The best time of year, at least in football, started with bowl games over the last 2 weeks. Now it continues with the NFL Playoffs. While some may brush off the Wild Card matchups as irrelevant, since the top 2 in each conference don’t play until next week, the last 3 Super Bowl champions have played on Wild Card weekend, meaning that the 4 teams who advance to next week’s divisional round may have a good shot to win it all.
Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
The Colts are a 2-point home favorite after winning the AFC South, and as the 4 seed host the Chiefs, who are the 5 seed after falling short of the AFC West title. The Chiefs are 0-7 in the playoffs since their last playoff win in January 1994, including 3 losses to the Colts. They started this season at 9-0, but have lost 5 of the last 7, although each of those 5 losses was to a playoff team (then again, one of those losses, this past Sunday against the Chargers, was a bit controversial after a referee no-call). The Colts have a playoff losing streak of their own, but it is only 3 games, and only dates back to their last Super Bowl trip in 2010. The Colts are 1 of 3 teams since 2003 with 3 wins over 12-win teams. Out of the first 2, the 2011 Ravens reached the AFC Championship, and the 2003 Patriots beat the Panthers in the Super Bowl. These teams are pretty statistically even, but a head-to-head matchup just 2 weeks ago shows otherwise. The Colts won 23-7, in Kansas City. This time the Colts have a home-field advantage to help them even more.
Colts 28, Chiefs 13.
New Orleans Saints (11-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
The Eagles are 3-point home favorites coming off a big road win in Dallas for the NFC East division title, leading into a rematch of a 27-24 Saints win in the 2007 NFC Divisional round. The Eagles claimed the 3 seed with that division title, and will host the Saints, who captured the 6 seed with their win over the Buccaneers on Sunday. This game is certainly meaningful, since it is a Wild Card playoff game, but it is even more meaningful in suburban Austin, TX, at Westlake High School. Drew Brees of the Saints and Nick Foles of the Eagles, both starting QBs in this game, went to the school. Since there is a 10-year age difference, they actually didn’t ever meet each other until both had made it to the big leagues, but this high school connection has football fans everywhere intrigued. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is actually the 2nd time a playoff matchup has included QBs from the same high school, after Terry Bradshaw of the Steelers and Joe Ferguson of the Bills both graduated from Woodlawn High School in Shreveport, LA, before meeting in the 1974 AFC Divisional Round. As for these 2 teams (it is a team sport, after all), the Eagles have won 7 out of 8 on their way to the division title, including 4 straight at home. The high-powered offensive attack that first year coach Chip Kelly brought from the University of Oregon is working in the pros, as the Eagles are ranked 1st in the league in rushing and 9th in passing. Foles didn’t start the year as the starting QB, but has stepped in nicely, throwing 27 TDs and only 2 interceptions on the year, and tying the NFL record with 7 TDs in a single game on November 3. In addition to the passing attack, the Eagles have the league’s leading rusher in LeSean McCoy. The Saints were undefeated at home this year, but that doesn’t mean anything this weekend in Philadelphia. The fact they are 3-5 away from the Superdome, and have lost 3 in a row on the road and 4 out of 5, certainly does mean something. Not only are their win-loss numbers alarming, but so are the differences in Brees’ numbers. Out of his 39 TD passes, 27 are at home, with only 12 on the road. Out of 12 interceptions, only 3 were at home, while the other 9 were on the road. This game will also be in cold weather, with a high around 40 and a forecast for rain, which should benefit the Eagles even more.
Eagles 34, Saints 24.
San Diego Chargers (9-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
The Bengals are 7-point home favorites in this game between the 3 and 6 seeds in the AFC. The Bengals, as the higher seed, are hosting the Chargers, and the fact that the Bengals have this game at home is huge for their chances. First of all, they are undefeated at home and just 3-5 on the road so far this season. They will also have a very hungry fan base behind them, as they haven’t won a playoff game since 1991, losing 5 straight. Perhaps it’s a good thing they aren’t playing the Houston Texans, as they are the team that eliminated the Bengals the last 2 seasons. Cincinnati has won 5 out of 6, and the 2 losses right before that streak were both in overtime. They have a 4-0 regular season record against the 12 playoff teams, including a 17-10 win over these Chargers on December 1, in San Diego. However, this isn’t the same Chargers team as even the one that lost that game just 5 weeks ago. After a first half that included losses to the Texans, Titans, Raiders, and Redskins, their stretch run that included a 5-1 stretch included 2 wins over the Chiefs and 1 over the Broncos. They also had earlier wins over the Colts and Eagles. With both teams coming in on such hot streaks, this should be one of the best-played games of the weekend, and one team may play well but not be rewarded with a win. Weather in the mid-30s with a chance of a rain/snow mix should favor the Bengals, and if matchup history means anything, the Bengals have won 3 straight in the series, and won their only playoff meeting, 27-7, in the 1982 AFC Championship.|
Bengals 24, Chargers 20.
San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)
The Packers are a 3-point underdogs at home against the defending NFC Champions, the 49ers, in a rematch of a meeting in the NFC Divisional Round last year which the 49ers won 45-31 at Candlestick. The Niners are, in fact, the highest-finishing team from last years playoffs in this year’s tournament, since the Ravens, who won last year’s Super Bowl, missed the playoffs with their loss to the Bengals on Sunday. For what it’s worth, the 49ers beat the Packers 34-28 in Week 1, although it’s really not worth much since that was back on September 8, almost 4 months ago. The 49ers, in fact, followed up that win with consecutive losses, even though they were to the Seahawks and Colts, a pair of division champions, before going 11-2 the rest of the way, including a 6 game winning streak to end the regular season. One negative about the 49ers is they are 2-4 against this year’s playoff teams, with both of the wins coming at home. They are 6-2 on the road, which is a pretty good mark, especially considering the 2 losses are at Seattle and New Orleans, 2 of the toughest places in the league to play as a visitor. Then again, Green Bay is a tough atmosphere as well, particularly in the playoffs, as the Packers are 16-4 all-time in Lambeau Field playoff games. While the Packers are 8-7-1 on the year, they are 6-3 with Aaron Rodgers under center, as he missed 7 games with a broken collarbone, and during that time they were 2-4-1. While the Packers are 0-3 against playoff participants, 2 of the losses were on the road and the 1 at home was during Rodgers’ injury sabbatical. It is Rodgers who is responsible for the Packers even being here, after his 48-yard TD pass to Randall Cobb on 4th and 8 in the final minute last week against the Bears in the de facto NFC North title game. A final advantage the home-standing Packers have will be the weather, like the other 2 outdoor playoff games that also happen to be in the northern part of the country. Unlike the games in Philadelphia and Cincinnati, this game will see temperatures below zero, with Sunday’s high forecast as -3, with wind chills of -20 to -30, and there is also a chance of snow. Green Bay leads the series 6-3 since 2001, and has won 4 out of 6 playoff meetings
Packers 21, 49ers 14.