The playoffs have arrived. This is for all the marbles. Let’s take a look at the four wildcard matchups.
Kansas City (11-5) at Houston (9-7) 4:20 PM ET ABC/ESPN
This game should be a great defensive matchup. The Chiefs travel to Houston to take on the AFC South winner. The Chiefs won 10 games in a row after starting 1-5. The Texans finish 6-2 for a 9-7 record to win the lowly South. The Chiefs are 3rd in defensive PPG giving up 17.9 only on the season and have forced 29 turnovers. The Texans are 7th in defensive PPG giving up only 19.6 PPG and forced 25 turnovers. The Chiefs have 47 sacks on the season despite an ailing Justin Houston (7.5 sacks). Tamba Hali is a terror at OLB with 6.5 sacks and Jaye Howard had 5.5 sacks from defensive end. The Chiefs blitz a lot too and have the league leader in interceptions with the rookie Marcus Peters (8 ints).
The Texans counter with a decent offense if Brian Hoyer is healthy. Hoyer threw for 60.7% at 7.1 YPA with 19 TDS and 7 interceptions. The Texans were only 21st in PPG offense scoring 21.2. However, they play considerably better with Hoyer at the helm. DeAndre Hopkins is a nightmare with 1,521 yards 13.7 YPC and 11 TDs. Nate Washington is a decent second option with 658 yards and 4 TDs. Cecil Shorts had some injuries but chipped in 484 yards and 2 TDs. The Chiefs strong secondary of Sean Smith, Marcus Peters, Abdullah and Eric Berry should be able to shut down the Texans.
The Texans counter with a strong defense led by the freak of nature JJ Watt. Watt has a monster 17.5 sacks from the 3-4 DE spot and OLB Whitney Mercilus has 12 sacks. Former 1st overall pick has Jadeveon Clowney has 4.5 sacks and John Simon has 5 sacks. The Texans have a strong defense and can force turnovers.
The Chiefs actually have a good offense. The Chiefs are 9th ranked in PPG offense scoring 25.3 YPC. Alex Smith continues to win 65.3% 7.4 YPA 20 TDs and 7 interceptions. Smith’s 95.4 rating is good. The Chiefs can run the ball with Chandarick West 4 YPC, Ware 5.6 YPC or even Alex Smith (5.9 YPC). Jeremy Maclin topped 1,000 yards with 1,088 yards and 8 TDS. Travis Kelce is a good tight end with 875 yards and 5 TDS. Albert Wilson isn’t much of a second WR with 451 yards and only 2 TDs. If the Chiefs get the run game going, their offense should continue to excel.
This game will be a great defensive battle but the Chiefs are way too hot and have more weapons and a better run game and a better defense. The Texans will put up a fight at home with Hoyer but the Chiefs should advance with an 11th win in a row.
Pittsburgh (10-6) at Cincinnati (12-4) 8:15 PM CBS
This is a good old fashioned AFC North showdown with a twist on offense. The Steelers snuck into the playoffs with the Jets loss at Buffalo. The Steelers have a very strong offense at 26.4 PPG (4th) in the league. Big Ben is having a good year with 68% 8.4 YPA and 21 TDS while missing some games. Ben does have 16 interceptions on the year which is big for the Bengals to force turnovers.
Antonio Brown is the best WR in the game with 1,834 yards and 10 TDs. Wheaton and Bryant are deep threats with 749 yards/17YPC and 765 yards/15.3 YPC respectively. Heath Miller is a vet tight end with 535 yards too. The Steelers are loaded with weapons to challenge the 2nd ranked defense of the Bengals.
The Bengals have the 2nd rated defense in the league allowing 17.4 PPG. Carlos Dunlap (13.5 sacks), Geno Atkins (11 sacks) and Michael Johnson (5 sacks) are monsters. The Bengals forced 28 turnovers on the year and but are susceptible in run defense (allow 4.3 YPC). The key to the game will be DeAngelo Williams health for the Steelers. Williams has 4.5 YPC and 11 TDs on 200 carries. If Williams can play, the Steelers have a chance to move the ball on the Bengals defense.
The Bengals offense turns to their backup QB in AJ McCarron. McCarron is used to big games in college and has 66.4% 7.2 YPA 6 TDs and 2 ints since taking over for Dalton. Dalton was having a great year with 66.9% completion, 8.4 YPA 25 TDS and 7 interceptions for a 106 QB rating. McCarron has filled in well but this is the playoffs.
The Bengals have the 7th ranked offense scoring 26.2 PPG. Jeremy Hill has struggled with 3.6 YPC but has 11 TDs. Giovanni Bernard has been good with 4.7 YPC on 154 carries. The Steelers are 6th in run defense allowing only 3.8 YPC. If the Steelers stop the run, they can pin their ears back and rush McCarron all night.
The Steelers have an underrated defense allowing 19.9 PPG (11th). The Steelers have forced 30 turnovers despite allowing 28 (+2 TO differential). The Steelers have 48 sacks mixed well with Cameron Heyward (7 sacks), Bud Dupree 4 sacks, Stephen Tuitt (6.5 sacks), Lawrence Timmons (5 sacks), Harrison (5 sacks) and Ryan Shazier (3.5 sacks). If the Steelers bring pressure on McCarron and force turnovers, they can have success with short fields on the Bengals. The Bengals are the best in the league at protecting their QB so it will be a great matchup to watch.
