NFL Playoffs previews and predictions for Wild Card Weekend:
Byes: Broncos, Patriots
Bengals (10-6) at Texans (12-4)
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Houston defensive end J.J. Watt had a coming out party in last year’s 31–10 Wild Card win over Cincinnati. Then a rookie, Watt had one sack, one INT returned 29 yards for a TD and one of his now famous J.J. swats to bat a ball down at the line of scrimmage. Watt followed that effort with a 12-tackle, 2.5-sack performance against in a Divisional Round defeat at Baltimore. But after 3.5 sacks and a pick-six in his first two playoff games, it’s safe to say that Watt likes the bright lights of the postseason.
Offensively, the Texans’ two-headed monster of running back Arian Foster and wide receiver Andre Johnson have been nearly impossible to stop this season. Foster has 1,641 total yards and 17 total TDs, while Johnson recently joined Marvin Harrison as the only players in history with four seasons with at least 100 catches and 1,500 yards.
The Bengals’ second-year pitch-and-catch duo of quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green is also a tough tandem. Green has been particularly difficult to cover this season, with at least 100 yards or one TD in 12 games.
Texans by 6
Colts (11-5) at Ravens (10-6)
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
The Colts return to Baltimore, where the team played from 1953-83 before packing up the Mayflower moving trucks and heading for Indy in 1984. Football returned to Baltimore in 1996, when the Browns moved from Cleveland and became the Ravens.
This will be the third playoff meeting between the Colts and Ravens since 2007. The Colts won both games, with a 20–3 win in Indianapolis in 2010 and a 15–6 victory at Baltimore in 2007. The last time these two squared off, Colts coach Chuck Pagano was the Ravens defensive coordinator, while Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell was the coach in Indianapolis.
This will be the first postseason start for Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and possibly the last game for Ravens veteran middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who has announced his intentions to retire following this season’s playoffs. Luck will need to keep his eyes on Baltimore ball-hawk Ed Reed, who has eight INTs for 162 return yards and one TD in 11 career playoff games.
Colts by 1
Byes: Falcons, 49ers
Vikings (10-6) at Packers (11-5)
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC
This AFC North division rivalry is between two familiar opponents who squared off in Week 17 — with Minnesota taking a 37–34 victory over Green Bay on a 29-yard game-winning FG by rookie Blair Walsh as time expired. In Week 13, the Packers defended Lambeau Field with a 23–14 win over the Vikings.
The season series was split, but there was one common thread in both contests. Adrian Peterson rushed for 210 yards and one TD outdoors in Green Bay and then had 199 rush yards and two total TDs in the dome at Minnesota. Peterson giving the Packers defense fits “All Day” isn’t a new trend, either. Last year, A.D. rushed for 175 yards and one TD in a loss; in 2010, he had 171 total yards and one TD in defeat.
But Green Bay will reluctantly allow Peterson to keep posting eye-popping numbers if quarterback Aaron Rodgers can continue a trend of his own. The discount double-checker is 5–1 against the Vikings over the last three seasons. More impressive, Rodgers has not lost back-to-back games since December 2010.
Packers by 5
Seahawks (11-5) at Redskins (10-6)
Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX
The battle of rookie starting quarterbacks pits everyone’s favorite television spokesman and nicknamed hyperbole machine Robert Griffin III — known as RG3 to the hip fans who made his No. 10 jersey the all-time single-season record holder in sales — against the ultimate underdog Russell Wilson, a two-sport star who played for two schools (NC State, Wisconsin) before landing in Seattle.
Although their draft positions may be different (RG3 went No. 2, Wilson went No. 75 overall), both signal-callers have relied on similar dual-threat athleticism and mistake-free maturity to succeed. And as a result, both the Skins and Hawks are playing their best ball when it matters most. Washington has won seven consecutive games since its Week 10 bye, while Seattle has won five straight and seven of its last eight.
But history is not on the side of the Seahawks, who have lost eight straight playoff road games dating back to Dec. 31, 1983. Only nine Hawks on the current 53-man roster were even alive then.
Seahawks by 2
Last week: 12–4 // Season: 172-84