The Minnesota Vikings knocked off the defending NFC North champions on their home turf Sunday night, and they are taking the division title with them back to Minnesota.
They are also taking the No. 3 seed in the playoffs, and that's the good news. The bad news is that they will be hosting the Seattle Seahawks, a team that walked into TCF Bank Stadium last month and hammered the Vikings 38-7.
The Packers may have lost the battle, but they get a matchup with the Washington Redskins, a team that has been hot recently but appears to be the weakest of the four NFC division champions.
On the AFC side, the Cincinnati Bengals earned the No. 3 seed as the AFC North champions, and they will host their long-time division rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton has been out with a broken thumb, and his status for the wild-card game is very much in doubt.
The Steelers have one of the most explosive offensive teams in the playoffs, and they beat the Bengals 33-20 in Cincinnati in Week 14. The Steelers earned their spot in the playoffs when they beat the Cleveland Browns in Week 17 while the New York Jets lost at Buffalo.
The Kansas City Chiefs are the hottest team in football, having closed the regular season with 10 consecutive victories. They will start the playoffs in Houston against a team the Chiefs defeated 27-10 in the season opener.
Kansas City (11-5) at Houston (9-7), 4:35 p.m. (ET), Jan. 9, ABC/ESPN
The Chiefs turned their season around after starting 1-5, while the Texans turned their season around after absorbing a humiliating 44-26 defeat at Miami that saw them fall to 2-5.
Just as both of these teams were about to go down the drain, they turned their season around in an unexpected manner.
The Chiefs rallied behind quarterback Alex Smith, who has avoided turnovers for the majority of the season. They also found a wide receiver in Jeremy Maclin who gave them a more diversified offense than they have had in the past.
In addition, the Chiefs improved their defense dramatically. At the start of the season, Kansas City was giving up big chunks of yardage through the air. However, the pass defense made steady improvement and is now ranked 11th in the NFL.
Defense has been the Texans' calling card this season, and with stars like J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, it's no surprise. However, that unit was not playing up to its potential in the first half of the season. The Texans turned it on in a 10-6 victory at Cincinnati in Week 10, and they have played well since.
Prediction: Kansas City 28, Houston 24. The Chiefs are just too hot right now, and they have a steady quarterback in Smith. They won at Houston earlier this year, and they should be able to do it again.
|Wild Card Point Spreads and Predictions|
|Kansas City||Houston||Kansas City -3.5||Kansas City|
|Green Bay||Washington||Washington -2||Green Bay|
|#-will cover spread but lose game|
|Vegas Insider; Silverman selections|
Pittsburgh (10-6) at Cincinnati (12-4), 8:15 p.m. (ET), Jan. 9, CBS
The Steelers appeared to suffer a season-defining loss when they dropped their Week 16 game at Baltimore to an injured and undermanned Ravens team.
That loss meant the Steelers were no longer in control of their own destiny, and they needed the New York Jets to lose their season finale at Buffalo if they were going to have a chance.
The Bills did their part, and the Steelers responded with a 28-12 playoff-clinching victory over the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers have been quite explosive in the second half of the season, as they are averaging 31.9 points per game over their last eight.
While there is a chance Dalton could return for this game, it does not appear likely. Look for A.J. McCarron to line up under center for the Bengals, and that may not be good enough. Cincinnati has been to the playoffs in each of the last four years, but it has not won any of its postseason games.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 30, Cincinnati 24. Unless Dalton makes a strong recovery, the Bengals don't have the manpower to compete with the explosive Steelers. Another postseason disappointment is at hand for Cincinnati.
Seattle (10-6) at Minnesota (11-5), 1:05 p.m. (ET), Jan. 10, NBC
The Minnesota Vikings earned the NFC North title by jumping off to a 20-3 lead at Green Bay before withstanding a fourth-quarter rally.
The game was in doubt until the final play when the Vikings knocked down Aaron Rodgers' Hail Mary attempt in the end zone.
Minnesota will try to survive and advance in the postseason by relying on running back Adrian Peterson and its aggressive defense. Teddy Bridgewater has been an accurate passer, and he has shown the ability to come through in the clutch.
As good as the Vikings have been this year, they may need to play their best game to defeat the Seattle Seahawks. The two-time defending NFC Champions rolled over Arizona 36-6 in the regular-season finale, and the Seahawks closed the season by winning six of their last seven games.
Quarterback Russell Wilson has thrown for 4,024 yards and 34 touchdowns this season, and the Seahawks have developed into an explosive offensive team. They also have the second-ranked defensive team in the league.
Prediction: Seattle 23, Minnesota 17. After getting hammered by the Seahawks on their home field in December, the Vikings will be filled with doubt. They may play quite a bit better in this game, but they won't be able to win.
Green Bay (10-6) at Washington (9-7), 4:40 p.m. (ET), Jan. 10, Fox
The Packers were one of the preseason favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, but they have rarely been able to hit their offensive stride this season.
The preseason injury suffered by speedy and talented wideout Jordy Nelson was a major blow, and the Packers struggled down the stretch. They lost six of their last 10 games.
The Washington Redskins emerged from the woeful NFC East. While they were just 5-7 through Week 13, they won their last four games of the season and showed dramatic improvement.
The key to Washington's year has been the play of quarterback Kirk Cousins, who finished the season with 29 touchdown passes.
The Redskins were supposed to be a last-place team, but they improved steadily under head coach Jay Gruden and have exceeded all expectations.
Prediction: Green Bay 21, Washington 20. The Packers have not been playing well, but Rodgers is a special quarterback who is capable of leading his team to at least one playoff victory.
Point spreads courtesy of VegasInsider.