The two teams split their matchups this year with the away team winning each matchup. This one is too close to call but should be a great game.
Seattle (10-6) at Minnesota (11-5) 1 PM NBC
This is another great defensive matchup. Seattle has the top defense in the league allowing only 17.3 PPG. The Vikings are 5th in the league allowing 18.9 PPG. Seattle crushed Minnesota earlier in the year but the Vikings had some defensive injuries for that game. Marshawn Lynch should be back for this game for the Seahawks.
Seattle, unlike the Vikings, has a strong offense even without Jimmy Graham (605 yards and 2 TDs). Seattle is 4th in PPG scoring 26.4 this season/game. Russell Wilson is the top QB in the league with a 110 QB rating on 68.1 % completion, 8.3 YPA notching 34 TDs and 8 interceptions. Wilson also is a dangerous runner with 5.4 YPC on 103 carries. If typical clutch Wilson shows up, the Vikings could be in trouble.
The Vikings counter with a strong PPG defense but forced only 22 turnovers and have trouble against the run (allow 4.3 YPC). If Lynch and Wilson have big days, the Vikings will lose by double digits. However the Vikings strong pass rush led by Everson Griffen (10.5 sacks), Brian Robison (5 sacks), Tom Johnson (5.5 sacks) can pressure Wilson. The Seahawks give up a high rate of pressure on Wilson. Rhodes, Newman, Munnerlyn and Smith will have to be excellent in the secondary to stop the surging Doug Baldwin (1,069 yards and 14 TDs) and Jermain Kearse (685 yards and 5 TDS) and rookie Tyler Lockett (664 yards and 6 TDs).
The Vikings offense has the best back in the league. Peterson won the rushing title with 1,485 yards and 11 TDs at 4.5 YPC. He is the Vikings’ offense. Bridgewater had sophomore slump with 65.% completion, 7.2 YPA and only 14 TDs with 8 interceptions. Diggs is the top receiver with 720 yards and 4 TDs. Wallace had a poor year with 473 yard and 2 TDs. Rudolph is a decent tight end with 495 yards and 5 TDs. The Vikings don’t have the firepower on offense to challenge Seattle. Seattle finished 8-2 and look like Super Bowl contenders despite being the 6th seed. Seattle is 4th allowing on 3.6 YPC rushing and should have a great shot to shut down Peterson. Michael Bennet (10 sacks), Avril (9 sacks), Bruce Irvin 3.5 sacks and rookie Frank Clark (3 sacks) bring the Vikings pass rush. The Vikings are poor in protection allowing over 45% pressure.
This game will be in very cold temperatures in the last outdoor game in Minnesota possibly. Seattle is a hot team and has the offense and run defense to destroy the Vikings for a second time this season in Minneapolis.
Green Bay (10-6) at Washington (9-7) 4:40 PM FOX
The Packers have struggled since their 6-0 start with an average offense (23.0 PPG 15th) and above average defense (20.2 PPG at 12th). The Redskins have been hot finishing 6-2 with 4 wins in a row in 2015. The Redskins are 10th in PPG offense scoring 25.3 under a hot Kirk Cousins. Cousins has 69.8% completion for 7.7 YPA with 29 TDs and 11 interceptions on the year. Green Bay has the 7th best pass defense in the league and the secondary to stop Cousins and his weapons. Hopefully for Green Bay, top corner Sam Shields can play in this game.
Aaron Rodgers is having a down year with only 60.7% 6.6 YPA 31 TDs and 8 interceptions. His 92.7 rating is good but not something Packers fans are used to seeing with poor completion percentage and YPA. The Packers have weapons with Randall Cobb 829 yards, 10.5 YPC and 5 TDs, James Jones 890 yards at 17.8 YPC and 8 TDs and Davante Adams 483 yards and 1 TD. However, these weapons are not getting open and the Packers have allowed a high number of sacks in hits in the last 8 games. The Packers have injuries with David Bakhtiari at left tackle which could shake up the offensive line.
The Redskins counter with 26 turnovers forced and 38 sacks. Ryan Kerrigan (9.5 sacks) and Preston Smith (8 sacks) are the Skins main threats. The Redskins lost top corner Chris Culliver to injury and allow 23.7 PPG (17th). The Redskins are terrible in run defense allowing 4.8 YPC (31st). The Packers have a shot to run the ball with Lacy (4.1) and Starks (4.1 YPC).
The Packers are poor in run defense allowing 4.5 YPC. The Redskins don’t have much of a running threat with Alfred Morris 3.7 YPC and rookie Matt Jones 3.4 YPC. Jones lost 4 fumbles this year too. Starks and Lacy combined to lose 4 fumbles on 7 combined mishandles. This could be a turnover filled day or one team could have a surprising monster day running the ball.
The Redskins are loaded with weapons with Jordan Reed (952 yards and 11 TDs), DeSean Jackson (528 yards, 17.6 YPC and 4 TDS) and Pierre Garcon (777 yards and 6 TDS). Jamison Crowder is a decent slot player with 604 yards and 2 TDs. The Redskins and Cousins will challenge the Packers young but strong secondary.
The Packers have Aaron Rodgers facing an average defense that is poor in run defense. Green Bay should win this game in a shootout despite their offensive line and receiver issues.
Enjoy the Wildcard Weekend.