NFL Playoffs 2014: Breaking Down Crucial Matchups in Wild Card Round

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NFL Playoffs 2014: Breaking Down Crucial Matchups in Wild Card Round
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor

It was an unbelievable weekend of record-breaking performances, missed field goals and hail mary miracles. Although it took until the last minute of the last game of the last week of the season, the playoff schedule has finally been set.

Whether it is a high-powered offense against a great defense or a rematch of a past playoff game, the Wild Card Round will be interesting to say the least.

Here are the most important matchups to keep an eye on next weekend.  

 

Ryan Mathews vs. Cincinnati Rush Defense 

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

After a slow start to the season, Ryan Mathews has finally become the running back that San Diego has long waited to see.

Although he did not produce a 100-yard game until October, Mathews wrapped up the regular season with 1,255 rushing yards. 

The San Diego Chargers finished the regular season riding a four-game winning streak. Mathews reached the 100-yard mark in three of those games, so it comes as no surprise that the Chargers need Matthews to produce to win games.

However, Mathews will have his hands full on Saturday when his Chargers take on the Cincinnati Bengals and their top-five defense. Led by Vontaze Burfict and his league-leading 171 tackles, the Bengals defense has allowed just six rushing touchdowns all season. 

This will be a rematch of their December 1 matchup, which the Bengals won 17-10 in San Diego. Mathews carried the ball 14 times, but was held to just 61 yards and did not get into the end zone. 

The bottom line is something will have to give on Sunday. The Chargers’ success comes from getting Mathews going. The Bengals win games by stuffing the run and creating turnovers. 

 

Colin Kaepernick’s Legs vs. Packers' Linebackers 

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Everybody knows what happened in this meeting last postseason.

If you need a refresher, though, here it is. Kaepernick ran wild against Green Bay. The young quarterback burst onto the national scene, carrying the ball 16 times for 181 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-31 Niners win. 

This year, Kaepernick has not relied on his legs nearly as much and has only had double-digit rushing attempts in one game this season.

However, with the 49ers facing a rushing defense that ranks 25th in the league, you have to think Kaepernick will get his carries. 

The Packers will likely be without their leader on defense and best pass-rusher Clay Matthews. According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN, Matthews had surgery last week on his right thumb. He experienced the same injury in early October and was out for a month.

The 49ers may try to expose the Packers' vulnerability at the linebacker position by using the read-option. Kaepernick’s speed was a huge issue for the Packers last year and the 49ers will take advantage of that. 

The Packers will not win this game if they allow Kaepernick to have success on the ground. 

 

Nick Foles vs. New Orleans' Pass Defense

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

After a breakout season, Nick Foles and his Eagles offense will face their toughest task to date when they host the New Orleans Saints on Saturday.

The Saints enter Saturday’s game with the second-best passing defense in the NFL, giving up just 194 yards per game.

For the Eagles, Foles has been lighting up the stat sheet all year. Since he took over for Michael Vick earlier in the season, Foles has thrown for 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions. 

The Saints have 12 interceptions on the season and will have to prevent the home run ball to DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper.

The Eagles need Foles to air it out to be effective. The Saints will rely on their defense to slow down Philadelphia's high-octane offense.

Which one will have to give on Saturday?

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