Thursday, 2 January 2014

NFL Wildcard Weekend Preview

After a personal break due to full time work commitments, it is nice to be back for the Wildcard Weekend with my preview of the four games involving the AFC and NFC 3 to 6 seeds with the chance to get one step closer to the Super Bowl in New Jersey this year.

There are some exciting match-ups and after the wild way Week 17 went down, the NFL must be hoping that these games do not fail to disappoint.

Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
It is interesting how the football schedule Gods work, as these two teams played each other only two weeks ago during the regular season.  On that occasion, the Colts were the road team and convincingly won 23-7 in Arrowhead as the Chiefs season slowed down to a stop once they could not overcome the Denver Broncos juggernaut and secured the No 5 seed.

Having opened the season 9-0, the Chiefs ended the season 2-5, however Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles both played really well.  The fault for that record falls into the lap of the Chiefs defence that succumbed to injury but hopefully the return of Justin Houston will be welcome news as the game plan of attacking the quarterback, and in this case, Andrew Luck will be key.

Luck has done well without his number one receiver Reggie Wayne lost to injury for the year.  They do however, have the one two punch of Donald Brown and Trent Richardson. Whilst Richardson's production has been questioned he has slowly become accustomed to his role and Brown has been making big plays to get Richardson the chance to punch it into the end zone of goal-line carries.

This could be the tightest of the contests over the weekend, but then you could say that about most of them. However, I feel the Chiefs will have enough in terms of game management and get more from their defence in this one off contest.
Prediction: Chiefs by 4

New Orleans Saints (11-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
This should be a great match-up as you have two high scoring offences going at it head to head.  Tellingly, the Saints are not the same team outdoors as they are in a dome game, they have a losing record (3-5) this season including losses at Seattle and Carolina.  The Eagles are similar to both of those teams, in that they have offences with both weapons at receiving and in the backfield, with the key weapon being in the backfield. 

The Eagles have LeSean McCoy the 2013 rushing leader in the NFL as well as DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper and Zach Ertz; also Nick Foles has thrown for 21 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions in his starts this season since replacing Michael Vick.

Foles has shown great leadership and game management, managing the ball, distributing it well and limiting turnovers helped by an O-line that has played all 16 games this season.

Drew Brees will keep any side in the game, and expect Sean Payton to have some trick plays up his sleeve for this testing encounter.  You just think the losing record of the Saints will be too much for even Brees to overcome, and the Eagles ended the season very well in both a professional and entertaining manner.
Prediction: Eagles by 6

San Diego Chargers (9-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
The Chargers must have been wishing for the late afternoon match up on Saturday, rather than the cross country early start on Sunday away to the Bengals.

The Chargers got in by the skin of their teeth in overtime versus a second string Chiefs side at home, helped by losses to Baltimore and Miami. The Chargers have Philip Rivers playing at a Pro Bowl level and Danny Woodhead has been a star for them as has Ryan Mathews playing at close to 100% capacity.

The Bengals have suffered their own injuries on defence to Geno Atkins and Leon Hall, however, the offence has been rolling along avoiding banana skins and making sure they won the AFC North convincingly in the end.

Andy Dalton is in his third consecutive postseason and should garner a playoff victory and a trip to Foxboro in this one.
Prediction: Bengals by 7

San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)
Aaron Rodgers rode in on his white horse and helped the Packers win the NFC North by winning in Chicago thanks to a last minute 47 yard hook up with Randall Cobb who had two for the day, and the weirdest touchdown ever.

The prize for the Packers is a home playoff game in the freezing cold of Lambeau Field with the visiting 49ers coming to Wisconsin.

Earlier in the season, in the first week in fact, the 49ers triumphed 34-28 over the Packers at Candlestick. That match saw Colin Kaepernick's first 400 yard plus game and the huge hit by Clay Matthews on Kaepernick when out of bounds.  On that day, Rodgers had little joy against the vaunted Niners defence which is still intact and no new injury news. 

Whilst it may be cold and windy, in terms of match-ups the 49ers have the game with Frank Gore running and the returning Michael Crabtree to add to Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. The Niners know though that all roads lead through Seattle.
Prediction: Niners by 3

Follow me at twitter @JamieGarwood and let me know your picks for this weekend.
Next weekend I predict it will be Bengals @ Patriots, Chiefs @ Broncos, Eagles @ Panthers, 49ers @ Seahawks (a week early, but not if New Orleans win)

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