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NFL Playoff Picks 2014: Predicting Outcomes of Wild-Card Weekend Matchups

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NFL Playoff Picks 2014: Predicting Outcomes of Wild-Card Weekend Matchups
Stan Liu-USA TODAY Sports

The regular season is over, but the best action in the NFL is just beginning with the start of wild-card weekend as the playoffs get underway.

While folks will have to wait to lay eyes upon the league's top teams that earned first-round byes, those playoff teams not named Denver, New England, Seattle or Carolina will be in action and fighting for their playoff lives this weekend. 

Seeing teams go from the wild-card round into the Super Bowl has become commonplace in the league in recent seasons, so the door is still open for any of the eight teams in action to win it all in New York on Feb. 2.

Here's a look at my predictions for the upcoming wild-card slate.

 

AFC Wild Card

Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

After playing three weeks ago in a Week 16 matchup, the Colts and Chiefs will take to the gridiron again in wild-card weekend with the stakes quite a bit higher. 

The playoff position of both teams was practically settled heading into their Week 16 game, which the Colts won in dominating fashion, 23-7, to give Kansas City its worst loss of the season. 

Things should go pretty much the same this time around. The Colts are playing their best football of the season, winning their last three games by a combined 58 points. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have lost two straight heading into the postseason.

No team was as good as the Chiefs in the first half of the season, but they've been far from spectacular since their bye in Week 10, having gone 2-4 since then. 

Andrew Luck made it to the playoffs in his rookie season before losing to Baltimore, and he'll use that experience to improve this time around in the clutch moments against a much more beatable team.

Prediction: Colts 23, Chiefs 20 (OT)

 

San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The only thing that the Chargers were expected to compete for entering the season was the top spot in the NFL draft, but here they are heading to Cincinnati for a wild-card matchup with the Bengals.

San Diego is 9-7 with a four-game winning streak to finish the regular season, but it enjoyed a lot of help to get here. The Bengals have held a grasp on the AFC North for much of the season and have simply been cruising toward this game for weeks.

Offense will be hard to come by for San Diego against one of the NFL's top defenses. Cincinnati gives up just 209 passing yards and 96.5 rushing yards per game—to rank fifth in the league in both categories. 

On the other hand, Andy Dalton has quietly had a lights-out season with 4,296 yards and 33 touchdowns. Interceptions have been his only problem, but the Chargers are among the worst teams in that category, owning just 11 picks this season. The Chargers' secondary has been gashed all season long as it ranks 29th in passing yards allowed. 

All of those dynamics point in Cincy's favor, but when it comes down to it, the Chargers have already exhausted themselves in just getting to the playoffs. The Bengals are more ready for this one. 

Prediction: Bengals 28, Chargers 17

 

NFC Wild Card

New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Both NFC wild-card weekend matchups feature an odd dynamic of the division champion seemingly being the underdog at home, which is the case as the Saints head to Philadelphia.

Sean Payton notched an 11-5 record in his first season back from suspension, but it wasn't enough to win the division. Regardless, things are set up quite well for his squad heading into this one.

The Eagles have been a force to be reckoned with offensively, as Chip Kelly's up-tempo scheme has turned LeSean McCoy into  even more of a monster, and it's opened up favorable passing situations for Nick Foles. But the Saints ranked second in the NFL by allowing 194 passing yards per game and will be able to make Philly's offense one-dimensional. 

Philadelphia's pass defense, on the other hand, gives up more yards than any team in the league. Having Drew Brees come to town is quite the nightmare for the league's worst secondary. 

Prediction: Saints 37, Eagles 28

 

San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If you think it's unfair that the Saints have to play at Philadelphia despite sporting a better record, you'll be disgusted at the 49ers-Packers matchup.

San Francisco rolls into the playoffs with a 12-4 record, and having won its last six games. Meanwhile, Green Bay boasts eight wins on the season and has lost or tied in six of its last nine outings. 

The Packers defense isn't the force that it used to be, unable to stop the run or the pass as Green Bay ranks in the bottom eight of the NFL in both categories. They've been relegated to picking their poison, getting shredded either through the air or on the ground. 

Green Bay may have success at selling out against the run, but that becomes nearly impossible when you have to account for a mobile quarterback such as Colin Kaepernick. With Kaepernick throwing 10 touchdowns to just one pick in his last six contests, he's proving to be a threat through the air as well. 

Aaron Rodgers will keep the Pack close, but he simply won't be able to put up enough points to keep up with his defense's issues. 

Prediction: 49ers 30, Packers 27

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted

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