Thursday, 3 January 2013

NFL Wildcard Preview

After 17 weeks of bone-crunching, mouth-whetting amazing football with ups and downs across the boards and after Black Monday when seven coaches were shown the door, we now have 12 teams remaining across two divisions with eight teams (four in each over two games) starting the Wildcard weekend where teams play for the right to go on the road to a higher ranked conference opponent.  There are some great match-ups starting with the Bengals on the road at the Texans.

#6 Cincinnati v #3 Houston
Oddly for a 6-3 matchup in the playoffs you have a team that has played with momentum in the last few weeks going on the road to face a team that has lost three of its last four games which saw them fall from the No.1 overall seed to No.3 and no bye week. The Bengals have a quarterback who has won a play off game in Andy Dalton, whilst this is Matt Schaub's first play off game as he missed the play offs last year due to injury.

Dalton is getting help from his offensive weapons, Ben-Jarvus Green Ellis is getting good mileage from RB not Adrian Peterson numbers but 100 yards a game is not bad.  And they have AJ Green who is becoming as potent as Andre Johnson, the Bengal defence is playing with fire aswell.

The Texans need to go back to the drawing board they have done away with Arian Foster touches and instead relying on the deep threat of Johnson, yet if the Bengals can tie up Johnson there are no other weapons of variable ability to throw to.

Prediction: Bengals by 3

#6 Minnesota v #3 Green Bay
One week after the Vikings defeated the Packers to enter the play offs, it is a repeat of the match but this time it is on the hallowed turf of Lambeau field.

Whilst Adrian Peterson has been a freak this year, last week it was Christian Ponder's best game as a pro wiht 200+ yards and 3 touchdowns allowed AP to eat up those holes.  Expect Green Bay to press Ponder when he drops back and shut off the bubbles/screens he usually throws.

This is also a different game, last week the Packers who were probably going 80% due to their play off place being assured, will be pumped for this game and wanting to make amends for the last Lambeau play off game when the Giants came in and shocked them.  Plus the Packers have a decent QB in Aaron Rodgers, you may have heard of him - last week he had 300+ yards and 4 TDs in a losing effort.

Prediction: Packers by 8

#5 Indianapolis v #4 Baltimore
This has all manner of storylines, you have the team that left Baltimore the Colts returning with the prodigal son in Andrew Luck, the continuing recovery of Chuck Pagano the Colts coach from leukeamia and now the Ravens' linebacker Ray Lewis has annouced this is his last ride as he is set to retire once the Ravens' play off run ends either in defeat or victory.

The Ravens much like the Packers were assured of a play off berth and were half-hearted versus the Bengals last week; they have a lot of talent still at their disposal in Joe Flacco and Ray Rice.  If the Ravens can use Rice's dynamism effectively as they should do then expect them to run this game.

The Colts are a different animal on the road away from Lucas Oil Field, and whilst Luck has been amazing at times he has still committed turnovers (24 in total) and this defence with a returning Lewis still has Ed Reed on its roster and can generate enough pressure to confuse and disrupt Luck's rhythm.

Prediction: Ravens by 10

#5 Seattle v #4 Washington
This is the game of the weekend and the toughest one to predict owing to both teams having X factors under centre in Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III - both rookie quarterbacks who have led teams with low expectations to the play offs.

RG3 is a dynamic player, but has been helped by Alfred Morris his running back whose big numbers have helped open up receivers and led to few turnovers by the Redskins.  The defence has improved significantly under Jim Haslett and they may be able to create pressure.

Seattle is very much similar to Washington, a rookie quarterback helped out by a good running back. The only difference is that Seattle's O-line does allow pressure to get to Wilson, yet their defence has been huge for the team in general.  That makes this game all the more tougher to predict, it will be close but expect the Seahawks defence to get to RG3 whose mobility has not been the same since he sat out a game a few week ago.

Prediction: Seahawks by 3

That would make my Divisional play offs these:
AFC - Bengals @ Broncos and Ravens @ Patriots
NFC - Seahawks @ Falcons and Packers @ 49ers

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