By Andy Backstrom, Co-Editor-In-Chief
January is here. If you haven’t been tuning into the NFL this season, make your resolution to watch more football. Fortunately, the postseason is here; eight teams will play this weekend in the wild card round of this year’s playoffs. The road to Super Bowl 50 commences, as every game is win or go home, with all eyes on Levi Stadium. Here are my predictions for this weekend’s slate of games:
Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at Houston Texans (9-7): 4:20 ET Saturday ESPN
Prediction: Chiefs 31 Texans 10
Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs are the hottest team in the NFL. But, both of the teams in this matchup were unlikely to even clinch a spot in the postseason this fall. Through six games, the Chiefs were 1-5 and the Texans were 2-4. It looked as if another “Hard Knocks” team (Texans) was going to occupy the cellar, and as if Andy Reid’s job could be in question after the season. Against all odds, Kansas City won 10 consecutive games, rolling into the playoffs as a wild card team. Meanwhile, Houston dethroned the Colts for the AFC South division title. Both teams have overcome injuries; the Chiefs have gone through three running backs, and the Texans have tested four quarterbacks. However, this Saturday, Kansas City will win their first playoff game in 22 years. Their last playoff win was orchestrated against Houston by a former San Francisco 49er quarterback – Joe Montana. Deja vu? The Chiefs top-10 defense will prevent Brian Hoyer from ever getting into a rhythm, and the Chief’s passing attack, featuring Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce, will spark Kansas City’s offense.
Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (12-4): 8:15 ET Saturday CBS
Prediction: Steelers 24 Bengals 20
The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the most dangerous teams in the playoff field. But as Mike Tomlin said, they can beat anyone in the league, and they can lost to anyone in the league. If the Steelers play consistently on both sides of the ball, Pittsburgh could very well be the AFC representative for Super Bowl 50. Ben Roethlisberger has weapons on the outside with Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, as well as Heath Miller in the middle of the field. “Big Ben” will be slinging the ball quite often, as the Steelers will be without running back DeAngelo Williams on Saturday. This will pose an interesting matchup between the Pittsburgh wideouts and Bengals’ cornerbacks Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick. Cincinnati is only averaging 21.7 points per game when A.J. McCarron is at the helm, so it will be imperative for the Bengals to limit the Steeler offense. McCarron will keep the game close into the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for Bengals fans, the team will lose their fifth playoff game in five years; Roethlisberger will lead a touchdown drive with just minutes to go in the fourth quarter, and McCarron will throw a game-ending interception. At least this time it won’t be Andy Dalton’s fault.
Seattle Seahawks (10-6) at Minnesota Vikings (11-5): 1:05 ET Sunday NBC
Prediction: Seahawks 23 Vikings 27
Russell Wilson has once again worked his magic, and has brought the Seahawks back from a 2-4 start to the postseason. Wilson, often criticized for being a “game manager” has pulled weight this season, as the rushing attack took a hit when Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls went down with injuries, respectively. Seattle’s quarterback posted the top passer rating in the NFL and tossed 31 touchdowns, five more than his previous career high. On the other side, the Minnesota Vikings have captured their first NFC North division title since 2009. Once again, Adrian Peterson has won the season rushing title. And Teddy Bridgewater has made strides in decision-making and game management; he is the first starting quarterback from his draft class to make the playoffs (not including A.J. McCarron). Expected to be one of the coldest games in NFL history, running the football will be prevalent for both offenses. With Marshawn Lynch returning to the field, and Peterson on the other side, it will be a constant battle of the trenches. Seattle will get off to a slow start, and the Vikings will take a decent lead into the half. Look for a Cordarrelle Patterson special teams return touchdown. Wilson and the Seahawks will stage a comeback and will take the lead in the fourth quarter, but Bridgewater will guide the Vikings down the field for a game-winning drive, eliminating Seattle from the playoffs.
Green Bay Packers (10-6) at Washington Redskins (9-7): 4:40 Sunday FOX
Prediction: Packers 34 Redskins 24
Green Bay was one of five teams to start the season 6-0. Since then, the Packers have only won four out of their last 10 games, as the offense has been uncharacteristically ineffective. All attention has been on Aaron Rodgers; he has boasted the lowest passer rating of his career this season (92.7). However, remember the last time the Packers won the Super Bowl? It was 2010 – they finished the regular season at 10-6 and clinched a wild card spot to play to the NFC East Champions (Eagles at the time) in the first round of the playoffs. Sound familiar? I think Rodgers will get back on track versus Washington. Look for at least one touchdown from wide receiver James Jones and one from fullback John Kuhn. Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins has cemented himself as the franchise quarterback this season, but he lacks playoff experience, and quite frankly his success could be tainted, due to the lack of talent in the NFC East. Cousins will keep the ‘Skins in the game for a while, but could have one or two costly turnovers that will allow Green Bay to extend their lead.
Andy Backstrom can be reached at email@example.com.