Its time. Its Wildcard Weekend. The NFL Playoffs are the best and its time to take a look at whats going to happen. Here, we will take a look at the match-ups and the schedules and maybe i’ll throw in a prediction or two… check it out…
First up, its the Wildcard Weekend getting kicked off on Saturday and here are the games…
Sunday brings a double-header punch also, here are those games…
Previews for all 4 Wildcard Games…
Alex Smith claims he didn’t know until this week that it’s been 22 years since the Kansas City Chiefs last won a playoff game. It came in Houston against that city’s first NFL team.
Riding a franchise-record 10-game winning streak, Smith and the Chiefs are back there poised to end their lengthy postseason drought in Saturday’s AFC wild-card round against a Texans team that’s on a roll of its own thanks to some defensive dominance.
For a group that started 1-5, it’s never been about living in the past.
“I don’t think this team’s carrying that weight, to be honest,” said Smith, who threw for 378 yards and four TDs two years ago when Kansas City blew a 28-point second-half lead in a 45-44 wild-card loss at Indianapolis.
“Those were the other 22 years and 22 teams. This is us … we’re just trying to go out and win a ballgame. All that other stuff, we’ll see.”
The Chiefs opened with a 27-20 victory at Houston, as Smith threw three TDs – two to tight end Travis Kelce – and his teammates sacked Brian Hoyer four times and intercepted him once. Kansas City then dropped the next five, yielding an average of 27.8 points. It also lost star running back Jamaal Charles to a season-ending knee injury in Week 5.
But the Chiefs regrouped and never looked back en route to an 11-5 finish – one game behind West champion Denver.
”Clearly when you’re 1-5, you’re not thinking about the playoffs or Super Bowl. You’re thinking about getting a victory,” owner Clark Hunt said. ”Once you start stringing victories together, I was optimistic we could carry it all the way to the end and make the playoffs.”
Kansas City did so by allowing an average of 12.8 points and posting a plus-16 turnover differential in the last 10 games.
Little-known backs Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware have combined for 1,037 rushing yards and 10 TDs to help overcome the loss of Charles. Jeremy Maclin set a career high with 87 receptions while totaling 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns. Smith’s 20 TDs passes are the second most in his 10-year career, and he went nine straight games without throwing an interception.
“I think this team, like I said, is very confident in our capabilities,” said Smith, who has thrown nine TDs without a pick despite a 1-2 playoff record. “If we play the way we know we can play, we can play with anybody, beat anybody.”
Houston also overcame some early adversity in the form of a 2-5 start and the loss of its own star running back Arian Foster, who played just four games and suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 7. Despite Foster’s absence and the fact they’re the only team since 1950 to make the playoffs with four different quarterbacks winning games, the Texans rallied to finish 9-7 and win their third South title in five seasons as the only division team above .500.
”We expect to win the division, expect to be in the playoffs,” said defensive end J.J. Watt, who looks to help the Texans improve to 3-0 in home playoff games. ”We aren’t satisfied with where we are right now. We expect to be where we are right now and we look forward to moving even farther forward.”
Watt has reason to feel good about his team, especially the defense he leads.
Houston allowed an average of 28.4 points and 370.9 yards in the first seven games but 12.7 and 263 in the last nine. The Texans yielded 220.7 yards per game and forced 10 turnovers while outscoring division foes Indianapolis, Tennessee and Jacksonville 80-22 to close the regular season on a three-game winning streak.
”There’s a lot of trust on that side of the ball among each other and with the coaches,” coach Bill O’Brien said. ”You’ve got some guys playing some great football. All the things that you need to play good football in this league and good defense in this league, you’re having it.”
Watt led the NFL with 17 1/2 sacks to join Reggie White as the only players with three 15-sack seasons in their first five years. Despite recovering from a broken hand, Watt had three sacks, forced a fumble and recovered another in Sunday’s 30-6 rout of the Jaguars.
“Every game he plays in he makes plays, finds ways to make plays,” Smith said of Watt, who sacked him twice in September. “He’s disruptive and they are as a whole … Definitely a big challenge for us.”
Hoyer, who was benched during the loss to Kansas City, is 5-4 as a starter this season and returned Sunday after missing two games with his second concussion in less than a month. He’ll be looking to connect with DeAndre Hopkins, who finished third in the league in both receptions (111) and yards (1,521) and added to his career season with 11 TDs. He had nine catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns in the opener.
Alfred Blue has averaged 4.5 yards per carry while rushing for at least 100 in two of the last three games. He had 42 yards on nine carries against a Chiefs defense that didn’t allow any back to gain 100 while going 5-3 on the road.
The Cincinnati Bengals are heading into the AFC wild-card round with a backup quarterback hoping to end one of the longest postseason droughts in NFL history. The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to try to stop him with a defense that might be best described as, well, weird.
