The Wild Card Round is when weird things happen in the NFL playoffs. There's no significant gap between the best and worst teams playing on Saturday and Sunday, which isn't always the case when you get to the divisional round.
Five years ago, a 7-9 Seattle Seahawks team knocked off the defending champion New Orleans Saints when Marshawn Lynch ran over everything in his way. Two years ago, the Indianapolis Colts erased a 28-point third-quarter deficit against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The impending slate of games is certain to have at least one weird thing happen nobody will have seen coming, but that's what makes the NFL postseason endearing.
In anticipation of the madness, with two games Saturday and two more Sunday, here are the final odds and predictions for the Wild Card Round.
|Saturday, Jan. 9||Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans||Chiefs (-3)||40||Chiefs, 27-13|
|Saturday, Jan. 9||Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals||Steelers (-3)||45.5||Steelers, 31-23|
|Sunday, Jan. 10||Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings||Seahawks (-5)||42||Seahawks, 27-10|
|Sunday, Jan. 10||Green Bay Packers at Washington||Packers (-1)||45||Washington, 24-20|
Biggest Question: Will the Packers Show Up?
The drop-off for the Green Bay Packers in the season's final months is one of the NFL's most puzzling stories. They lost six of their last 10 games, including their final two games—when the Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings held them to a combined 21 total points.
Offense was the Packers' problem during that stretch. They finished 15th in the league in scoring this year, and their 368 total points marked their lowest total in a season since 2006.
Aaron Rodgers, who has been great at hiding the Packers' deficiencies in the past, has become part of the problem, with five of his eight interceptions coming in the last six games.
Opposing quarterbacks rarely have the edge over Rodgers, but ESPN tweeted out a graphic showing Washington's Kirk Cousins has been vastly superior to the reigning MVP in the season's second half:
Washington isn't taking anything for granted on Sunday, as cornerback DeAngelo Hall told Lorenzo Reyes of USA Today Rodgers still deserves the benefit of the doubt:
There are really no weaknesses from [Rodgers]. The weaknesses just come from protecting him. I think Arizona and a couple of other teams have been able to get some hits on him and get some turnovers and things like that.
We feel like if we can get guys around him, always in his face and harassing him, maybe he can make a mistake or two.
Protection has been a problem for the Packers. Rodgers has taken more sacks than any other playoff quarterback this season (46).
Washington finished in the middle of the pack in sacks (38) and 26th in yards allowed per pass attempt, so the Packers aren't going against the 1985 Chicago Bears on Sunday.
One possible excuse for the Packers' last two losses is they came against two defenses that finished in the top seven in points allowed. Washington finished 17th in that category, so there should be openings downfield for Rodgers.
The problem is Rodgers doesn't have his usual assortment of weapons. Randall Cobb is a good slot receiver but not someone opposing defenses are afraid of. James Jones averages 17.8 yards per reception, but he's not a high-volume pass-catcher who can make a significant difference.
All of the problems Green Bay has dealt with this season, particularly down the stretch, make it look like an early playoff exit is coming.
Biggest Mismatch: Seahawks vs. Vikings
Regular-season results don't always dictate what happens in the postseason because teams grow and evolve, but in Week 13, the Seattle Seahawks handed the Minnesota Vikings their lunch in a 38-7 beatdown at TCF Bank Stadium.
The two teams meet Sunday in a rematch, yet the gulf between the two looks wider than it did in December.
Anyone who had any doubts about Russell Wilson's ability to thrive without Seattle's power-running style got an emphatic answer this year. Marshawn Lynch (hernia) missed the season's last nine games, and Thomas Rawls suffered a broken ankle in Week 14. Yet Wilson had his best season.
The quarterback battle in this game isn't close, as NFL.com's Gil Brandt pointed out with a helpful stat:
Russell Wilson has as many TD passes in his last 11 games (28) as Teddy Bridgewater has in his entire career.— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) January 7, 2016
Let's make no mistake about it: The Vikings are hiding Teddy Bridgewater at this point. The team had the fewest pass attempts (454) and second-fewest touchdown passes (14) in the league during the regular season.
Adrian Peterson is a fantastic running back who can put the Vikings on his back in many circumstances, but the Seahawks are a different animal than the three teams Minnesota defeated down the stretch.
Being a one-dimensional offense against a Seahawks team that led the NFL in scoring defense and run defense is a recipe for disaster.
Not even bitterly cold weather conditions in Minnesota on Sunday, per Kevin Byrne of AccuWeather.com, will close the gap in talent between the Seahawks and Vikings.
Key Matchup: Ben Roethlisberger vs. Bengals D-Line
The Cincinnati Bengals came close to earning a first-round bye, which would have given Andy Dalton's fractured thumb more time to heal, but instead they get the unfortunate task of trying to slow down the Pittsburgh Steelers' high-powered offense.
The Steelers have given up any pretense of establishing a running game. Ben Roethlisberger attempted at least 33 passes in 10 of the 12 games he started during the regular season, including each of the last nine.
Roethlisberger's results have been impressive. He averaged an NFL-high 328.2 yards per game, had a career-high completion percentage (68.0) and threw 21 touchdowns in 12 games.
It helps the Steelers have arguably the NFL's best wide receiver trio in Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton. They combined for 3,348 yards and 21 touchdowns during the regular season.
Conventional wisdom would suggest the Bengals should be worried about containing that firepower, but there's more to the story than big numbers. Big Ben has been turnover-prone this year with 16 interceptions, including two in each of Pittsburgh's last three games.
During the Steelers' Week 14 win over the Bengals, Roethlisberger didn't play a great game. He was 30-of-39 passing with 282 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. Pittsburgh won because Cincinnati had three turnovers, including two AJ McCarron interceptions.
One problem the Bengals face, as Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated noted, is that they don't bring pressure on blitz packages:
No defense blitzed less often than this one in 2015. To contain Roethlisberger and his high-flying targets, defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, plus tackle Geno Atkins, will have to get quick penetration. It’s always a toss-up whether they will. Few defensive lines are as talented as this one, but few are as inconsistent.
Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins finished with 24.5 sacks, so they have the talent to cause problems for Roethlisberger. Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis has to keep track of how things play out early because he can't afford to give Roethlisberger time to throw.
McCarron has to protect the ball for Cincinnati's offense to have any success, but the defensive front will determine whether the Bengals win their first playoff game since 1990.
All stats per ESPN.com.