NFL Wild Card Weekend: 5 Things to Watch in Saturday's Games
After 17 weeks, the NFL playoffs are finally upon us. Dubbed Wild Card Weekend, the first round always provides interesting matchups and some surprising results. This year should be no different.
It all kicks off on Saturday with a pair of games that both include interesting storylines. The Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers are home favorites, but face difficult tests.
The Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings don't want to hear anything about favorites. Both teams are confident that they have what it takes to stage upsets.
The Texans enter in the midst of a slump that saw them go from a sure first-round bye to having to play on the first weekend of the playoffs. Green Bay enters its game against the Vikings having just lost in Minneapolis last weekend.
There's no doubt that this year's version of Wild Card Weekend should provide entertainment and drama. With that being said, let's take a look at five interesting things to watch for in Saturday's games.
Matt Schaub Makes His First Playoff Start
Houston quarterback Matt Schaub will get his first taste of what the NFL playoffs are all about. The signal-caller will be making his first career playoff start after missing last year's games against Cincinnati and Baltimore with an injury.
If the Texans hope to defeat the Bengals, Schaub is going to have to have a solid game. Cincinnati will likely focus on stopping running back Arian Foster, meaning that more pressure will be put on the quarterback to make plays.
The Bengals enter the matchup with a tough defense, particularly against the pass. Cincinnati gave up just 213 yards a game through the air, which was seventh in the league.
During the 2012 campaign, Schaub threw for 4,008 yards with 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His quarterback rating of 90.7 was good enough for ninth in the league. He also added a solid completion percentage of 64.3 percent.
Not surprisingly, in all four of Houston's losses this season, he did not throw a touchdown pass.
If the Texans hope to move on in the playoffs, Schaub will need to make plays and get the ball in the end zone.
Can the Texans Break out of Their Slump?
At the start of December, the Houston Texans were 11-1 and looked to be a lock as one of the top two seeds in the AFC. Their only loss had been a 42-24 prime-time, home loss to the Green Bay Packers.
However, this is the NFL, where things can change in an instant. Houston struggled to close out the season, losing three of its final four games and sliding down to the third seed for the playoffs.
That's definitely not the momentum that a team is looking for heading into January.
All three December losses came at the hands of playoff teams. New England, Minnesota and Indianapolis all figured out a way to beat the once-mighty Texans.
Fortunately for the Texans, the NFL is a "what have you done for me lately" league, meaning that all of the negative feelings can be pushed aside with a first-round victory over the Bengals.
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green
The Bengals are led on offense by two second-year standouts. Quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green have both been key components to Cincinnati's success in 2012.
That trend is going to have to continue in the playoffs if the Bengals have any hopes of pulling off a first-round upset.
Dalton finished the year with 3,669 yards, 27 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He completed 62.3 percent of his passes and put up a QB rating of 87.4.
11 of Dalton's touchdown passes were caught by his favorite target, Green. In fact, the impressive receiver saw a whopping 164 passes thrown his way. The next closest on the team was tight end Jermaine Gresham, who received 94 targets.
The matchup with the Houston secondary should be an interesting one. The Texans gave up the 16th-most passing yards in 2012. Former Bengals cornerback Jonathan Joseph should be the one giving Green the most attention during the game.
If the Bengals have any shot of winning on Saturday, Andy Dalton must go to A.J. Green early and often.
The Return of Randall Cobb
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers will get an important weapon back (per ESPN.com) for their first-round game with the Minnesota Vikings. Receiver Randall Cobb, who missed the season finale last week, should play a major role in the Green Bay offense.
The second-year receiver out of Kentucky has been a pleasant surprise for the Packers. After only catching 25 passes for 375 yards and a touchdown during his rookie campaign, Cobb exploded in 2012. The receiver made 80 catches for 954 yards and eight touchdowns.
His team-leading 104 targets led the team and proved that Rodgers has great confidence in the young receiver.
Cobb also plays an important role on special teams and can quickly change a game with his return skills.
Though the Packers just lost to the Vikings last week, the return of Randall Cobb should help their case in the first round.
Will Adrian Peterson Continue to Slash the Packers D?
Adrian Peterson has got to love his matchup this week in the playoffs. In two games against the Packers this season, the star running back has rushed for a ridiculous 409 yards.
The Vikings will once again need a huge day from the league's leading rusher.
In their Week 17 game, Peterson ran for 199 yards and a touchdown and finished nine yards short of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards.
The Green Bay defense has had trouble all year stopping the run. The Packers gave up 106 yards per game, ranking 20th in the league.
One has to think that, heading into this playoff game, the defense will be focused and ready for Peterson. It will be interesting to see if his power running style will wear on the defense in the cold, nighttime air at Lambeau.
Peterson will surely be licking his chops heading into this game. Looked at as not really a threat all year, the Vikings will actually have a shot to pull off a major upset if "All Day" AP can get going.