The matchups in the NFL's Wild Card Round bring promises of an outstanding playoff.
In the NFC, the Phildelphia Eagles hosting the New Orleans Saints on Saturday, Jan. 4 at 8 p.m., and the Green Bay Packers will host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Jan. 5 at 4:40 p.m. ET. In the AFC, the Indianapolis Colts will host the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday, Jan. 4 at 4:45 p.m. ET, and the Cincinnati Bengals will host the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, Jan. 5 at 1:05 p.m. ET.
|2014 NFL Wild Card Schedule|
|Saturday, Jan. 4|
|Chiefs vs. Colts||4:35 p.m.||NBC|
|Saints vs. Eagles||8:10 p.m.||NBC|
|Sunday, Jan. 5|
|49ers vs. Packers||4:40 p.m.||FOX|
|Chargers at Bengals||1:05 p.m.||CBS|
The top two seeds in each conference will get the week off, and they will host the winners of this week's games.
In the Wild Card Round, division winners enjoy the home-field advantage even if their respective wild-card opponents have a superior record.
Have a look at the preview for the three matchups that have already been scheduled.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Indianapolis Colts
After starting the season at 9-0, the Chiefs dropped three straight in a stretch where they faced the Denver Broncos twice. They rebounded with two dominant wins over Washington and Oakland before dropping their final two matchups and will enter the postseason as the AFC's No. 5 seed.
Meanwhile, after a bit of a midseason slump, the Colts finished off the season strong. They went 3-0 over their last three games and did so by the combined score of 78-20. That included a resounding 23-7 victory over the Chiefs in Week 16.
The Chiefs will hope that an increasingly healthy pass rush will help reverse that outcome next week.
Tamba Hali and Justin Houston missed Week 17, but both look on track to be ready for the playoffs. They return to give the Chiefs an imposing defense, but one that isn't impenetrable. The Chiefs are 17th in yards allowed per pass and 24th in yards allowed per rush.
With the ability to get crucial sacks and the NFL's second-best defense in terms of takeaways, however, Kansas City can win games with its defense.
Offensively, the Chiefs are limited. They are just 18th in the NFL in yards per game. With Jamaal Charles enjoying an outstanding season out of the backfield, though, the Chiefs do not lack for explosiveness.
Statistically, the Colts won't blow you away. For example, they are 15th in scoring and 12th in points allowed.
Still, with the smart play of Andrew Luck at quarterback and a defense that did not allow more than 10 points in any of their final three games, the Colts have reason to start dreaming of a trip to New York.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers made an improbable run to the postseason by winning their last four games and then watching the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins both lose in games earlier on Sunday.
The Chargers-Kansas City game began in the afternoon, and although the Chiefs rested many of their starters, San Diego still needed a late missed field goal in regulation by Ryan Succop and then overtime to prevail.
Meanwhile, the Bengals were supremely impressive in closing out the season. Cincinnati surged to the AFC North title with a 42-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 16 and then followed that up with a 34-17 victory over a Baltimore Ravens team fighting for its playoff life.
Dalton threw for over 4,000 yards this season with 31 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. The big redhead has struggled with interceptions all season. That looked to be improving as he entered Week 17's game, as Dalton hadn't thrown an interception in previous three games. He made up for lost time by throwing four picks versus Baltimore.
The Bengals do have the defense that will allow them to survive a turnover, however. Cincinnati is second in yards allowed per play.
That defense will be tested in this one. Behind a resurgent Philip Rivers, the Chargers are sixth in yards per game and fourth in yards per play.
Despite the offensive prowess of both these teams, defense prevailed when the Chargers hosted Cincinnati in Week 13, with the Bengals winning, 17-10.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers
It's hard to believe, but the Packers survived playing seven games without the services of star quarterback Aaron Rodgers and still made the playoffs.
They can thank the Week-17 return of Rodgers and a thrilling 33-28 win over the Chicago Bears for that. As a reward, they will host the surging 49ers.
With the Seattle Seahawks beating the St. Louis Rams in Week 17, the San Francisco 49ers were denied the NFC West crown. As a result, they will be in action in the opening weekend of the playoffs.
The 49ers will enter this matchup with a six-game winning streak. Four of those wins came over teams with losing records, but in two of their last four games, the 49ers posted impressive wins over the Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals.
The 49ers beat the Packers 34-28 in Week 1, but a few things have changed since then.
Most notably is the fact that the Packers found a running game. Rodgers returned to an offense that is seventh in rushing yards per game and fifth in yards per rush.
For their part, the 49ers will try to win this game with defense and a strong rushing attack. The 49ers are third in the NFL in points allowed, fourth in yards allowed per game and sixth in yards allowed per play.
They also rush the ball on a greater percentage of offensive plays than any team in the NFL and have the NFL's third-ranked rushing attack.
That figures to be problematic for the Packers. They are just 26th in rushing defense.
New Orleans Saints vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles sealed the NFL's last playoff position by beating the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.
It took an impressive second half of the season for the Eagles to make the postseason. They won seven of their last eight games. They will try to make that eight of nine against as they host the Saints.
With the Carolina Panthers taking care of business on Sunday as one of the NFL's early starts, the Saints played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday out of contention for the NFC South crown.
So, with the Saints beating the Buccaneers, they locked themselves into a wild-card spot.
This is not ideal for the Saints. As the second wild-card entrant, the Saints will not enjoy a home postseason game, and they've been far better at home this year.
New Orleans went 8-0 at home and just 3-5 on the road. They have lost three straight road games and have not scored more than 17 points in any of those three games.
Although the Saints defense has made strides from last season, this team still needs to be led by its offense if it wants to succeed, and the offense simply isn't the same away from the Superdome.
The Eagles, however, are 32nd in pass defense, which should play to the Saints favor.
Of course, with the Eagles being first in both yards per pass and rush, they will have the opportunity to outscore the Saints.
All stats via TeamRankings.com on Dec. 29, 2013.
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