The 2014 NFL playoffs are upon us, and the focus has shifted to the picks for each of the games in the Wild Card Round.
With the AFC boasting two excellent matchups—Kansas City taking on Indianapolis and San Diego squaring off with Cincinnati—and the NFC showcasing two dream games—New Orleans traveling to Philadelphia and Green Bay hosting San Francisco—the resulting Wild Card Weekend will be one of the best in years.
Here is a quick preview of each game and the predicted winner.
New Orleans Saints (11-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
Saturday night’s game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New Orleans Saints will be an offensive showcase, but the clear experience edge must go to the franchise with the Super Bowl-proven quarterback.
In one of the best battles all season, Drew Brees will outduel Nick Foles.
Philadelphia deserves immense credit for putting up 417.2 yards per game this season—good enough for second-best in the league—but the defense of the Saints has been much improved over the last four weeks, allowing just 18.5 points per game.
With the New Orleans defense slowing down the Eagles offense using its stout secondary and pass rush, the opportunities for the Saints to amass enough points on the lackluster Philadelphia defense will be there all day.
The Eagles have allowed the fourth-most yards per game this season (394.2), and with the New Orleans offense totaling a fourth-best 399.4 yards per game, it will be the perfect storm for Brees, tight end Jimmy Graham and all of the Saints’ weapons to explode.
In what should be the most exciting game of the weekend, expect New Orleans to steal the win in this high-scoring shootout over Philadelphia.
Predicted Final Score: New Orleans 41, Philadelphia 33
San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)
The Green Bay Packers got the ultimate boost with the return of Aaron Rodgers to the lineup last week and managed to win the NFC North, but the visit from the talented San Francisco 49ers this weekend will result in a first-round exit.
The 49ers will be too much for a battered Green Bay team that is limping into the playoffs.
Not only is Rodgers dealing with the rust that comes with missing every game since Nov. 4 when he sustained a broken collarbone, but the franchise is dealing with the injuries to key players like linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, as well as an ankle injury to Eddie Lacy.
Home-field advantage will be in the favor of the Packers on Sunday, and the temperature is expected to be bitterly cold, according to weather.com. Despite the clear edge with the elements, San Francisco is the more talented team.
The 49ers boast the fifth-best overall defense in the league, allowing just 316.9 yards of total offense per game, and the lack of chemistry from the returning Rodgers and his receivers will result in a lackluster performance.
Rodgers beat a lackluster Chicago secondary last week and will not find the same openings against a much better San Francisco secondary. As well as the 49ers have played defensively, the consistency of the team’s rushing attack will ultimately lead to the victory.
Led by veteran running back Frank Gore and the dual-threat ability of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco and the league’s third-best ground game (137.6 yards per game) will control the clock and pulverize Green Bay’s 25th-ranked run-stopping unit.
Predicted Final Score: San Francisco 23, Green Bay 17
Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
The Indianapolis Colts have played well this season, but an easy division win in the putrid AFC South and key injuries have the team not playing its best football right now. With Kansas City cruising into the playoffs and boasting the elite rushing attack led by Jamaal Charles, the Colts will fall to the Chiefs on Saturday.
The two teams met in Week 16, and Indianapolis was able to snag the 23-7 victory. Kansas City rested its players in Week 17 and will be ready for the hard-hitting action of this game. The Colts may have the home-field advantage, but the Chiefs have more talent on both sides of the ball.
During the first meeting between these two teams, Charles ran the ball for 106 yards on just 13 carries. Head coach Andy Reid understands that he must stick with the running game this time to control the clock against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis offense.
Kansas City has not been elite defensively since the bye week, but the team has a talented secondary and a stellar pass rush led by outside linebacker Tamba Hali. With the Colts struggling to run the ball—averaging just 108.9 yards per game—the Chiefs’ ability to focus on getting pressure in Luck’s face will be the difference.
If Kansas City gets to the quarterback early and often, the team will steal the wild-card win.
Predicted Final Score: Kansas City 31, Indianapolis 24
San Diego Chargers (9-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
The San Diego Chargers have made a dream run to the postseason, but the team needed help from other teams and the referees in Week 17 to make it to the first round. When the team travels to Cincinnati, the Bengals will right this wrong by sending the Chargers home with a loss.
Momentum may be on the side of San Diego after winning the final four games of the season, but Cincinnati has more playoff experience than the Chargers and remains undefeated at home this season.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton told Paul Dehner Jr. on Cincinnati.com about the advantage the playoff experience of the team will have on the matchup:
I think it helps having a lot of the same guys back from the teams the last couple of years, guys that understand that we’ve had an opportunity that we haven’t taken advantage of. I think all that is going to help us going in this year. The staff, the players being the same, we have that extra year of experience, knowing what to expect going in and it’s going to help us out.
Dalton is the ultimate X-factor in this game. While the Bengals are coming off a huge win over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17, the quarterback threw for four interceptions and leaned heavily on the rushing attack and defense.
As long as Dalton limits his mistakes and puts his players in a position to succeed, the talent surrounding him will make up for his inefficiencies. As well as San Diego has played at times in 2013, the matchup against Cincinnati will result in a first-round loss.
Predicted Final Score: Cincinnati 34, San Diego 28
*All stats via NFL.com.