Wild Card Weekend is in the books, and the NFL playoffs press forward in exciting full swing heading into next weekend’s four pack of games in the divisional round.
As many forecast, all road wild-card teams advanced and should give fits to the top seeds in what is developing into an exciting tournament.
Here is a look at next weekend's schedule and a glimpse at each game.
|NFL Divisional Playoffs — Schedule|
|Saturday, Jan. 16||Time (ET)||TV||Odds|
|Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots||4:40 p.m.||CBS||NE (-5)|
|Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals||8:10 p.m.||NBC||ARZ (-7)|
|Sunday, Jan. 17||Time (ET)||TV||Odds|
|Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers||1:05 p.m.||Fox||CAR (-1.5)|
|Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos||4:40 p.m.||CBS||DEN (-2.5)|
|NFL.com; Odds via Odds Shark|
Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots — Saturday, Jan. 16 (4:40 p.m. ET, CBS)
The Kansas City Chiefs have now won 11 straight since starting the season 1-5. Yet an in-depth look reveals the Chiefs may have more cause for concern than at face value as they head into a matchup against the New England Patriots.
Of the Chiefs’ 11 straight wins, only three were against teams that finished the season above .500, including Saturday’s 30-0 drumming of the Houston Texans, who essentially backed into the playoffs by winning the porous AFC South.
More alarming is that in that win, the Chiefs went nearly three full quarters without an offensive touchdown, and this was after No. 1 receiver Jeremy Maclin left with a knee injury.
Kansas City was on cruise control after taking the opening kickoff for a touchdown and then leaned on its rigid defense for five turnovers.
That simply won’t happen against the defending champion Patriots, who finished the season with a plus-seven turnover margin, tied for fifth-best.
The Chiefs should keep it close—they’re currently a five-point underdog, per Odds Shark—but knocking off a Patriots bunch that is expected to get back star receiver Julian Edelman seems ambitious.
Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals — Saturday, Jan. 16 (8:10 p.m. ET, NBC)
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The Green Bay Packers will enter a divisional-round rematch with the Arizona Cardinals not even three weeks removed from their most lopsided loss of the season—a 38-8 pounding in the desert.
Arizona held quarterback Aaron Rodgers to 151 yards and a season-worst 9.4 quarterback rating, while the Cardinals—arguably football's most complete team—put together their most complete performance.
Yet the Packers appear to have forgotten that sour loss after Sunday's convincing 35-18 win over the Washington Redskins in the Wild Card Round. After falling behind 11-0 in the second quarter, Green Bay showed the poise and resiliency that it rode to a 6-0 start when considered the league's best team.
The Packers have shown in years past—most prominently in their 2010 Super Bowl run—their ability to rebound in playoff rematches.
And Arizona is coming off an embarrassing loss, 36-6, at home to the Seattle Seahawks in the regular-season finale.
Saturday's nightcap appears to be a matchup of two teams trending in opposite directions.
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers — Sunday, Jan. 17 (1:05 p.m. ET, Fox)
The Seahawks will get a shot at redemption in a rematch with the Carolina Panthers after falling 27-23 in Week 6. These teams met in last year’s divisional playoffs but under completely different circumstances.
Last season the Panthers sneaked into the playoffs at 7-8-1 as NFC South champs in one of the league’s historically worst divisions, while the Seahawks marched to the conference's No. 1 seed as defending Super Bowl champs.
Seattle rolled at home, 31-17, en route to its second straight NFC title before falling to the Patriots in the Super Bowl. The Panthers have lost only one time since, finishing 15-1 behind MVP favorite Cam Newton and a rugged defense that nearly no one has figured out.
The Seahawks escaped the Wild Card Round after Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh missed a chip-shot field goal that would’ve won the game and maintained their roll as one of the league’s hottest second-half teams.
One factor that could play well into Carolina's favor is the local kickoff time of 1:05 p.m., which is essentially three hours earlier for the Seahawks, who could be victims of jet lag since they have to travel cross-country.
Seattle was in a similar predicament in the 2012 divisional round when visiting the Atlanta Falcons in the early Sunday game, where it fell behind 20-0 at halftime in an eventual loss.
This could arguably be the most enticing matchup of the weekend.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos — Sunday, Jan. 17 (4:40 p.m. ET, CBS)
The Pittsburgh Steelers squeaked out a 18-16 win over the division foe Cincinnati Bengals by virtue of two costly penalties for misconduct on the final drive.
The Steelers are banged up but dangerous.
Pittsburgh’s defense—football’s third-worst in total yards allowed—played its best game of the season Saturday despite granting a late comeback. The Steelers held the Bengals to just 279 total yards and 4.1 yards per play while forcing four turnovers.
It was a performance that certainly had to encourage its offense, which ranked among the league’s best and was the Steelers' catalyst to reach the playoffs.
However, health remains a pivotal concern, as the quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder), running back DeAngelo Williams (ankle) and star receiver Antonio Brown (concussion) are in the midst of nasty injuries that have left their status for the divisional round in question.
Yet if the offense can return to full strength and the defense can build upon Saturday’s convincing performance, the Steelers could very well rekindle their 2005 magic as the first sixth-seeded team to win the Super Bowl.