2013 NFL Playoffs: Wild Card Weekend Preview

January 3, 2013

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything about the NFL. Almost three months, actually, and it’s been even longer since I’ve posted something NFL related that wasn’t essentially an apology to my roommates (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this).

But it’s playoff time, and even for someone who primarily covers college sports, the NFL playoffs are something to get excited about. It’s when you can count on just about every game to be a good one, and there are no stories about quarterbacks that simply aren’t getting it done.

This weekend’s Wild Card games are very interesting. Here are my previews for those games. Please note that as in past years, I will be posting similar articles leading up to the Super Bowl, but do not post a full playoff preview.

AFC Wild Card Games

Cincinnati at Houston (Saturday, 4:30 PM ET)

The Bengals come into the 2013 playoffs as the third biggest longshot to win the Super Bowl at 50:1 odds, according to Vegasinsider.com. Cincinnati will have a tough time just getting out of the Wild Card round, though as the team must face the Houston Texans, the same squad that eliminated the Bengals last season.

Marvin Lewis may be the head coach of one of the NFL’s biggest playoff underdogs, but he is not the coach of the NFL’s least confident team. The Bengals come into the playoffs riding a three game winning streak, including huge wins over division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore. While the offense has sputtered, scoring just one touchdown the past two games, the defense has played exceptionally well. This is good news for Cincinnati, considering that its best bet to win is limiting Houston’s run game. If the Bengals can find a way to shut down Arian Foster, then they have a chance to make this a much more interesting game than in the 2012 playoffs.

The Texans on the other hand have to be wondering how they fell to have to be playing on Wild Card Weekend. The answer is more than just Matt Schaub’s struggles. Houston hasn’t been nearly as good against the pass as it was last season, and gives up a lot of big plays through the air. Luckily for the Texans, Cincinnati’s offense hasn’t looked all that strong even in wins this year. But Houston won’t be able to rely on good defense to win games in the playoffs this season. In order to avoid being upset, Schaub will have to improve and Arian Foster will have to rush for at least 100 yards.

Momentum is with the Bengals, but it may be artificial because the offense has been stagnant lately. Houston has played well at home, and assuming Foster gets his yards, the Texans will win this game. However, don’t expect it to be a blowout like last season, and fans in Houston shouldn’t get too excited unless Schaub improves dramatically.

My Pick: 24-19 Houston

Indianapolis at Baltimore (Sunday, 1 PM ET)

Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano returned to the sidelines last weekend after battling luekemia, and Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis will return to the field for the first time since October 14th after suffering a torn right triceps. In other words, there will be no shortage of motivation for either team in this game, and it should result in a very close score.

While it is a surprise that the Colts are even in the playoffs this season, what is perhaps more surprising is the fact that Andrew Luck hasn’t had to play lights out for them to get there. The first overall pick of the 2012 draft actually has a QB rating worse than that of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert, but somehow finds a way to win games (sounds a lot like a former Broncos starting QB, huh?). However, despite the fact that other rookie quarterbacks have a better QBR, it must be noted that Luck threw over 80 times more than Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson this season. In order to win this game, Luck will have to throw a lot against a Baltimore defense that has only been mediocre this season.

Ray Lewis announcing that he will retire after the season this close to the team’s first playoff game makes me wonder if Baltimore was in serious need of some motivation. At one time the Ravens were considered one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL, but have stumbled down the stretch losing four of their last five games. Fortunately for Baltimore, Indianapolis has one of the league’s worst run defenses, so Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce will be used early and often to try and grind the ball down the field. If Baltimore’s defense does a decent job at containing Luck’s ability to extend plays, Baltimore can win this game conventionally.

If the Colts win this game, it will be in spectacular fashion. Indianapolis is too young and inexperienced to win this game in ho-hum fashion. However, while Lewis’ announcement may be a sign that Baltimore isn’t built for a long stay in the playoffs, I think that they are good enough to get the job done here at home.

My Pick: 21-18 Baltimore

NFC Wild Card Games

Minnesota at Green Bay (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

A Week 17 rematch will take place between the Vikings and Packers on Wild Card weekend, but this time both teams will be fighting to keep their season alive. With just a week to prepare, don’t expect either team to stray far from the game plan that was used last Sunday.

Obviously, Minnesota will look to get things going on the ground with Adrian Peterson. Last weekend, Peterson ran for 199 yards and the Vikings had to hit a field goal as time expired to beat the Packers. While no one will ever complain about a win, it is a little disconcerting for Minnesota that it can run for nearly 200 yards against Green Bay and still be in a game that comes down to the wire. Such is life in the NFL in this day and age. Since Green Bay has an offense that can strike quickly, Minnesota simply needs to take advantage of every offensive opportunity it has on Saturday night. Milking the clock won’t do much against a team that doesn’t need a lot of time.

If last weekend is any indication, the Packers will have trouble stopping Adrian Peterson once again. However, if Aaron Rodgers and the offense are clicking, it won’t matter. Green Bay could have both Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson back in the lineup, which gives Rodgers his favorite and third-favorite receiving options from this season. As the league’s 24th ranked pass defense giving up 244.3 yards per game, Minnesota will have a hard time keeping Green Bay out of the end zone if everyone is healthy for the Packers. Even if they aren’t, playing at Lambeau Field gives Green Bay the edge.

In a year of big surprises, Minnesota may have been the biggest playoff surprise because it won with a weak passing game. Despite what the scoreboard said last weekend, Minnesota will have a difficult time pulling the upset in this one.

My Pick: 37-24 Green Bay

Seattle at Washington (Sunday, 4:40 PM ET)

I think that this could be the most entertaining game of the entire weekend, as two rookie quarterbacks face off against each other in Washington, D.C. This is only the second time in the history of the NFL that two rookies have faced each other in a playoff game, the first being when Andy Dalton faced T.J. Yates last season.

Washington may be the team that has been commended for its breakout offensive playmakers, but Seattle has a few standouts at skill positions as well. While RGIII is firmly in the discussion for Rookie of the Year honors, Russell Wilson isn’t far behind. Wilson has 3,118 passing yards and 26 touchdowns to Griffin’s 3200 yards and 20 touchdowns. In addition, Marshawn Lynch is helping out Wilson tremendously with 1,590 yards rushing on the year. While the offense is solid, it is the defense that helped Seattle to an 11-5 record this season and it will be the defense that makes the biggest impact for the Seahawks in this game. Seattle has the league’s fifth best run defense, but it will need to play like the best to slow down running back Alfred Morris and force Griffin to try to do too much.

The Redskins have the league’s best rushing attack, and will need to remember that so that they do not lean too heavily on Robert Griffin to make plays. Alfred Morris has been a monster this season, rushing for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns. Mixing up the play calling so that Morris can loosen up the defense for Griffin will be key for Washington, which is going to need to score a decent amount of points to win this game. The Redskins come in extremely hot, having won seven straight, but are going up against a Seahawks squad that has won five straight and made it look easy.

Confidence won’t be an issue for either team, considering the winning streak of each. Also, because of the playoff inexperience of both quarterbacks and the fact that each team has a strong running game, there is really no advantage for either offense. Thus, the better defense will ultimately decide this game despite the fact that it could be a high scoring contest. One costly turnover could be the difference in a close one.

My Pick: 37-34 Seattle

– K. Becks

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