One of the league’s more decorated franchises visits Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday night with AJ McCarron taking the snaps for the Bengals, but a game manager might be just the kind of quarterback to best deal with the Steelers’ give-and-take defense.
Cincinnati (12-4) won the AFC North and narrowly missed out on a first-round bye that would have given starter Andy Dalton a better shot at returning from a broken thumb. His scant inclusion in practice this week has McCarron in line for a fourth straight start since replacing Dalton early in a 33-20 home loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 13, but Dalton is confident there’ll be another week of practice.
“This team’s built for this kind of stuff,” Dalton said. “AJ’s going to do a good job when things happen.”
The Bengals have lost seven in a row in the postseason and haven’t won a playoff game in 25 years, the sixth-longest drought for any franchise, and the pressure has only built under Dalton.
They’re the only team in league history to lose an opening-round game four years in a row, and only one has been decided by fewer than 16 points with an outmatched offense averaging 10.8 points and 297.8 yards.
So what harm could a change under center cause? This: No quarterback with so little starting experience as McCarron has won a playoff game since the Houston Oilers’ Gifford Nielsen in 1979.
The playoff struggles have come in part because the Bengals have conceded a 9-2 turnover advantage in the last four, and that’s just what the Steelers want to see.
The Steelers’ 48 sacks trailed only Denver and New England and their 17 interceptions were tied for sixth, up from 33 and 11 last season and the club’s most in each category since 2010. Pittsburgh, however, gave up an average of 363.1 yards, which ranks 21st and ahead of just one other playoff team. Its 19.9 points allowed per game made that acceptable.
Pittsburgh (10-6) won four of five to get into the playoffs, but Roethlisberger threw six INTs in his last three games. His 16 for the season mark the second-highest total of his career, despite being limited to 12 games.
Even so, the offense has worked through key injuries at skill positions to finish fourth in points (26.4), third in total offense (395.4) and first in passing plays of at least 25 yards (43).
The Steelers have had to get by without top running back Le’Veon Bell after he was lost for the season in Week 8, and they now could have to go without DeAngelo Williams. Bell’s replacement is day to day with a right leg injury suffered in Sunday’s 28-12 win in Cleveland.
The Steelers have won four of the last five meetings, including the past two in Cincinnati.
Sunday brings 2 great games also…
The Minnesota Vikings will be hosting a playoff game for the first time in six years, though their matchup doesn’t exactly feel like a reward for winning the NFC North.
Minnesota may have received the worst draw possible in the two-time defending conference champion Seattle Seahawks, who handed the Vikings their worst loss of the season just five weeks ago in the Twin Cities.
Though seeded last in the six-team NFC field, Seattle (10-6) enters Sunday’s wild-card round among the conference’s prime contenders based on accomplishments both past and recent. Saddled by a 2-4 start in mid-October, the Seahawks rebounded to win eight of their last 10 to earn a fourth straight playoff berth.
Despite playing solely at home during its last two conference title runs, Seattle may not be impacted from having to be on the road this year. It’s won five straight outside CenutryLink Field, outscoring opponents 109-19 in the last three.
”These guys are confident that we can go wherever we got to go,” coach Pete Carroll said.
That dominant stretch began with a 38-7 trouncing of Minnesota (11-5) at TCF Bank Stadium on Dec. 6, a result every bit as lopsided as the score indicated. The Seahawks finished with a 433-125 advantage in total yards and outgained the Vikings 173-31 on the ground, holding NFL rushing champion Adrian Peterson to a season-low 18 on eight carries.
“We got up on them because the defense was really keeping us in position to do that,” Carroll said. “The defense allowed us to kind of regain our stride and play some good football and it took off a little bit.”
That defense, the foundation of Seattle’s back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, hasn’t let up since that win. The Seahawks yielded 11.0 points and 218.8 total yards per game over their final five contests and forced 11 turnovers in their last six, including three interceptions of Arizona quarterbacks during last Sunday’s 36-6 rout of the NFC West champion Cardinals on the road.
”Absolutely, this was a statement,” said running back Christine Michael, who rushed for a career-high 102 yards to support three more Russell Wilson touchdown passes.
Wilson’s MVP-level play over the season’s second half has made the Seahawks even more dangerous. The Pro Bowl quarterback produced a league-best 132.8 passer rating in leading Seattle to a 6-1 finish, throwing for 24 touchdowns and just one interception with a 72.0 percent completion rate over that sensational stretch.
Doug Baldwin has benefited the most from Wilson’s success, having recorded 11 of his 14 TD catches over the last six weeks. The wide receiver had two scores among his five receptions for 94 yards in the victory over Minnesota.
