The second day of what has so far been a thrilling Wild Card Weekend to start the 2014 NFL playoffs is finally here. With two great matchups on tap, you would be foolish not to be glued to your television set for the majority of Sunday afternoon.
Things get started with the Cincinnati Bengals hosting the San Diego Chargers, followed by the Green Bay Packers vs. the San Francisco 49ers in what may be remembered as one of the coldest games in league history.
Let’s take a look at each of these matchups by highlighting where you can watch them and what you should watch for during the action, plus make some predictions on the outcome.
AFC Wild Card: No. 3 Cincinnati Bengals vs. No. 6 San Diego Chargers
This showdown will feature the Bengals, hungry to get out of the first round and score their first playoff win since 1990, going up against the immensely fortunate Chargers—who only made the postseason after the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens fell in Week 17, while also being lucky that the Kansas City Chiefs missed a field goal that would have sent the Bolts home for the winter.
It is a bit of a lopsided matchup on paper, with ScoresAndOdds.com noting that the oddsmakers have installed Cincy as a 6.5-point favorite.
However, anything can happen in the postseason, and this should be one of the more thrilling battles of Wild Card Weekend. Let’s take a closer look.
Time: 1:05 p.m. EST, Sunday, January 5.
Place: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Matchup to Watch: Keenan Allen vs. Bengals Cornerbacks
Allen has been a revelation for San Diego ever since being selected in the third round of the 2013 draft.
The Cal product busted out in a big way during his rookie campaign, leading the team in yards (1,046) and home-run plays (16 catches for 20 or more yards). He also tied Eddie Royal for most touchdown receptions (eight) and finished second on the team in receptions (71) and targets (105), behind star tight end Antonio Gates.
Allen is clearly a skilled receiver and, at 6’2”, 211 pounds, definitely has the size to beat out most corners in the league. His explosive athleticism should afford him many opportunities against the Bengals secondary.
Expect cornerbacks Adam Jones and Terence Newman to give their all attempting to lock down this emerging talent, but he should still get his numbers. The best Cincinnati can do is hope to contain Allen and keep him out of the end zone. Accomplishing that would be a victory for the Bengals and likely allow them to advance to the divisional round.
It will be closer than many expect, but ultimately Cincy’s elite defense (ranked fifth against the run and pass this year) will make a few key stops and force quarterback Philip Rivers into a costly turnover.
As long as Andy Dalton manages the game well and his running backs are able to find some space against a Bolts defense that concedes over 107 yards per game to opposing rushers, the Bengals should be able to grind out a win down the stretch.
Final Score: Bengals 28, Chargers 24
NFC Wild Card: No. 4 Green Bay Packers vs. No. 5 San Francisco 49ers
The Packers and 49ers will meet for the fourth time over the past two seasons, but this upcoming showdown promises to be much different than the trio that came before.
With The Weather Channel reporting extremely cold temperatures (a high of zero degrees and a potential low of minus-20 degrees), the elements are undoubtedly going to be the main story in this game.
Throw everything you think you know out the window if the weather is below zero and the wind chills are making things even worse come kickoff. Let’s take a look at what you might be in for watching a game in these sub-arctic conditions.
Time: 4:40 p.m. EST, Sunday, January 5.
Place: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI.
Matchup to Watch: Weather vs. Players
Weather is truly a great equalizer in football, which is why the favored 49ers could easily lose this game despite having a superior roster and better record in 2013.
The Packers have a slight advantage in these conditions, being that they are often “fortunate” enough to play at Lambeau Field in the winter and have more experience battling the cold on top of the opposing team.
Cornerback Tramon Williams, who has been with the squad since the 2006 campaign, recalled the 2007 NFC Championship matchup against the New York Giants when temperatures dropped down to minus-1 degree at kickoff.
According to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, the defensive back said the freeze was manageable after the first couple of minutes:
The first drive, I froze to death. I ain’t going to lie to you. I froze to death. But once I got thawed out ... got in front of the heaters and things like that when I came back on the sideline, I was good for the rest of the game.
As long as he and the rest of the Packers are ready for the frigid temperatures, they should have a great chance of emerging victorious against the 49ers.
Given that Green Bay has home-field advantage and the weather working in its favor, it’s hard to pick against it here.
It is worth noting that the Packers returned elite quarterback Aaron Rodgers and stud receiver Randall Cobb in time for a critical Week 17 win over the Chicago Bears, and their presence will be instrumental in this chilly contest.
Don’t be surprised if the Packers pull the upset and make a run through the NFC playoff as a major underdog, much like last year’s feisty Baltimore Ravens squad.
Prediction: Packers 17, 49ers 14