Wow, been a while since I’ve written one of these. For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve written for several of Taz’ other sites, and hope to do more in the future. I’m just going to do these in the order they will be played.
Bengals (10-6) at Texans (12-4): A few weeks ago, this would have been a no-brainer. The Texans were riding high,and looked to be the #1 seed in the AFC with a killer defense. But there have been some chinks in the armor recently, as they have lost 3 out of the last 4, while the Bengals have been on fire.
Over the last 7 weeks, the Texans have had 3 games where they have allowed more than 30 ppg, and two of those have come against mediocre teams: 37 to the Jaguars and 31 to the Lions. Another thing that could make this tough for them is that the Bengals lead the league in sacks with 51, and Texans’ QB Matt Schaub has been dropped 27 times. Although Dalton has been sacked far more times than Schaub (48), he has only lost 13 more yds dues to sacks (229 to 216).
For the Texans to win, they will have to feed the Bengals a healthy dose of Arian Foster, and the offensive line has to give Schaub time to throw. The Bengals need to put pressure on Schaub, and force him into mistakes in the passing game. The Texans will also have to control WR AJ Green, the player on these teams most likely to make a big play.
Call it a gut instinct, but I’m going with the upset here. The Texans have looked extremely vulnerable recently, and the Bengals are riding high.
Prediction: Bengals 27, Texans 23
Vikings (10-6) at Packers (11-5). These two teams met just last week, with the Vikings pulling out a 37-34 last minute win at home to get into the playoffs. When they met in Week 11 in Green Bay, The Pack won 23-14.
This game comes down to who has the better day: Vikings RB Adrian Peterson or Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. Peterson rushed for 409 yds in the previous games, but scored only once in each game. Rodgers passed for 365 yds and 4 TDs in week 17 against the Vikings , and finally has all his receivers healthy.
As those two players go, so goes the offense. The Vikings have no passing game to speak of, and the same is true of the Packers’ ground game. The key to this game, aside from the aforementioned players, will be for the Vikings to get heavy pressure on Rodgers and use their ground game to keep him off the field.
I’ll go with the favored Packers in this one. It’s January , the Vikings will not be as good outdoors and the Pack is 7-1 at home this year.
Prediction: Packers37, Vikings 20
Colts (11-5) at Ravens (10-6): The Sunday games look to be much better than those on Saturday, starting with this one. The Colts are the big story in the NFL this year, with rookie #1 pick Andrew Luck leading them to an 11-5 record after they went 2-14 last year.
The big story for the Colts on the field was the impressive debut of Luck, who threw for 4,374 yds, breaking the rookie passing record set by Cam Newton last year. He also pulled out several late wins, and looked far more mature than his age.
This is not to say he didn’t have some issues this season. He threw for 23 TDs, but also was picked off 18 times and sacked 41. With no real run game to speak of, Luck threw the ball 627 times, fifth-most in the NFL. You know what the Colts are going to do most of the time; you just have to be able to stop them.
The Ravens are a far more balanced team. RB Ray Rice quietly had another good year, rushing for 1,143 yds and 9 TDs and catching 61 balls for 478 yds and another TD. QB Joe Flacco didn’t put up the kind of numbers Luck did, but did throw for 22 TDs while only throwing 10 picks.
There are also the off-the-field issues that will bring a lot of emotion to this game. Colts’ coach Chuck Pagano has been battling cancer most of the season, and only returned to field duties last week. Ravens LB Ray Lewis missed several games at the end of the season with an injury, and will just now get back on the field for the playoffs. Lewis announced this past week that this will be his last season, which will provide another highly emotional element.
It’s a tough game to call, but I’ll go with Ravens at home in a close one.
Prediction: Ravens 27, Colts 20
Seahawks (11-5) at Redskins (10-6). For my money, this should be the best game of the weekend. Rookie QBs Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson face off against each other, and it also features the #2 and #3 RBs in the league in Redskins’ surprising rookie Alfred Morris and Seattle’s vet Marshawn Lynch.
Griffin has the most impressive stats of the two, with 3,200 passing yds and 20 TDs vs only 5 picks. He also ran for 815 yds and 7 TDs. But Wilson was no slouch either; he threw for 3,118 yds and tied Peyton Manning’s rookie TD passing record with 26 while being picked off 10 times. He also ran for 489 yds and 4 TDs.
There will be two major things to watch in this game. The first is Griffin, who suffered a leg injury late in the year. He has played since then, but is not at full strength, and his mobility is somewhat limited, which makes it easier to key on him.
But the biggest factor here is neither of the QBs, but the Seahawks killer defense, which leads the league in fewest ppg allowed with 15.3. They’ve been smoking hot recently, allowing more than 20 points in just one game since week 9.
Of all the teams in the playoffs, the Seahawks are the one I’d least like to face right now. In addition to the defense being so strong, they had a 3 week span where they put 150 points on the board…including 42 against the highly rated 49ers defense.
Prediction: Seahawks 31, Redskins 17