There’s no shortage of interesting matchups awaiting NFL fans heading into this year’s postseason. Just in Wild Card weekend we’ll see Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees looking to recapture past glory.
But enough with that, you’re all here to see predictions for this weekend’s games, so let’s jump right in.
In securing an 11-5 record in the regular season, the Chiefs completed one of the most remarkable turnarounds in recent memory. However, it appears that 2013’s last unbeaten team peaked at the wrong time as the Chiefs sputtered to a 2-5 mark to close the season.
As a counterpoint, the Colts finished the season on a three-game win streak, including a 23-7 triumph over the Chiefs. More impressively, the Colts allowed only 20 points over those three contests. Sure, two of those wins were over the Texans and the Jaguars, but momentum is the name of the game heading into the postseason, and it appears Indianapolis has the upper hand in that regard.
I expect that the Chiefs will go the way of other recent resurgent squads like the 2008 Miami Dolphins and the 2011 Detroit Lions. Both came off losing seasons and earned playoff berths but were ousted from the tournament in the Wild Card round.
Don’t be surprised if the Chiefs take an early lead, but look for Andrew Luck to come up big in the waning moments of the game as he’s done so often in his young career.
Final Score: Colts 28, Chiefs 21
These two squads provide an interesting contrast.
The Eagles began the year unable to secure a home victory but managed to finish the year strong and take their last four games at the Linc. The Saints went 8-0 at home but could only win one lone road game over their last six.
Playing in New Orleans’ favor in this game is the fact that their second-ranked pass game will be pitted against the league’s worst pass defense. Rest assured that Drew Brees, who’s topped 5,000 passing yards in three consecutive seasons, will be going to the air frequently.
As for the Saints’ opposition, one can safely expect a heavy dose of LeSean McCoy. The Eagles rarely lost (9-2) this season when the NFL’s leading rusher received his obligatory 20 touches.
That being said, I can’t comfortably take Nick Foles over Drew Brees. The Arizona product has had a wonderfully efficient season but look for one late interception to be his undoing in a game that promises to be loaded with offensive fireworks.
Final Score: Saints 35, Eagles 31
This is arguably the toughest game to call this weekend. The Bengals finished this season 8-0 in Paul Brown Stadium, but they’re 0-2 in the postseason with Andy Dalton under center.
Dalton posted career bests in passing yardage and touchdowns this season, but he also threw a career-worst 20 interceptions.
As for the Chargers, they managed to win five of their last six after starting just 4-6. In that stretch they also notched impressive victories over the Chiefs and the Denver Broncos.
Rivers has more playoff experience than his redheaded opponent, but his playoff record is an underwhelming 3-4, and he’s yet to play in a postseason game without throwing a pick.
Oh yeah, that loss for the Chargers over their last six games? That came against the Bengals.
The Bengals won a 17-10 battle against the Chargers earlier in the year largely on the strength of a masterful defensive performance. I anticipate that the defense will come up big for them once again on Sunday and help Dalton and coach Marvin Lewis get their first playoff victories.
Final Score: Bengals 24, Chargers 14
Every year there seems to be at least one instance of a superior Wild Card team having to hit the road to take on a division winner. This game seems to be the latest example.
However, while the Packers’ 8-7-1 record isn’t impressive at first glance, one has to keep in mind that they went 6-2 in games that Aaron Rodgers finished.
I’d be remiss not to mention that one of those losses came at the hands of these 49ers in Week 1. In fact, the Packers have fallen to the Niners three times in the last two seasons, most notably in a divisional round meeting in last year’s postseason.
It’s worth noting that the last two of those losses came in San Francisco. This game will be played in the chilly confines of Lambeau Field.
So, in my upset pick of the weekend, look for Rodgers to come out with a chip on his shoulder and, after a lengthy vacation, prove that he’s not quite ready to call it a season just yet.
Final Score: Packers 27, 49ers 24