Posted December 30, 2013

NFL Playoffs 2013: An early look ahead to wild-card weekend

AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, AFC West, NFC East, NFC North, NFC South, NFC West, NFL Playoffs
Colts-Chiefs is just one of several rematches on tap for wild-card weekend.

Colts-Chiefs is just one of several rematches on tap for wild-card weekend. (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/MCT via Getty Images)

One of the most unpredictable NFL seasons in recent memory has set the table for what should be a fascinating postseason. Several division titles and a wild-card spot in each league went down to the wire, with playoff seeding hinging on Week 17′s results as well.

What’s in store for the wild-card round? Here’s an early look at the matchup:

MORE COVERAGE: Week 17 Snaps | NFL playoff schedule, TV times | Top-10 Mock Draft

AFC

No. 6 San Diego Chargers (9-7) at No. 3 Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)

The Bengals are making their third consecutive playoff appearance but their first  in that span as a division champ — and this could be a critical difference. After bowing out at Houston each of the past two seasons, Cincinnati will host a first-round game, and it comes in hot, having won five of six. The lone loss in that stretch was to Pittsburgh, which would have been visiting its AFC North rivals had San Diego not pulled out an OT win on Sunday.

How dangerous does that outcome make the Chargers, now an underdog with nothing to lose? Well, that all depends on which San Diego team shows up: the one that narrowly eked past the Chiefs’ backups or the one that beat a fully-manned Kansas City and Denver on the road.

This will be the second meeting of the season between these two teams. Cincinnati won the earlier matchup 17-10 at San Diego in Week 13. The Bengals pulled off that victory by stifling a dangerous Chargers attack, forcing three turnovers and limiting the Ryan Mathews/Danny Woodhead combo to fewer than 100 yards rushing. Andy Dalton did not have to do all that much (14-of-23 for 190 yards, one TD, one INT), thanks to 149 yards combined from BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard.

Cincinnati finished the regular season 8-0 at home, but its last home playoff win was over Houston during the 1990 season.

No. 5 Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at No. 4 Indianapolis Colts (11-5)

The last game in which the Chiefs employed their full roster? Week 16 against the Colts … and Indianapolis absolutely dominated that one 23-7, in Kansas City. Will a week of rest for Alex Smith, Jamaal Charles and Co. give the Chiefs enough juice to flip the script in the rematch?

Indianapolis has played its best football this season against some of the better teams in the league, scoring wins over Denver, San Francisco, Seattle and Kansas City. But unlike the Chiefs, who ran a gauntlet of playoff teams in November and December, the Colts have played just two postseason participants since Oct. 21: Cincinnati and Kansas City. (They also lost to 10-6 Arizona in that stretch.)

Smith was sacked five times in the Week 16 meeting with Indianapolis, and the Chiefs also committed three turnovers. Though Charles did his thing with 144 total yards, he received very little help from his teammates in an extremely lackluster offensive effort. Meanwhile, Andrew Luck was near-flawless in throwing for 241 yards to nine receivers.

Colin Kaepernick shredded the Packers for a QB-record 181 yards on the ground in their last postseason meeting.

Colin Kaepernick shredded the Packers for a QB-record 181 yards on the ground in their last postseason meeting. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

 

NFC

No. 6 New Orleans Saints (11-5) at No. 3 Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)

The Saints will hit the road, traveling to Philadelphia as the six seed. All things considered, that may not be a terrible position, assuming the Saints find some way to shake their road woes — they lost five of their last six outside the Big Easy.

Still, when this Drew Brees-led offense is on, it’s almost impossible to stop. The Saints proved that again Sunday with a playoff-clinching 42-17 romp over the Buccaneers, in which Brees threw for 381 yards and four touchdowns. The offense is as healthy as it’s been all season too, with Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles and others back from injuries in recent weeks.

How well a revived New Orleans defense can hold its own against LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles may be the difference-maker here. The Eagles entered Sunday with the league’s second-most prolific offense in terms of points scored. They’ve also won four straight at home, outscoring their opponents by an average count of 34-17 in those games.

No. 5 San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at No. 4 Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)

The Packers’ reward for scratching and clawing their way to the NFC North title? A matchup with the San Francisco team that smoked them out of the playoffs last season and beat them in Week 1 this season. Oh, and the 49ers might be playing as well as anyone in the league — they enter the playoffs winners of six straight.

