By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
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If you’re like me, you have to love the single-elimination that is the NFL playoffs. One game to decide who moves on and who is packing up for a long offseason after a grueling 17 weeks (16-game) NFL season.
No disrespect to the NBA, MLB, and NHL for their playoff series’s where if you lose a game, its not the end of the world, but when you talk about the playoffs in any sport, in all honesty, the NFL playoffs is where its at.
The march to Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7 in Santa Clara starts Saturday with Wild Card Weekend and with some intriguing match ups, I hope you’re like me (a football die-hard), ready for the games to begin.
Since the NFL instituted the Wild Card round in 1978, only 10 teams have made it to the Super Bowl.
Out of those 10 teams, six have gone on to win the Lombardi Trophy (the 1980 Oakland Raiders, the 1997 Denver Broncos, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, the 2007 New York Giants, and 2010 Green Bay Packers.)
With all that said, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the road teams get it done this weekend.
Kansas City Chiefs (11-5); 5th seed at Houston Texans (9-7); 4th seed – Saturday 4:35 p.m. ET/1:35 p.m. PT – ESPN
Sure its been 22 years since Kansas City has won a playoff game (currently tied with the Detroit Lions for the most consecutive playoff losses with eight), but the Chiefs are arguably the hottest team in the NFL closing out the season with 10 straight wins.
Remember, people counted out the Chiefs when they were 1-5 and lost star running back Jamaal Charles for the season with a torn ACL.
Quarterback Alex Smith has played some of his best football for a Chiefs team that defeated the Texans 27-20 in Week 1 down in Houston. Smith threw for 243 yards and three touchdowns, two to tight end Travis Kelce in that game.
Kansas City’s seventh-ranked defense harassed Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer, sacking him four times and intercepting the signal caller once.
Houston does have a dynamic player on offense in wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who caught nine passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns against Kansas City in Week 1.
Hopkins had a career year with 111 catches for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns (all Texans records), while becoming the only wide receiver in NFL history to have 100-yard receiving games with four different quarterbacks this season (Hoyer, Ryan Mallet, T.J. Yates, and Brandon Weeden.)
No wonder why Hopkins, along with teammate defensive end J.J. Watt (NFL-best 17.5 sacks), were selected as All-Pros at their respective positions.
This could be a close game, but the Chiefs look prime to snap its playoff drought.
Chiefs 24 – Texans 19
Pittsburgh (10-6); 6th seed at Cincinnati Bengals (12-4); 3rd seed – Saturday 8:15 p.m. ET/5:15 p.m. PT – CBS
These two AFC North rivals are meeting up for the third time this season after splitting two games during the regular season, each winning on the others’ home field.
Cincinnati won the AFC North, but are heading into the game with backup quarterback A.J. McCarron under center. McCarron will make his fourth start for the Bengals after coming in for starter Andy Dalton, who broke his thumb in Cincinnati’s 33-20 home loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 13.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis (0-6) is still seeking his first career postseason victory. If Cincinnati doesn’t win Saturday, will Lewis be patrolling the sidelines for the Bengals in 2016?
Just like Chiefs, the Bengals are on a seven-game losing streak in the playoffs (25 years to be exact.) In fact, Cincinnati is the only team in NFL history to have lost four consecutive opening-round games.
Sure with Dalton being out, Lewis does have a built in excuse, but the way coaches are being fired left and right in the NFL, Lewis’ chair is no longer hot, its got to be near nuclear.
Pittsburgh is led by two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who may have to win the game with his arm since the Steelers’ ground game has been decimated by injuries.
Starting running back Le’Veon Bell was loss for the season with a knee injury in Week 8, while backup DeAngelo will not suit up Saturday night after suffering an ankle injury in Pittsburgh’s 28-12 victory in Cleveland. Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman will share carries in the backfield.
It was Pittsburgh’s fourth win in five games to close out the regular season.
Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is a match up nightmare for any team. Brown finished tied with Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones with 136 catches, and second behind Jones with 1,834 yards, and 10 touchdowns.
