The 2015 NFL regular season ended in entertaining fashion, as many playoff fortunes changed, and several games went down to the wire.
The New England Patriots lost their No. 1 seed in the AFC to the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos, and the New York Jets let the Pittsburgh Steelers slide past them for the final playoff spot in the same conference. Over in the NFC, the Minnesota Vikings took down the Green Bay Packers in a massive divisional showdown that determined the NFC North winner.
In less than a week, we'll be treated to another exciting slate of games during Wild Card Weekend. So let's look at the matchups for both conferences, go through some playoff odds and then preview all four games.
|NFL Conference Championship and Super Bowl Odds|
|Team||Conference Championship Odds||Super Bowl Odds|
|New England Patriots||+100||+350|
|Kansas City Chiefs||+600||+1400|
|Green Bay Packers||+750||+1600|
|Odds via Oddsshark.com|
Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans
Kansas City enters the Wild Card Weekend with a 10-game winning streak, and Houston made the playoffs only because of its weak division. However, this contest should be close.
If we dive deeper into the Chiefs' streak, we can see that the quality of their wins wasn't that impressive. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos were the only teams better than .500 that they beat, and Pittsburgh didn't have Ben Roethlisberger in that game.
Houston, meanwhile, has a whole bunch of game-stealing potential here thanks to its defense. The Texans have allowed single-digit points in six games this season and have J.J. Watt without the club cast on his hand, which is the most dominant defensive force in the NFL.
But the Chiefs, unlike the Texans, are pretty consistent on the offensive side of the ball, thanks to Alex Smith's effective game managing. Kansas City looks like the safer bet on the road.
Prediction: Chiefs win 23-16
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
Pittsburgh probably didn't assume it was going to get help from the New York Jets Sunday. But it did.
While the Steelers beat the Cleveland Browns 28-12, the Jets were busy losing 22-17 in a season-defining game to the Buffalo Bills. Because of the two results, Pittsburgh leapfrogged New York for the sixth seed and earned a Wild Card Weekend date with its divisional rival, the Bengals.
The big story surrounding this game early in the week will be the status of Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton. Per ESPN's Coley Harvey, Dalton has a doctor's appointment Monday and will figure out more about the status of his thumb. As of now, Harvey says he probably wouldn't play until the divisional round at the earliest, but you never know.
But even with Dalton in, this matchup looks like a classic offense vs. defense battle. Pittsburgh ranked fourth in points and third in yardage this season while Cincinnati placed second in points allowed and 11th in yardage allowed.
Even on the road, it's hard to bet against that Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown connection, especially when the Bengals don't really have a true shutdown cornerback on their roster. A.J. McCarron is the likely starter for Cincinnati, and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin will be ready for the inexperienced signal-caller.
Prediction: Steelers win 27-21
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Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings
Two teams with extremely impressive road wins in Week 17 face off in Wild Card Weekend. The Seahawks smeared the No. 2-seeded Arizona Cardinals 36-6 while the Vikings snatched the division title from the Green Bay Packers 20-13, limiting Aaron Rodgers to one touchdown pass and an 80.8 passer rating.
The Seahawks are the favorite on the road here, mostly because of their recent playoff experience and a much more reliable option at quarterback. The young Teddy Bridgewater was one of the only lowlights from the Packers win while Russell Wilson's second half of the season cemented him as an unquestionably elite signal-caller.
Seattle did blow Minnesota out 38-7 on the road in Week 13, but the playoff atmosphere could keep this affair a bit closer. However, it's scary to imagine what the Legion of Boom will do to Bridgewater if the Packers could shut him down so easily.
Prediction: Seahawks win 28-14
Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins
I've been giving the Packers the benefit of the doubt because of Rodgers for a long time now, but I don't know if I can do it anymore. His offensive line is banged up, and he clearly hasn't been as on point compared to years past. Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy is a total wild card, but he's been more bad than good this season.
What does this mean? I'm going with an upset special here: Washington is going to beat Green Bay.
The Redskins have Kirk Cousins playing like a superstar right now, and the defense is excellent at forcing turnovers (27 this season), even if it can be uneven in terms of yardage allowed. Plus, they have the momentum of winning four games in a row on their side.
Prediction: Redskins win 23-21