Green Bay simply has had no answers for Kaepernick in the two recent meetings. In last season’s 45-31 playoff win over the Pack, Kaepernick threw for 263 yards and rushed for a QB playoff-record 181. Eight months later, in Week 1, he torched Green Bay’s secondary to the tune of 412 yards passing.

Of course, Green Bay has a dangerous offense of its own, made even more lethal by the Week 17 returns of Aaron Rodgers and wideout Randall Cobb. That duo hooked up for the division-clinching touchdown pass that broke Chicago’s hearts on Sunday. Getting Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate Eddie Lacy as close to healthy as possible will be critical for Green Bay.

Another key injury to watch: Clay Matthews’ fractured thumb. He sat out Week 17 after undergoing surgery and was considered questionable for the playoffs. Without him, the rest of the Packers defense will be even more under the microscope against Kaepernick.

29 comments
mike.autocg
mike.autocg

How can anyone discuss the Packers / Niners gaem without talking about the weather? It is going to be zero at kickoff!


Leo3
Leo3

I'm sure the Broncos are praying that they don't have to play the colts again. If both AFC home teams win, this pans out beautifully for the Pats. They would probably beat the Bengals in NE, but the Colts will most likely win in Denver. This would mean that the road to the SB would go back through NE. On the other hand, the Chiefs and/or Chargers would get crushed in Denver. The best game would be Broncos v Pats AFC championship. I wouldn't bet against Brady in that matchup. 


On the NFC side...call me crazy but I think the one team that could go into Seattle and win is the Eagles. They are my dark horse team this year. They have the most efficient QB in the game right now, and the best running back. Their no huddle is going to be very hard to stop, so it will come down to their D. I don't see the 49ers going all the way this year. 

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

The early line shows the Eagles giving -2.5 to the Saints.  I know they're a terrible road team but with all holes in the Eagles secondary I thought for sure this would be a "pick em" game at best.  It wouldn't surprise me for that line to come down to -1.5 by the end of the week.

Ken14
Ken14

Of the NFC quarterbacks that have played the entire season under center, Colin Kaepernick has the fewest INTs (8), with 21 TDs, (first SF QB to have at least 20 touchdowns in the regular season since Jeff Garcia in 2002), not a lot to brag about, but it looks like he doesn’t throw many passes when the coverage is tight.   Russell Wilson has 9 INTS with just a few more hundred yards of passing.   Aaron Rogers has only 6 INTS on 17 TDs , but he’s also missed two months of the season, so you could add a few more INTS (if he’d played), along with another half dozen TDs.   


In Green Bay’s last three games they’ve given up an average of 31.6 points per game, over-all for the season, the Packers are giving up 26.8 ppg average, while the Niners are giving up only 17.0 average ppg.  Offensively, the Niners scoring average on the year is 25.4 compared to the Packers 26.1, pretty much a wash, but with Rogers back in the line-up, that average could/should be improved.


The weather in Green Bay this Sunday is calling for “Mostly cloudy with scattered snow showers. Highs around 19°F. Wind chill around 9°F. North northwest wind to 9 MPH, gusting to 18 MPH.”  It’s been reported that Arizona re-sodded their field for the Fiesta Bowl, leaving the footing terrible for both teams yesterday, but given the likelihood of similar conditions in GB, this might have actually helped the Niners to expect the same or worse conditions on Sunday.


Early Las Vegas odds have the Niners favored by 2.5 points.  This one will come down to who takes care of the ball better, (and makes fewer mistakes), for the whole 60 minutes.  If you embrace the old adage that “defenses win championships”, the 49ers might have a slight edge, but a home field game for the Packers puts this game in the “up in the air” category.  Should be a great game.



jj55
jj55

Um, yeah, the Bengals have won 5 of 6, so they're hot, as you mention. San Diego, on the other hand, has only won 5 of 6, so not worth mentioning. It's this media attitude (hopefully mirrored by the Bengals) that gives the Chargers a very real shot--especially since they have a bizarre way of playing almost exactly to the level of the competition.

j7apple
j7apple

The NFC North was pathetic this year. The fact that the Packers win the division at 8-7 with Rodgers out half a season tells me how bad it was there this year. SF got lucky with this first round game.

allanscu
allanscu

The Packers played at the 49ers in SF on Week #1 of the 2013 season.  The 49ers opened the 2012 season in Green Bay during Week #1.


