All four games on tap for NFL Wild Card Weekend could be close, hard-fought games. There isn't much that separates any team in any of the matchups. That dynamic is consistent with the way the entire season has transpired.
Legitimately, there are as many as five teams that could pass as sensible picks to win the Super Bowl. The parity in the league is refreshing, and we'll see that on full display during the first weekend of the postseason.
The road to Super Bowl XLVIII is set to begin. Here are my picks to win Saturday and Sunday's matchups.
Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
The Colts just beat the Chiefs 23-7 in Week 16. Their defense was dominant in forcing four turnovers and limiting the Chiefs to just one successful third-down conversion in eight attempts.
Kansas City must protect the ball better this time around if it is to have a chance to win.
The problem with the Chiefs is that they have failed to prove their mettle each time they were tested this season. In addition to the loss to the Colts, Andy Reid's team was swept in the season series by the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers.
It's impossible to have confidence in this team winning on the road in the postseason. The Colts will take this one and advance.
New Orleans Saints (11-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
New Orleans and Philly didn't meet during the regular season, but if they had, what we could take from that game would have depended on when it took place.
Philly is an entirely different team now than it was early in the season. The offense looks nearly unstoppable. The Eagles scored 78 points in its last two regular season games. It scored 108 if you go back three weeks.
The much-maligned defense has only given up 33 points in the last two games.
Even with that improvement, the Saints should come out on top in this one. The Eagles still have the 32nd-ranked pass defense in the NFL. Heading into a matchup with Drew Brees, that's not a good look.
He and Sean Payton are still a dangerous force that can put up huge offensive numbers. Brees and Payton get a lot of attention, but the defense isn't bad either.
Remember, the Saints are one of six teams in the NFL that allowed less than 20 points per game this season. Bet on Brees and the offense to score points and the defense to make the stops necessary to win.
San Diego Chargers (9-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
Cincy won a physical, ugly and hard-fought Week 13 battle over the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium, 17-10. The teams are evenly matched, so the biggest factor in this game is the home-field advantage.
The Bengals are one of three NFL teams that are undefeated at home this season. Lately, Cincinnati hasn't just been winning at home, it has been trouncing opponents. In their last five home games, the Bengals have won by an average of 24 points.
San Diego did prove it could win big games on the road when it beat the Broncos at Sports Authority Field in Week 15. The difference here is that the Bengals have a defense that is ranked fifth in the league against the run and pass.
In a hostile environment, a good home-standing defense becomes even better. The Chargers will find it difficult to move the ball consistently in a raucous Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals will advance.
San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)
The Niners took the regular-season opener at Candlestick Park, 34-28. Colin Kaepernick had his best day of the season. He threw for 412 yards and three touchdown passes.
San Francisco hadn't hit its stride defensively but was still able to pull out a victory to start the season. The Niners went through their share of ups and downs in 2013, but the team has won six straight and is playing its best football.
On paper, Green Bay doesn't appear to have a great chance to win. Despite being at home, the Packers are 25th in the NFL against the run. Running the football is something the Niners have done almost better than any team in the league.
To compound this problem, Green Bay will be without its best defensive player. Per ESPN Wisconsin, Clay Matthews is out for the playoff opener.
Even with those impediments, there is something to be said for the Aaron Rodgers effect. He's the best player in the league and his presence changes things. That said, the Niners are playing so well in all facets, there is no way they lose this game.
San Francisco is my pick to win it all and the journey begins here.
Follow me for news and opinions on sports.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!