NFL Playoff Picks 2014: Picking Winners for Sunday's Wild Card Matchups

Brian Mazique@@UniqueMaziqueCorrespondent IIIJanuary 5, 2014

Dec 16, 2012; Foxboro, Massachusetts, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) passes the ball against The New England Patriots during the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium. The San Francisco 49ers won 41-34.  Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Get ready for a cold and sloppy day of playoff football. Sunday's slate of games is what NFL Films is made of.

At Paul Brown Stadium, the San Diego Chargers won't just have to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals in their home stadium. The Chargers will have to battle the elements as well.

Per, rain and snow are in the forecast.

At Lambeau Field, things will be even worse. The San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers are about to play in one of the coldest games in NFL history. The forecast calls for a high of just three degrees and a low of 20 below zero. 

Needless to say, the weather will likely impact results. Who will win these games in less-than-ideal conditions?


The Bengals Will Slide By the Chargers

Home-Field Advantage Is Real

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 29:  Vontaze Burfict #55 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates during the 34-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium on December 29, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Bengals were one of just three teams that were undefeated at home this season. Not only were they winning these games, they were handling opponents with ease. No visitor has come closer than 14 points against them in Paul Brown Stadium since Week 5.

Cincinnati defensive end Wallace Gilberry told Coley Harvey of ESPN about how the defense rises to the occasion in "The Jungle":

Look, I tell everybody it's hard to win in 'The Jungle. It's hard to win because we're like a pack of lions. If you watch the Discovery Channel long enough, you know how lions hunt. 

With us, you got that one lead lion and you never know who that lead lion could be. It could be Vontaze Burfict. It could be myself, Mike [Johnson], Carlos [Dunlap], Reggie [Nelson], Vinny Rey. You don't know who that lead lion is.

Whenever a football player references the Discovery Channel or National Geographic-like programming, you know he means business.

This team is almost as nasty at home as the expected weather for Sunday's game.


The San Diego Secondary Can't Contain A.J. Green

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 29:  A.J. Green #18 of the Cincinnati Bengals reaches up for a pass during the NFL game against the Baltimore Ravens  at Paul Brown Stadium on December 29, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

A.J. Green had five receptions, 83 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers in the Bengals' 17-10 win in Week 13. Even with the anticipated sloppy conditions, quarterback Andy Dalton should have opportunities to exploit the San Diego secondary.

Cornerbacks Shareece Wright and Derek Cox don't strike fear in the hearts of quarterbacks and receivers. Expect San Diego to commit safeties over the top to help shield the corners from Green's speed and big-play ability.

This will open up the Bengals run game and subsequently trigger the play-action pass. That's where Green can hurt the Chargers with big plays. In a game that figures to be close, his impact will be one of the biggest factors.


The 49ers Will Plow the Packers

Weather Will Make This a Running Game

GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 15:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers looks on in the third quarter against the New York Giants during their NFC Divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field on January 15, 2012 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Jonathan Da
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As great as Aaron Rodgers is, and as much talent as Colin Kaepernick has, the weather isn't going to let either man put up huge passing numbers. Rushing effectiveness will decide this game.

In the five coldest games in NFL history recognized by Kamal Wallace of, there has never been a 300-yard passer. In fact, only the New York Giants vs. Packers NFC title game in 2008 rendered 200-yard passers.

Rodgers knows how big of a factor the weather is going to be. He told Weston Hodkiewicz and Mike Vandermause of Press-Gazette Media (via

You know, not everybody in this locker room is from the great state of Wisconsin. We do practice in it, live in it, I think we're going to be better adapting to it initially, but once the game starts, it's about who can execute in the cold weather. It does some different things to the football.

Expect to see Rodgers and Kaepernick handing the ball off a lot.


San Francisco Has the Edge on the Ground on Both Sides of the Ball

Dec 1, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker Patrick Willis (52) and inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman (53) react after Willis recorded a sack against the St. Louis Rams in the fourth quarter at Candlestick Park. The 49ers def
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

To put it plainly, the 49ers have the edge in the run-game matchups on both sides of the ball. Their run defense matches up better with the Packers run offense, and their run offense should smoke Green Bay's run defense.

Green Bay has the 25th-ranked run defense in the NFL, while the 49ers have the third-best run game. Compound that with the absence of the Packers' best defensive player Clay Matthews, and things slant even more in San Francisco's favor.

While Eddie Lacy has had a solid season for the Packers, the 49ers run defense is seventh in the NFL. Chances are that San Francisco will get the better of that matchup as well. Matt Lutovsky of Sporting News added this valid observation as well:

It's tough to say how the cold will affect the offenses since there won't be a lot of wind or snow. It's fair to expect more running, which might actually give Colin Kaepernick a boost on QB keepers.

This one could get ugly before it's done—and that isn't a reference to field conditions. 


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