The 2014 NFL playoffs are set to kick off on Saturday, Jan. 4, as eight of the postseason's 12 contenders begin their championship journey.
Which game are you most excited to watch?
While all but one division champion will be favored at home this weekend, there are sure to be plenty of surprises, as the Wild Card Round rarely fails to live up to its banner.
With kickoff fast approaching, below I'll highlight the biggest key for each team on Wild Card Weekend.
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Kansas City Chiefs: Generate a Pass Rush
The Kansas City Chiefs will need to ignite their pass rush in order to have a shot to beat the Indianapolis Colts on the road Saturday afternoon.
Kansas City ranks sixth in the league in sacks this season (47) but could have finished atop the NFL if not for a late drop-off. Granted, the Chiefs' struggles have been due in large part to injuries suffered by leading sack masters Justin Houston and Tamba Hali; they'll have to do much better than the one sack they managed to record against Andrew Luck and Indianapolis in Week 16.
Keep in mind that Indy has done an excellent job of protecting Luck of late, allowing just 32 total sacks in 2013. The good news for Kansas City? Both Houston and Hali are set to suit up this weekend, according to ESPN.com's Adam Teicher.
Indianapolis Colts: Feed Donald Brown
The Colts have struggled to run the ball consistently all season long, but they had tremendous success on the ground against Kansas City in Week 16, racking up 135 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries.
Donald Brown and Indy will need that same level of balance on Saturday in order to advance.
Brown accounted for 79 of those yards and is averaging 5.3 yards per carry on the year. The veteran running back has tasted playoff defeat in the past and is aware of what's at stake for the Colts this weekend, per Colts.com's Craig Kelley:
"Everything gets ramped up a bit. You’re guaranteed 16 games in a regular season, but you’re not guaranteed (that in the) playoffs. You’re playing against the best of the best competition and if you lose, you’re out."
Don't expect Brown to average 7.9 yards per carry against Kansas City this time around, but look for him to run hard again.
New Orleans Saints: Exploit Philly's Dismal Secondary
While the Saints have had their fair share of struggles outside of the Big Easy this season, Drew Brees and the league's second-ranked passing attack will have a significant advantage over the Eagles defense through the air.
Brees sleeping better than he does in the NyQuil commercial tn knowing he gets to hang at least 500 yards on the Eagles secondary next week— Matthew Hayden (@Y_U_Hayden) December 30, 2013
Philadelphia's secondary ranks dead last in passing yards allowed this year and has given up more than 350 yards passing to the likes of Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton over the past few weeks.
If Brees and his array of weapons can exploit Philly's lackluster unit and score touchdowns instead of field goals, the Saints could be headed to the Divisional Round in blowout fashion.
Philadelphia Eagles: Play Opportunistic Defense
Let's face it: The Saints' talented offense is going to have success against the Eagles' porous defense. However, Philadelphia's D is one of the league's most opportunistic units, forcing 31 takeaways during the regular season.
If the Eagles can kill a few Saints drives with some timely turnovers, they can turn the tide and give their offense a short field to work with.
Rob Ryan's Saints defense may seem like the better ball-hawking unit, but it should be noted that the Eagles have recorded a dozen more takeaways than New Orleans this year, including seven more interceptions.
San Diego Chargers: Avoid Turnovers at All Costs
The key to the San Diego Chargers earning their first road playoff win since 2007 will be avoiding turnovers on Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati.
San Diego turned it over three times in its 17-10 loss to the Bengals back in Week 13 and can ill afford to give the ball away on the road in a win-or-go-home showdown. Philip Rivers and the Bolts will need a performance similar to their Week 15 effort at Denver, in which they took care of the football and wound up punting just three times.
Cincinnati Bengals: Force Chargers Offense to Be One-Dimensional
Cincinnati boasts one of the NFL's best defensive units. It will force the Chargers to become one-dimensional offensively if it can shut down the run again like it did so well back in Week 13.
The Bengals, who allowed just 47 rushing yards to the defending world champions in Week 17, held San Diego to 91 rushing yards on 24 carries in their seven-point win on Dec. 1 and should be able to neutralize the Chargers ground attack again at home. If that happens, Rivers and the passing attack will once again be under immense pressure to beat a stout secondary through the air.
While it can be done, the Chargers have shown in recent weeks that they are vulnerable to untimely turnovers.
San Francisco 49ers: Take Away Green Bay's Running Game
There's no defense in the world capable of stopping Aaron Rodgers from threading the needle when he wants to. However, there are few rush defenses better suited to shut down the Packers' surprising ground game than San Francisco's fourth-ranked unit.
Consequently, the key for the 'Niners on Sunday will be to slow Eddie Lacy and James Starks, thus forcing Rodgers to do it all himself.
And you better believe San Francisco's top-10 secondary will force a mistake or two if the front seven can pressure Rodgers out of the pocket.
Green Bay Packers: Slow Colin Kaepernick
The Green Bay Packers have surrendered an incredible amount of yardage and points to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in their two most recent losses to San Francisco.
Colin Kaepernick has 675 passing yards (5 TDs) and 203 rushing yards (2 TDs) in his last two games against the Packers.— John Paulsen (@4for4_John) December 30, 2013
Kaepernick produced a record-breaking 181 rushing yards in last year's NFC divisional playoff win at Candlestick Park and threw for over 400 yards in San Francisco's Week 1 victory over Green Bay in 2013. Therefore, the biggest key for the Packers will be finding a way to slow the dual-threat signal-caller and forcing someone else to beat them.
While running back Frank Gore is an obvious threat on the ground, he isn't a threat to put up points in a hurry like Kaepernick.
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