NFL Playoffs 2015: Schedule, Predictions and More for Sunday Showdowns

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2015

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) calls a play in the first half of an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Sanford Myers)
Sanford Myers/Associated Press

NFL fans were treated to two games that were fairly well in hand in the final minutes Saturday, which is just not supposed to happen in the playoffs. Perhaps Sunday’s showdowns pitting the Indianapolis Colts against the Cincinnati Bengals and the Dallas Cowboys against the Detroit Lions will deliver more drama.

Here is a closer look at the schedule and broadcast information for both games before a more complete preview and some predictions.

Sunday Playoff Showdowns
MatchupTime (ET)TVPredicted Winner
Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts1:05 p.m.CBSColts
Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys4:40 p.m.FoxCowboys

Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts

We have already seen this movie before.

The Cincinnati Bengals went into Indianapolis to take on the Colts in Week 7 but were blown out 27-0. Sure, Cincinnati is a much different team now than it was then (hello, Jeremy Hill), but it is difficult to be confident about the Bengals’ chances after a performance like that in a similar situation.

In fact, superstar wide receiver A.J. Green missed that regular-season loss—just like he will miss Sunday’s playoff game—and the Colts defense was able to completely neutralize the passing game. Indianapolis didn’t have to worry about double-teaming one of the league’s best receivers and had more defenders available to put pressure on Andy Dalton and stop the run.

The result was 135 measly yards for the Bengals and a zero on the scoreboard.

Even with Hill, the absence of Green means the Colts will likely use a similar plan and focus on stopping the run. If they can also pressure Dalton, it will be another long playoff day for the Bengals offense.

If Cincinnati struggles to score, this one will be over by the fourth quarter. The Colts bring the league’s top passing offense to the table thanks to the combination of Andrew Luck (40 touchdowns and 4,761 yards), Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and Coby Fleener, and they should have their way with the NFL’s 20th-best pass defense.

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Luck discussed his team’s position, via Zack Keefer of The Indianapolis Star: "I don't think just getting into the playoffs has ever been good enough in this building."

The Colts will take one step toward reaching "good enough" Sunday with a victory. 

Prediction: Colts 31, Bengals 23

Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys

In today’s football, which is so reliant on high-flying passing attacks, it is somewhat refreshing to have a playoff game that features a dominant running game against a lockdown run defense.

Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray led the NFL with 1,845 rushing yards, but the Lions held opponents to a league-best 69.3 rushing yards per game. However, Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated described why Dallas could still have success running the ball Sunday, even against the dominant Detroit defensive front:

The Cowboys' offensive line and the overall architecture of their running game is based on power zone concepts that get every lineman going in the same direction with a lot of power. And because those linemen -- particularly left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin -- are so fundamentally sound in what they do, they don't leave a lot of gaps open. Thus, opposing defenses reliant on shooting gaps in the run game are often left hanging -- we all saw this when the Cowboys ran over the Seahawks in Week 6, and it's been a consistent point of success. Whether hyper-talented linemen like Ndamukong Suh and Ezekiel Ansah can split those gaps and get that done is a primary question.

Dallas will have a much easier time winning if Murray gets going against the Lions, but even if he doesn’t, Detroit still has to worry about Tony Romo and Dez Bryant.

Romo posted the NFL’s best passer rating (113.2) and finished with 34 touchdown tosses, while Bryant led the league with 16 touchdown catches and tallied 1,320 receiving yards. If it wasn’t for Murray and the offensive line, the Cowboys could very well thrive as a pass-first team with this combination.

On the other side, the Lions were a very un-playoff-like 22nd in the NFL in scoring offense and had nothing of a rushing attack to speak of this year (28th in the league). That’s just not going to cut it on the road against an explosive offense, even if Detroit does have a stifling defense on its side.

Richard Lipski/Associated Press

The Lions won’t be able to keep up with the Cowboys offense, as both Bryant and Murray will benefit from the other’s presence in a big game. Detroit will pick its poison and get exploited by the other, and Romo will take the initial step toward answering the postseason criticism that has surrounded him his entire career.

Dallas is going to be a tough out in the playoffs. 

Prediction: Cowboys 27, Lions 17

 

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