Pittsburgh’s defense, which hasn’t been as dominate this year as its been in years past, are an opportunistic bunch. The Steelers’ 48 sacks trailed only Denver and New England and their 17 interceptions were tied for sixth in the season.
In their last 16 trips to Paul Brown Stadium, Pittsburgh is 13-3.
As much as I want to pick Cincinnati, there is something that is telling me that Pittsburgh will continue its dominance in the Queen City.
Steelers 27 – Bengals 23
Seattle Seahawks (10-6); 6th seed at Minnesota Vikings (11-5); 3rd seed – Sunday 1:05 p.m. ET/10:05 a.m. PT – NBC
If there is one team that is the most dangerous in the playoffs, its got to be the sixth-seeded Seattle Seahawks.
We’ve become accustomed of seeing the two-time NFC champion hammer teams behind the deafening sound of the 12th Man at the CLink during their last two Super Bowl runs, but if there is a team that isn’t afraid of going anywhere and playing anybody with the stakes are at their highest, its Seattle.
Whenever you have a quarterback like Russell Wilson, who became the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for over 4,000 yards, 30 touchdowns, and rush for over 500 yards, and a take no prisoners defense headlined by cornerback Richard Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas, you definitely have a chance to win.
Running back Marshawn Lynch was ruled out for Sunday’s game after being listed as questionable throughout the week. Lynch missed Seattle’s final seven games of the season with a sports hernia.
“Beast Mode” is a big-time playoff performer, rushing for over 100 yards in six of his 10 career playoff games.
Seattle steamrolled Minnesota 38-7 on Dec. 6 thanks in large part to the NFL’s second-ranked defense limiting Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to a season-low 18 yards rushing on eight carries.
If Minnesota has any chance to win on Sunday, they will need more from the NFL rushing champion. With the temperature expected to be below zero at kickoff, Peterson is expected to get a lot of carries.
I’m not sold on Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater tends to lock on his receivers and rarely takes chances down field and in the playoffs, you need a quarterback who isn’t afraid of throwing the ball and Bridgewater looks like a deer in headlights.
Yes, Minnesota does have a good defense, but Seattle and Wilson with their championship pedigree will find a way to make a few more plays than the Vikings, who are hosting their first playoff game in six years Sunday.
Seahawks 27 – Vikings 9
Green Bay Packers (10-6); 5th seed at Washington Redskins (9-7); 4th seed – Sunday 4:40 p.m. ET/1:40 p.m. PT – FOX
Wild Card Weekend concludes with what has to be the trickiest game to decipher when the Packers travel to Landover, MD to face the Redskins.
Which Packers team will show up on Sunday? The one that looked virtually unbeatable with a 6-0 start, or the team that went 4-6 down the stretch that saw Green Bay lose the NFC North crown to Minnesota at Lambeau Field in Week 17?
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers finished the season with his lowest completion percentage (60.7) since 2006, and his lowest passer rating (92.7).
Since Rodgers led the Packers to a Super Bowl victory in 2010, Green Bay has lost thee of its last four playoff games. During that march to the Super Bowl, the Packers became just the fourth team to win back-to-back-to-back road playoff games.
Washington is playing with some serious house money with starting quarterback Kirk Cousins having his best season of his career.
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. Cousins is one of four quarterbacks to throw at least one touchdown in all 16 games this season, helping Washington win the NFC East.
I like the weapons that Cousins has at his disposal, in particular smooth tight end in Jordan Reed emerging as Cousins’ top target. In his last four games, Reed has been on a tare hauling 29 catches for 378 yards and five touchdowns.
This game could be a shootout as both teams’ defenses are nothing special to write home about. Green Bay is ranked 15th in the league in total defense, while Washington is ranked 28th.
Green Bay has to do a better job of protecting its franchise quarterback, who has been sacked 13 times over the past two games.
In the team’s most recent victory over the Redskins, a 38-20 victory at Lambeau Field for Green Bay, Rodgers shredded Washington throwing a career-high 480 yards and four touchdowns.
Green Bay has won five of their last six meetings against Washington.
Green Bay 30 – Washington 24
Stats provided by Elias Sports Bureau, NFL.com, and STATS LLC.