What to watch for in the Wild Card round

1/2/14 in NFL   |   droth   |   127 respect

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Which Wild Card game are you most excited to watch?
Packers vs. 49ers
Bengals vs. Chargers
Eagles vs. Saints
Colts vs. Chiefs
In a previous post, I tried to reduce the NFL playoffs to a three-part checklist and, after some basic statistical analysis, I concluded that the Broncos fit my criteria for a Super Bowl winner better than any other team. But we know football; things are going to get weird and it's probably a good idea to take a look at a few more tangible factors that could help decide this weekend's matchups as well.

Here are my Things To Watch for Wild Card Weekend:

Weather in Philly

A main talking point this season has been home field in the NFC and the Saints home/road splits. The Saints are 3-5 on the road this season while they're unbeaten at home -- this much is known. But for a high-flying, dome team, the weather might be a bigger factor than the area code. (In fact, according to an ESPN post from 2012, New Orleans' win differential between home and road games from 2002-2012 was second smallest in the NFL. In other words, simply playing on the road hasn't been a big factor on its own).

Dec 22, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) passes as Carolina Panthers free safety Mike Mitchell (21) defends in the third quarter. The Panthers defeated the Saints 17-13 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY SportsOver the last four seasons, New Orleans has played seven games in weather of 50 degrees or below. Not freezing, but cold compared to the temperate Superdome. They're 3-4 in those games and 2-4 if you go below 50 degrees. A few of those losses came to playoff teams (Seattle this year, Baltimore in 2010) but the others look pretty bad on paper (Jets this year; Bengals in 2010, who went 4-12).

It doesn't take a thorough examination of NFL history and the Farmers Almanac to say that weather will be a factor. If the forecast, which currently calls for 32 and clear skies, should start to resemble that Lions-Eagles snow game from a couple of weeks ago, the Saints pass-heavy attack will be in trouble.

The Slot in Green Bay

Breaking News Alert: Injuries Have Major Impact in the NFL!

The return of Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb for Green Bay combined with the injury to Carlos Rogers of the 49ers is my Thing to Watch for this heavyweight matchup. San Francisco fans still remember Victor Cruz shredding the Niners defense from the slot in the 2012 playoffs and a Rodger-to-Cobb connection has that same sort of potential, if not more.

In week 17, Carlos Rogers, the 49ers primary slot corner, suffered a hamstring injury and it is unclear exactly how serious the injury is. This game, a rematch from last year's divisional round, is sure to be a great game with a whole bunch of variables, but this key matchup could play a significant role in determining which squad has the upper hand.

Ground Game in Indy

This is going to sound a lot simpler than it is. If the Colts can rush the ball 30 times, they'll win the game. 

Of course, for them to run the ball 30 times, the O-line needs to play well, they have to control the ball, not fall behind, and other factors that count a lot more in grand scheme of things, but this is their measuring stick. On the year, they average 28 rushing attempts per game (23rd in the NFL) and, in their 11 wins, they average 29 carries while in their five losses, they're only running the ball 16.8 times.
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