NFL Playoffs: Predicting the Wild Card Round
The NFL Wild Card Round is one of the most exciting weekends in sports each year. This year should be no different.
Eight teams begin their march to the Super Bowl this weekend. If you don't believe that the eventual Super Bowl champion could be playing this Saturday or Sunday, look no further than the 2010 Green Bay Packers, 2011 New York Giants or last season's Baltimore Ravens.
The Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers will all be taking this round of action in as they enjoy well-earned bye weeks.
Which teams will emerge as potential challengers to them? Click forward for a look at each Wild Card game.
Kansas City at Indianapolis
The first game of the weekend takes place on Saturday with the Kansas City Chiefs traveling to Lucas Oil Stadium to meet the Indianapolis Colts.
After a 9-0 start to the season, the Chiefs went 2-5 the rest of the way and seem to have less momentum than any team in this year's field.
Part of that final seven-game stretch included a game against the Colts. Indianapolis won 23-7—in Kansas City. With this game being in Indianapolis, how can there be a different result?
When these two teams played on December 22, the Colts won the game without much trouble. For Kansas City to have any chance, they must do two things. Get Jamaal Charles into the game and protect the ball.
Charles is a game-changer at the running back position, capable of taking games over as he did in Week 15 against Oakland.
In the first meeting between the teams, the Chiefs turned the ball over four times. Quarterback Alex Smith was responsible for three of those, throwing an interception and losing two fumbles.
For the Colts, a key player will be Donald Brown. Against the Chiefs in Week 16, Brown had a 33-yard touchdown reception to go along with a 51-yard touchdown run.
The Colts were able to defeat the Chiefs just two weeks ago and now they're at home. Unless Charles has an incredible game, the Colts will get another convincing win over Kansas City.
Prediction: Colts 23, Chiefs 14
New Orleans at Philadelphia
Regardless of what Drew Brees likes to tell the media, the Saints are a much different team away from the Superdome. That's exactly where they'll be on Saturday night as they visit the NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles.
The Saints averaged just 17.75 points on the road this season as compared to 34 points per game at home. In addition, nine of the 12 interceptions thrown by Brees this season came on the road.
Philadelphia head coach Chip Kelly and quarterback Nick Foles will both be making their postseason debuts. They will be doing so against a playoff-tested New Orleans squad.
Another thing that bodes well for the Eagles is the fact that Saints running back Pierre Thomas has been ruled out of the game due to injury,per NBC Sports. That will likely hurt the Saints' passing game more than their rushing attack.
Because they have momentum and home-field advantage, the Eagles have a chance to advance. It will still come down to how well their offense can execute against a surprisingly good New Orleans defense, led by coordinator Rob Ryan.
The Saints will have to deal with the cold air in Philly so they likely won't be able to march up and down the field the way they do at home.
Still, the Eagles rank at the very bottom of the league in pass defense and Brees will be able to exploit that enough to pull out a hard-fought road victory.
Prediction: Saints 31, Eagles 30
San Diego at Cincinnati
For fans of the Cincinnati Bengals, there is plenty of reason to be thrilled. After all, their team just qualified for the postseason for the third consecutive year.
At the same time, they have to be itching for a playoff win.
January 6, 1990. That was the last time Cincinnati won a playoff game, per Pro Football Reference. As head coach of the Bengals, Marvin Lewis has an 0-4 postseason record.
They have the perfect opportunity to end all of those streaks on Sunday.
These two teams played in Week 13 in San Diego with the Bengals pulling out a 17-10 victory. In the game, the Bengals' defense forced three turnovers.
In order to take the home crowd out of it, San Diego will need to establish a running game with Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead in order to control time of possession.
For the Bengals, the key will again be their defense. If they can stop the run, forcing Philip Rivers into a critical mistake or two could be the difference.
Cincinnati is undefeated at home this season and they won't see their first loss come to a team that is fortunate to even be in the playoffs.
Prediction: Bengals 27, Chargers 16
San Francisco at Green Bay
After their thrilling last-second win over Chicago to take the NFC North title, the Green Bay Packers now have the privilege of hosting a playoff game.
The San Francisco 49ers will be the team on the other side of the field. Recently, the Niners have had the Packers' number.
Despite the game being loaded with big name players on both teams, the biggest topic of discussion heading into this game revolves around the weather.
Sub-zero temperatures with a dangerous wind chill are expected at Lambeau Field. That will have an obvious impact on the game.
The 49ers eliminated Green Bay from the postseason last year with a 45-31 victory. The two teams then opened this season against each other and the Niners pulled out a 34-28 victory.
The Packers do have Aaron Rogders back and that is the only reason they're still in the hunt. On Sunday, look for them to lean on rookie running back Eddie Lacy to churn out yards in the bitter cold.
The 49ers have a team that is built well for cold games like this, despite being from the west coast. With a solid offensive line and a tough running back in Frank Gore, the Niners have the tools to win this one.
For Green Bay, it comes down to one question. Can they contain San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick? In the playoff game last year, Kaepernick threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns. On top of that, he ran for another 181 yards and two more scores.
Kaepernick probably won't have numbers like that again on Sunday, but he'll do enough to lead the Niners into the next round.
Prediction: 49ers 20, Packers 17