Considering the last three Super Bowl winners began their quest in the Wild Card Round, fans better start paying attention to the NFL playoffs right away to catch the important action.
Most recently, the Baltimore Ravens won four games in a row to secure their second championship in franchise history. If they could do it last year, any of the teams in the postseason has the ability to win a title.
Of course, this starts with a win in the opening game, as the loser goes home for the winter. This obviously means that a lot is on the line in each matchup, so you can expect the best effort from each side.
So who will win? Here is a quick preview of each battle with predictions for the entire round.
Note: All spread info courtesy of Vegas Insider.
AFC Wild Card
No. 3 Cincinnati Bengals vs. No. 6 San Diego Chargers
When: Sunday, Jan. 5 at 1:05 p.m. ET
Who will win?
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
Spread: CIN -6.5
Every team has to deal with the added pressure of being in the playoffs, but Philip Rivers points out that the Chargers might be better suited than Cincinnati to deal with the mental aspect, via Bengals.com:
I don’t know if there is an advantage, but if there is anything we had from a mindset standpoint is we have been in playoff mode for about a month now. We knew that if we had any shot of getting in, we had to win the rest of them. After we lost to Cincinnati it was like ‘Alright if we get to eight then we are done.’ We have been in that playoff mentality of win to stay alive or lose and go home. If anything, hopefully that can help us not make this game anything more than what it is.
This sort of desperation to win four games in a row could end up helping San Diego. Not only does the team have momentum, but it already knows how to handle the pressure.
That being said, Cincinnati might be too good at home to lose. Not only are the Bengals 8-0 at Paul Brown Stadium this year, but the last five games have been decided by an average margin of victory of 24 points.
If Andy Dalton can avoid mistakes, the Bengals should leave with an easy win. Then again, he proved that he can win in Week 17 even with four interceptions, so the Chargers could be in trouble.
Prediction: Bengals 28, Chargers 24
No. 4 Indianapolis Colts vs. No. 5 Kansas City Chiefs
When: Saturday, Jan. 4 at 4:35 p.m. ET
Who will win?
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.
Spread: IND -2.5
These teams faced each other just two weeks ago, and the Colts came away with a 23-7 road win. However, even moving this game to Indianapolis does not necessarily count out the Chiefs in this one.
Most importantly, Kansas City will see the return of linebacker Justin Houston, according to Chris Wesseling of NFL.com. Bleacher Report's BJ Kissel explains why this is so important:
In the #Chiefs 10 full games with Justin Houston (9-1) they gave up an average of 13.8 points per game. In 6 games without, 27.3 ppg (2-4)— BJ Kissel (@bkissel7) December 30, 2013
Wesseling also points out the specific impact that Houston will make in rushing the passer:
Justin Houston averaged 1.4 sacks per game through Week 7. Entire #Chiefs D is averaging 1.3 sacks per game since.— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) January 3, 2014
This will hurt Andrew Luck's ability to throw the ball down the field, as long passing plays will be stopped before they can develop.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs were also hurt by a minus-four turnover ratio in the last loss, something that has not been a problem all year for the AFC leaders in turnover differential. As long as this stays under control, Kansas City should pull off the narrow road upset.
Prediction: Chiefs 21, Colts 20
NFC Wild Card
No. 3 Philadelphia Eagles vs. No. 6 New Orleans Saints
When: Saturday, Jan. 4 at 8:10 p.m. ET
Who will win?
Where: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa.
Spread: PHI -2.5
The New Orleans Saints are one of the best teams in the league when playing at home, but they only went 3-5 on the road this year. Of course, this is a historical problem for the franchise, according to ESPN:
The New Orleans Saints have never won a road playoff game in their history. (0-5)— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 2, 2014
Skip Bayless of ESPN seems to think that this is just a mental issue:
Saints are BETTER than Eagles. All this road/cold stuff is mostly in the Saints heads.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) January 2, 2014
That may be true, but it does not mean things will change in the biggest game of the year for them. Drew Brees and the rest of the offense struggle to score on the road, while the defense somehow forgets to tackle.
Meanwhile, the best way to beat the Saints defense is by running the ball, and the Eagles do that better than anyone in the league. LeSean McCoy should have a big day in cold weather and help Philadelphia continue its recent level of strong play.
Nick Foles will not need to do much to make sure the Eagles come away with a victory.
Prediction: Eagles 27, Saints 21
No. 4 Green Bay Packers vs. No. 5 San Francisco 49ers
When: Sunday, Jan. 5 at 4:40 p.m. ET
Who will win?
Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.
Spread: SF -2.5
The story for this game was expected to be the boost that Green Bay got from the return of Aaron Rodgers. He has the chance to lead the squad deep into the playoffs after missing two months of football. However, now the only thing anyone can talk about is the weather.
According to Wunderground.com, Sunday's game will have a high of 0 and a low of minus-18. Yes, it is as ridiculous as it sounds.
Darren Rovell of ESPN reinforces that the game will be played no matter what:
For those who have asked, the NFL has not considered postponing the Packers game because of the cold.— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) January 2, 2014
As a result, both teams will have a hard time throwing the ball and especially catching it. This slants the game in favor of the 49ers, who do a better job at both running and stopping the run. They rank third and fourth in the league in those departments, respectively.
Rodgers has loads of talent, but his own home field might cause him problems, as it will be too cold for him to be successful.
Prediction: 49ers 20, Packers 17
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