Wild Card Round Matchup Predictions
Bengals (10-6) @ Texans (12-4): Despite the Texans' 12-4 record, they really don't have many impressive victories. The standout game on their schedule was a 43-13 home win over the Ravens, but the Ravens are a completely different team on the road and were playing their first game without middle linebacker Ray Lewis. Another good win was against the Broncos, but that was in Week 3 - remember that the Broncos were getting pummeled to start off each of their games before their bye week. Finally, we have their win over the Colts, but they've lost to Andrew Luck and company more recently than they've beaten them.
The Bengals have been on a tear to finish the season, led by impressive defensive efforts. They have won seven of their last eight games, the lone loss coming by one point to the Cowboys. They've also held teams to 17 points or less in seven of their last eight (gave up 20 to the Cowboys).
What bodes well for the Texans is that they take care of the ball better than the Bengals do. However, if the Bengals can avoid dumb turnovers, they can win this game. Their defense has been a stone wall over the past two months and the Texans are averaging 11.0 points per game over their past two, both games being against average defenses.
Bengals win 23-20.
Vikings (10-6) @ Packers (11-5): These two teams certainly know each other pretty well by now - they'll be facing off on Saturday for the third time in the past five weeks. Getting a chance to learn each other's tendencies, make adjustments, and find ways to take advantage of weaknesses, I have to say that Aaron Rodgers is the biggest beneficiary of how frequently these teams have played. Finishing his second straight season with the best quarterback rating in the league (108.0), Rodgers can study defenses and figure out how to manipulate them just about as well as anyone in the NFL. You saw the offense's improvement last week when the Packers scored 34 on the Vikings, compared to 23 in their first meeting.w
Adrian Peterson was the best player in the NFL this season, but it's very difficult to put the entire weight of an offense on a running back's shoulders and win a playoff game, considering the high-powered nature of modern offenses. If Peterson can carry his offense to another 30+ points to top the Packers in Lambeau, he's even better than I thought - and as I said, I already think he's the best player in the NFL.
The Packers beat the Vikings by nine in Lambeau earlier this year, and the Vikings managed a rare turnover-less game in their three-point win over the Packers last week. With all the playoff experience on the Packers, and the the lack thereof on the Vikings, I like Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, and Charles Woodson (returning from injury) to make some big time plays and win this game for Green Bay.
Packers win 35-27.
Colts (11-5) @ Ravens (10-6): There's no doubt in anyone's mind that Andrew Luck has had a sensational season. He's led the 7th ranked passing attack to an 11-5 record with the help of an underrated defense - something no one saw coming. They finished the season on a 9-2 run; granted, they were 1-2 against teams with winning records during that span.
I've been hard on the Ravens this season, but one thing I can't take away from them is that they know how to play at home (despite losing two of their last three in Baltimore). They were 6-2 at home this season with dominating wins over the Giants and Bengals. In addition, this team is loaded with playoff experience. Keep in mind, it was less than a year ago that this team was a dropped pass away from a trip to the Super Bowl. These boys know how to get the job done in the playoffs, especially at home.
The return of Ray Lewis - and his recent comments of this being his "final ride" - will have this Ravens team fired up and ready to pound Andrew Luck and the Colts into submission. I won't go as far as to say that Luck will struggle, but he will have a hard time putting enough points on the board, and I think that three game interception-less streak comes to an end on Sunday.
Ravens win 24-20.
Seahawks (11-5) @ Redskins (10-6): I'll start off by saying that if this game were played in Seattle, I'd pick the Seahawks with no hesitation. However, road losses to the Dolphins, Lions, Rams, and Cardinals have me a little wary of trusting Seattle on the road.
Robert Griffin III has proved to be worth every ounce of hype he received during the offseason, and has electrified the league while giving DC a long awaited savior at the quarterback position. RG3 has done an exceptional job of making big time plays while minimizing turnovers - a rare feat for a rookie. Paired with rookie Alfred Morris in the backfield, head coach Mike Shanahan has gotten creative with his offense and designed one of the top rushing attacks in the NFL.
However, this Seahawks defense is absolutely vicious. It's safe to say that Griffin has never seen anything like it in his life. The secondary is loaded with playmakers - Pro Bowler Earl Thomas, vicious hitting Kam Chancellor, Pro Bowl snub Richard Sherman, and Brandon Browner (returning from suspension). RG3 will face his toughest match of his career when throwing downfield on Sunday, and his incredibly low interception rate may be in danger.
While the Seahawks going on the road does concern me, their most recent road games have been a 50-17 win cross-country in Buffalo, and an overtime win over the Bears.
Seahawks win 23-20.