin III (4,015 total yards, 27 total touchdowns) are must-see television. They represent two-thirds of the best rookie class of quarterbacks ever.
However, finding a winner here probably comes down to the defensive side of the football.
The Seahawks were the best scoring defense in the NFL this season (15.3 points per game). They also forced the fifth-most turnovers and ranked in the top 10 against both the pass and run. If there's any defense to trust, even on the road, it's the one from Seattle.
Pick: Seahawks 24, Redskins 20
Final: Seahawks 24, Redskins 14