2016 NFL Playoffs: Wild Card Weekend AFC Preview

January 9, 2016

Around The Corn spends the bulk of its time covering collegiate sports, but a funny thing happens when you overanalyze, as I tend to do with college football games: you don’t do well with predictions.

Cut out the frills, and suddenly you’re doing much better than you would have been pouring over endless statistics and previous matchups.

Last season Around The Corn correctly picked every single NFL playoff game correctly, and came within a touchdown of correctly predicting the score of the Super Bowl. If you’d like proof, check out the picture.

Some if it may be cutting out the excessive evaluation of each game. Some of it may be the fact that in NFL games, the better team often wins because it is comprised of professional, adult men rather than 18 to 22-year old college kids. But a lot of it simply comes down to luck.

This year’s playoffs appear very difficult to predict, so I doubt that luck will be on my side to the extent that it was last season. But either way, Around The Corn will bring you a preview of every playoff game leading up to Super Bowl 50.

We’ll start with the AFC side, which takes center stage on Saturday.

AFC Wild Card Round

#5 Kansas City at #4 Houston (Saturday, 4:35 PM ET – ABC)

Many pundits are calling this game a toss up – both teams have played well over the last month, or last two and a half months in the case of the Chiefs. Houston found its stride after beating a previously undefeated Cincinnati team on Monday Night Football, and since has ridden its top tier defense to this very game. Kansas City does certain things very well, but individual stars like J.J. Watt will be standing in the way to try shut those things down.

Without much of a pass offense, the Chiefs will lean heavily on Jamaal Charles and the running game to break through Houston’s defensive front in order to move the ball. Luckily for Kansas City, Houston’s run defense is the one major category that they are not ranked in the top five in the NFL. However, with less concern about the passing game, it will be interesting to see how Romeo Crennel lines up the defense to account for Charles & Co. On the offensive side of the ball, the Texans will need to hope Brian Hoyer fares better than he did against other top defenses like Cincinnati and New England. Kansas City is in the same class defensively as those teams, so it will be important for Hoyer to step up.

Call it a toss up, but it’s hard to ignore Kansas City’s 10 straight victories. Additionally, the prospect of Charles performing well versus Hoyer performing well seems to be heavily in favor of the visiting squad. This game will be dictated by defensive performance on both sides, but the aforementioned player that has a better day will be moving on to the divisional round.

My Pick: 21-14 Kansas City

#6 Pittsburgh at #3 Cincinnati (Saturday, 8:15 PM ET – CBS)

A divisional rematch takes place on the eve of the playoff’s onset, which will bring an added intensity to a game that was already bound to provide plenty of excitement and big hits. A playoff veteran takes on a relative newbie at the quarterback position, but like the first AFC Wild Card game this weekend, the defenses will likely be the torch bearers in this one.

A.J. McCarron’s first three starts for the Bengals could have gone much worse for the second year man out of Alabama. Four touchdowns and zero interceptions, with a 2-1 overall record. But McCarron is still seeking his first victory over a playoff bound team and the stakes have never been this high. Cincinnati’s defense is probably good enough to get them to the Super Bowl, but without Andy Dalton in the game the Bengals will be living on the edge for as long as their still alive. Pittsburgh will likely dial up the pressure as they did when McCarron entered the Week 14 game. Turnovers are ball control will be essential keys for both sides.

The optimism everyone in Cincinnati had when the Bengals started the season hot is replaced by an equal amount of anxiety now. Although the Bengals have won of the best defenses in the league, it was not enough to beat either Denver or Pittsburgh in the regular season without Dalton. I see the same story playing out in this one and the Steelers moving on.

My Pick: 30-24 Pittsburgh

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