The Vikings have been considerably better defensively since that loss, having permitted just 89.5 rushing yards per game and 3.8 per carry over their last four. They’ve amassed 14 sacks and seven takeaways in winning three straight, the last a 20-13 victory at Green Bay that secured Minnesota’s first NFC North title since 2009.
“I hope this is just a step, honestly,” said coach Mike Zimmer, who went 7-9 in his first season in 2014. “I don’t want this to be the defining moment of my career, for sure. I hope that there’s a lot more on the horizon.”
Whether the Vikings can indeed extend their season likely hinges on them solving Seattle’s top-ranked run defense. Minnesota is 10-0 when rushing for over 113 yards and 1-5 when under that number, while the Seahawks haven’t allowed more than 102 during their 6-1 run.
“They beat us pretty badly last time we played them,” Zimmer said. “It wasn’t close, they got after us in every phase, so we have to perform extremely well for us to play good in this game. “We can’t worry about the playoff experience until we do the things right in order for us to win.”
The Vikings also will have to deal with an apparently healthy Marshawn Lynch, who on Wednesday participated in his first full practice since undergoing sports hernia surgery in late November. The proven playoff performer missed seven games with the injury.
”He’s been fantastic,” offensive line coach Tom Cable said. ”He’s adapted very well. I think he’s done a great job of recognizing where this team is at and their vibe, and he’s come right in and went to work and it’s been really good.”
Lynch has rushed for over 100 yards in six of 10 career postseason games, and Seattle is 5-0 when he’s had 109 or more.
The performances of both quarterbacks have mirrored their team’s fate down the stretch as Aaron Rodgers has looked human while Kirk Cousins has played like an All-Pro.
As the Packers try avoid losing three in a row twice in the same season for the first time in seven years, the surging Redskins seek their first postseason victory in 10 years Sunday in an NFC wild-card game at FedEx Field.
Green Bay was considered one of the conference’s top contenders after winning its first six games. Now it’s stumbling into the playoffs with six losses in its last 10, and things could have been worse if not for a Hail Mary on the final play against Detroit in Week 13.
The Packers are focused on forgetting about the end of the regular season after coughing up an opportunity for a fifth straight NFC North title in last Sunday’s 20-13 loss to Minnesota. They haven’t lost three straight twice since 2008, the only time they missed the playoffs in the past nine seasons.
”I think it helps everybody, but you have to be realistic with fresh starts. I think you have to have fresh starts for the right reasons,” coach Mike McCarthy said. ”The things that we’ve done wrong are just as important as the things we’ve done right. It’s what we need to focus on because when you win, you can’t just sweep the things you didn’t do right until the rug.”
Rodgers completed 28 of 44 passes for 291 yards with one touchdown and one interception while getting sacked five times last weekend. The two-time MVP hasn’t thrown for more than two scores in a career-high eight straight while also turning the ball over eight times in his last six.
Rodgers finished with his lowest completion percentage (60.7) since 2006 and his lowest passer rating (92.7) since ’08. He’ll try to get on track while helping the Packers (10-6) avoid a fourth loss in five playoff games since winning three straight road games and the Super Bowl after the 2010 season.
The five-time Pro Bowler, though, has been sacked 13 times in his last two games. That has to be a concern against a Washington team that has racked up 14 sacks over its past three.
Green Bay was 23rd in the league with 334.6 total yards per game, its lowest average since 2005.
”I think you have to remember, (Rodgers is) a great player. He wants the ball in his hands and when things break down he’s going to make things happen,” McCarthy said. ”But also the risk and exposure he’s put to is unacceptable to myself. And he knows that.”
Cousins certainly doesn’t want to wipe the slate clean after leading the Redskins (9-7) to their longest winning streak in three years en route to the NFC East crown. Since Week 7, the fourth-year pro leads the league in completion percentage (72.4) and passer rating (119.1) to go along with 23 touchdown passes and only three interceptions.
He’s also thrown for 11 scores without a pick over his last three games, completing 12 of 15 for 176 yards and three touchdowns before sitting down in last Sunday’s 34-23 win at Dallas.
Jordan Reed has emerged as Cousins’ top target with 29 receptions for 378 yards and five touchdowns in his last four games. Pierre Garcon has a scoring grab in each of his last three.
The Redskins, who have won six of their past seven home games, haven’t won a postseason contest since beating Tampa Bay 17-10 on the road in the wild-card round at the end of the 2005 season. However, they’re seeking their first victory this season over a team that finished above .500.
”If you start saying, `This is the biggest game of your life,’ you don’t want people to get too tense around here,” coach Jay Gruden said. ”I think you have to prepare like you’ve been preparing.”
Washington has averaged 35.7 points and 428.7 total yards over its past three games, though Green Bay ranks sixth in the NFL against the pass with 227.6 yards allowed per game.
Thanks for reading and always feel free to leave a comment or two. I’ll keep this article updated as breaking news happens.