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Saturday, January 4, 2014

NFL Playoff Predictions: Wild Card Weekend

It's wild card weekend in the NFL.  Since the NFL switched to it's current format of four divisions in each conference in 2005, the eventual Super Bowl winner played on wild card weekend in six of the last eight years.  Three of those years, it was actually a wild card team that won the Lombardi Trophy.  To put it simply, there is good reason to pay attention to the four games this weekend.  Last year, Wild Banshee went 3-1 on wild card weekend picks, so there is good reason to pay attention to this post, as well.  We'll handle these in chronological order.

Kansas City at Indianapolis:  Saturday at 4:30 p.m. EST on NBC.  These teams come into this game with identical 11-5 records.  Yet, they've taken very different paths to get there.  The Chiefs got off to a red hot 9-0 start only to lose five of their last seven contests.  The Colts are ending the season with some momentum by winning four of their last five games.  One of those late season wins came against the Chiefs in Kansas City in Week 16.  The Colts have also beaten San Francisco, Seattle and Denver.  That's some pretty good work.  And, I expect that good work to continue this week.  The Chiefs will struggle to protect Alex Smith without their starting right tackle, and Andy Reid will continue his life-long, inexplicable aversion to the run game.  On defense, it looks like the Chiefs vaunted pass rush will not be at full strength.  Houston will be back in the lineup, but Hali will likely be out.  And even if he does play, Hali may not be at full strength.  That will allow Andrew Luck to be good enough to carry his Colts to a victory.  Indianapolis: 24-21.

New Orleans at Philadelphia:  Saturday at 8:15 p.m. EST on NBC.  We have two very exciting offenses matched up in the primetime game on Saturday.  But, I believe this game will actually be decided by defense.  Specifically, the Saints defense.  The Saints have only given up 30 points twice this season.  Once at New England and once at Seattle.  The Eagles have given up 40 points twice this year, and one of those times was a 48-point debacle against the Vikings in mid December.  More troubling for the Eagles is the fact that they are ranked dead last in the league in passing defense.  And this week, they'll be facing one of the greatest passers of all time in Drew Brees.  I know the game is outdoors.  And I know the Saints have struggled on the road this year.  I also know that it will be cold in Philly on Saturday night, but I believe the Saints defense will do what needs to be done to secure a victory.  New Orleans: 31-24.

San Diego at Cincinnati:  Sunday at 1:00 p.m. EST on CBS.  San Diego was part of an extraordinary confluence of events on the last Sunday of the season to earn a spot in these playoffs.  That was exciting.  But it also means that the Chargers are in inconsistent 9-7 team.  That record includes losses to the likes of Houston, Tennessee, Oakland and Washington.  Yikes!  The Bengals are a much better team than anyone in that group.  And the Bengals will be at home where they are undefeated this season.  The forecast for Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati calls for cold rain changing over to snow during the game.  This likely will put a damper on both teams' passing attacks.  San Diego and Cincinnati both have adequate running games, but the Bengals are much better at stopping the run than the Chargers.  The Chargers will also be coming from the West Coast and battling an early 1:00 p.m. EST start time.  Gamblers will tell you that rarely ends well for the traveling team.  I do not believe this will be a blowout, but I do believe the Bengals will win comfortably.  Cincinnati: 28-17.

San Francisco at Green Bay:  Sunday at 4:30 p.m. EST on FOX.  There is cold, and then there is cold.  And it is going to be COLD in Green Bay on Sunday evening.  We're talking below zero temperatures at kickoff.  Typically, one would think that kind of weather would favor the home team.  But, let's be honest.  No one is actually accustomed to playing in sub-zero weather.  So, weather might be a factor but not a factor that actually helps either team.  Once again, I think this game will be decided by defense.  The Niners have a good one.  The Packers do not.  And that weakness will be even worse without the injured Clay Matthews.  Aaron Rogers might be the greatest quarterback of this generation, but the Niners will keep this a low scoring affair.  For the second time this season, San Francisco will beat the Packers in Green Bay.  San Francisco: 21-17.

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