Ah, the playoffs. After needing a full season to finalize the entire playoff picture, the NFL regular season is finally complete to make way for the postseason.
The NFC side of the Wild Card Round will feature matchups between the NFC North winner Green Bay Packers hosting the San Francisco 49ers and the NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles taking on the New Orleans Saints at home.
In the AFC, the San Diego Chargers clinched the No. 6 seed and will travel to take on the Cincinnati Bengals. The Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts will also have a rematch of their Week 16 contest, only this time it will be in Indianapolis.
Before the playoff games officially start on Saturday afternoon, here is an analysis of each game with a prediction included.
|Kansas City Chiefs||Indianapolis Colts||Jan. 4, 4:35 p.m. EST||Colts|
|New Orleans Saints||Philadelphia Eagles||Jan. 4, 8:10 p.m. EST||Eagles|
|San Diego Chargers||Cincinnati Bengals||Jan. 5, 1:05 p.m. EST||Bengals|
|San Francisco 49ers||Green Bay Packers||Jan. 5, 4:40 p.m. EST||49ers|
AFC Wild Card
San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals
After a season in which the San Diego Chargers didn't even rank inside the top two in their own division, they still found a way to unbelievably make the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Chargers now have to travel to take on a tough Cincinnati Bengals team that already defeated them earlier this month back in Week 13.
The Bengals' playoff hopes rely heavily on the shoulders of Andy Dalton. While the third-year quarterback does have offensive playmakers around him, his Jeckyll-and-Hyde season has been one of the determining factors for Cincinnati.
ESPN Stats & Info reported Dalton's 33 touchdowns set the Bengals' single-season record:
Andy Dalton: 33rd TD pass of season ... sets Bengals single-season record (previous mark: (Carson Palmer, 32 in 2005)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 29, 2013
While he has thrown for several touchdowns, the fact that he's thrown 20 interceptions is alarming. In the Bengals' five losses this season, Dalton has thrown six touchdowns and nine interceptions. In their 11 wins, Dalton passed for 27 touchdowns to 11 interceptions.
If Dalton can be "Good Andy" against the Chargers, the Bengals' No. 1 AFC defense will be able to stop Philip Rivers and lead the Bengals to the divisional round.
Prediction: Bengals 28, Chargers 20
Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts
There are three games in the first round of the playoffs that are rematches from earlier in the season, but no game is more of a tell-tale sign of things to come than the Week 16 showdown between the Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts.
Both teams still had something to play for and were giving everything they had in the season's penultimate weekend. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, they were blown out at home, 23-7, and showed that they are an inferior team to the Colts.
Chiefs defensive back Dunta Robinson spelled out the situation following the Week 16 loss, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports:
They came in and kicked our ass today. No excuses. We've got to look in the mirror and decide what kind of team we want to be moving forward. [...] Yeah, OK. You dominate Oakland. Yeah. You dominate the Redskins. But what are we going to do when we face other powerhouses?
Well, it looks like Robinson will have to quickly answer that question against the same opponent in the opening round of the playoffs.
Andrew Luck's return to glory is nearly complete, and a playoff win would do him wonders. The second-year quarterback has eight touchdowns and just one interception in his last four games, including 241 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions against the Chiefs.
The Colts' train will continue to roll for at least one more week with a home win over the Chiefs as they will have to face either the New England Patriots or Denver Broncos in the next round.
Prediction: Colts 23, Chiefs 14
NFC Wild Card
New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles
Drew Brees vs. Nick Foles didn't exactly seem like an enticing playoff matchup during the offseason. But since Foles took over the reins from Michael Vick for good, the Philadelphia Eagles have transformed into a playoff team with one of the most lethal offenses in the NFL.
Meanwhile, Drew Brees has put together yet another great season and thrown for another ho-hum 5,162 yards with more than 40 total touchdowns. But his road woes are evident, as the Saints have gone 3-5 away from New Orleans and Brees has thrown for a pedestrian 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Joe Giglio of WFAN-660 also gave a gentle reminder about Brees' road record in the playoffs:
Your first of what should be many reminders this week: Drew Brees has never won a road playoff game. #Eagles— Joe Giglio (@JoeGiglioSports) December 30, 2013
Philadelphia possesses both the best running back in the NFL this season in terms of rushing yards with LeSean McCoy, a receivers with over 1,300 yards in DeSean Jackson surrounding Foles.
The former Arizona Wildcats quarterback set a record this season for touchdown-to-interception ratio, according to ESPN:
Nick Foles in 2013: 27 TD, 2 INT. Best TD-INT ratio in NFL history.— ESPN (@espn) December 30, 2013
On the shoulders of their offense, the Eagles will get past the Saints to move on and face a tough Carolina Panthers team that recently defeated the Saints themselves at home.
Prediction: Eagles 38, Saints 35
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers
Which Team is Most Likely to Win On the Road?
The San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers certainly took the road less traveled to reach the playoffs, but with both teams in the Wild Card Round—and finally healthy—both teams have a shot at moving on to the divisional round.
But what makes the difference in this game is the defensive matchup. The Packers have struggled all season to find an identity on defense and have the worst scoring defense out of every NFC team to make the playoffs.
The 49ers, on the other hand, have been one of the best defenses in the NFC and rank behind only the Panthers and Seattle Seahawks in total yards allowed. Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area showed the disparity between the two teams:
The 49ers finished regular season with NFL's No. 5 defense and No. 24 offense. The Packers were No. 3 in total offense, No. 25 in defense.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) December 30, 2013
While San Francisco hasn't been one of the better offensive teams in the NFL, they have an offense that is more than capable of competing with any team. With Colin Kaepernick behind center, the 49ers have playmakers like Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis who can all explode at any time.
San Francisco will continue their run in the playoffs with a win over the Packers despite the return of both Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb for the postseason.
Prediction: 49ers 27, Packers 23