Wild Card Weekend is upon us, and the stakes have never been higher this season than they are today. That's what we'll be saying the rest of the way, with four big matchups set to bring us into the new year right.
From the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans, part two, to the Green Bay Packers trying to slow down the unstoppable force that is Adrian Peterson, this two-day NFL extravaganza has plenty of storylines to keep you satisfied and plastered to the couch for the foreseeable future.
NBC has the Saturday coverage with both an AFC and NFC matchup to split up the action before CBS and FOX get their usual Sunday slates.
Here's a look at each of the four Wild Card games this weekend with a complete listing of where you can catch the action and a prediction of who moves on and who goes home. To stress the importance of this weekend on the Super Bowl, ESPN's Trey Wingo will take us to the listings with this tweet:
Wild card weekend produces winners: at least 1 Super Bowl participant has played on Wild card weekend 6 of the last 7 big games— trey wingo (@wingoz) January 3, 2013
(6) Cincinnati Bengals vs. (3) Houston Texans
When: Saturday, January 5 at 4:30 p.m. ET
Where: Reliant Stadium; Houston, Texas
After an up-and-down season for the Texans, Gary Kubiak's group still boasts a solid defense and one of the NFL's top backs in Arian Foster.
However, the argument can certainly be made that the Bengals are the hungrier team, citing last year's wild-card loss to Houston and their 7-1 record in the last eight regular-season games as sources.
Led by a defense that has given up 20 points just once in that span, the Bengals' band of misfits on defense features Geno Atkins in the middle and a talented secondary that is mostly getting its final chance to impress.
Green Bay and New England have been able to spread out the Texans and win big. Cincinnati doesn't figure to match up that way against Houston, but don't discount A.J. Green having a big impact on this game. If Cincinnati is to pull off the upset, he'll be having a big game.
Prediction: Cincinnati 27, Houston 23
(6) Minnesota Vikings vs. (3) Green Bay Packers
When: Saturday, January 5 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Lambeau Field; Green Bay, Wis.
The Packers just managed to keep Adrian Peterson from breaking the all-time NFL rushing record but couldn't manage to grab the NFC's No. 2 seed, as the Vikings both clinched a playoff spot and this weekend's rematch in one swoop.
Now, back on the road in Green Bay, can QB Christian Ponder overcome his Lambeau woes to lead an offense built solely on the back of AD? He was 12-of-25 with two critical interception's in the Vikes' 23-14 loss in Week 13, and playing back on the road won't exactly be an advantage for Minnesota.
With a full compliment of receivers back for Green Bay and Randall Cobb ready to make an impact similar to what Minnesota is lacking without Percy Harvin, odds favor Green Bay to use its home field as a big enough advantage to reach the next round.
Don't discount the Vikings, though, who are always one big run away from taking over a game, thanks in part to the league's best running back going beast mode on command.
Prediction: Green Bay 31, Minnesota 17
(5) Indianapolis Colts vs. (4) Baltimore Ravens
When: Sunday, January 6 at 1 p.m. ET
Where: M&T Bank Stadium; Baltimore, Md.
With Andrew Luck leading the charge for the 11-win Colts, things haven't been this bright in Indiana since No. 18 was starting to come into his own. With a supporting cast built around youth and speed, holdovers Reggie Wayne and Dwight Freeney have been able to help guide this franchise into the next frontier.
Unfortunately, facing the Ravens has never been tougher. All-Pro Ray Lewis is back for one more attempt at glory after announcing that he intends to retire at the end of the postseason.
If you think the Ravens play off of emotion during regular-season games, imagine the kind of impact that this defense will try to have on the game on Sunday.
Baltimore matches up well both in the running game with Ray Rice and on defense with a rookie QB playing on the road in his first playoff game. Luck and the Colts will be back next year, but this game will belong to the Ravens.
Prediction: Baltimore 28, Indianapolis 18
(5) Seattle Seahawks vs. (4) Washington Redskins
When: Sunday, January 6 at 4:30 p.m. ET
Where: FedEx Field; Landover, Md.
There's no arguing that these are two of the hottest teams in football. Washington is coming off of an inspired winning streak that included two wins against the Dallas Cowboys—the most important in Week 17—which propelled Robert Griffin III and Mike Shanahan to the postseason.
Seattle is a better home team than road one, but the Seahawks still have an underrated defense and a rookie QB in Russell Wilson who is capable of putting up points in bunches.
The numbers for RG3 and Wilson are surprisingly similar, as both had around 3,200 passing yards. Griffin has 815 yards rushing, but Wilson has added 489 of his own and accounted for 30 touchdowns—three more than Griffin.
It's as cliche as it gets, but the QB who performs better will likely be playing again next weekend. Two rookies, two improbable playoff runs, but only one victor. It's just too hard to bet against RG3 right now.
Prediction: Washington 21, Seattle 20
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report's Breaking News Team. Check him out on Twitter.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!