Referring sentence by SI:

A matchup with the San Francisco team that smoked them out of the playoffs last season and won at Lambeau Field in Week 1.

DmN33
DmN33

Most impressive # 5 and 6 NFC seeds I can remember.

anon76
anon76

Are you kidding me? I'm a Broncos fan, and there's no two teams I'd rather see come to town than the Colts and Pats. The loss to the Colts came down to three things: the o-line (the best in the league this season) being shuffled due to injury, a series of terrible mistakes by the Broncos (Thomas dropping 2 point pass, Vick getting two bonehead penalties, J Thomas whiffing the block on Peyton's INT, Holliday fumbling on punt return, Fox not challenging on Decker's TD reception, and the worst one being Hillman's fumble going in for the score), and an amped up atmosphere that will be working in reverse at Mile High. Provided those things don't reoccur, I can't see how the Colts could beat the Broncos in a second go-around.

KevinB2014
KevinB2014

@Leo3  Leo, I'm a Colts fan, but I doubt that the Broncos "are praying that they don't have to play the Colts again." The Broncos finished the season as the #1 AFC seed. They see themselves winning the Super Bowl. I seriously doubt the players, coaches, fans, or owners are praying that they don't have to face the Colts. To the contrary, I imagine they'd love to crush the Colts in Denver and show that their prior match-up was a fluke. If there is a match-up that makes Peyton Manning lose sleep, I would bet my left nut it's playing the Patriots, not the Colts. If you want to win the Super Bowl, and believe you are good enough, you don't shy away from anyone, certainly not a team with an inferior record who beat you the last time. You want the rematch to prove that you're the better team. I also disagree with your statement "the Colts will most likely win in Denver." Man, I sure hope you're right, but I don't know what you base that on. What is most likely, in my opinion, is that if the Colts get to play the Broncos in Denver in 2-1/2 weeks, the Broncos will be significant favorites. If you want to bet on the Colts, bet the money line, not the point spread. You'll win a lot more! 

stagger
stagger

@PhillyPenn As as Saints fan, I thought it would be more. Have you seen us on the road? I swear, it's like watching 2 completely different teams. Dominant at home. Bumbling, stumbling, keystone cops away. And it's not the outside thing. We looked the same way in St. Louis. I don't like our chances at all...

unitcaptain11
unitcaptain11

@PhillyPenn I think the Eagles might blow the Saints out. If they can rush Brees he will make dumb plays.

redflagsam
redflagsam

@Ken14 While Wilson has 1 more INT than Kaepernick, he also has 5 more TDs with 26 against Kaep's 21 for a higher TD/INT ratio. Additionally, if you take away the interception that wasn't against Arizona last week, they're tied.


Granted I haven't paid attention to the validity of Kaepernick's interceptions over the season, but I think the decision making/throw quality is important.

Jeff27
Jeff27

@Ken14I agree with your analysis; however as a Niners fan, there are some major concerns heading into the playoffs: 1) their efficiency on short yardage situations is horrible; 2) their pass defense against the long ball has shown some serious flaws, as evidenced by Carson Palmer's success in the week 17 game, and also by several long ball completions over the last month; 3) Kaepernik's accuracy has to improve--he missed at least two wide open receivers in yesterday's game. Given that SF has essentially owned the Packers for the last two years, I expect Green Bay to turn up the intensity even more (if possible) for this game. I'm hoping that the Niners team that showed up the first game of the season is the one that shows up for this game.

EdNoneofyourbiz
EdNoneofyourbiz

@j7apple : Not really. The Packers would almost certainly have had a much better record had Rodgers played the entire season.


Now, he's back. The Packers, with Rodgers, are, say, an 11-5 or 12-4 team. Well, that may be pushing it without Clay Matthews.


Nevertheless, the Niners won't be playing a team that went 8-7. That team didn't have Arraon Rodgers. They'll be playing a better team. The one with him.






Leo3
Leo3

@KevinB2014 @Leo3 I think the Colts matchup well with the Broncos. They are more physical and their D had Manning flustered all night. It's going to depend a lot on how Luck handles the pressure. You gotta remember its now January, and Manning would be facing 3 of his terrible enemies if he plays the Colts 1.) Playoff Pressure, 2.) Big Games, 3.) inclement / cold weather . if the Colts go there, imagine what a terrible ending to a great year for Manning it would be to get KOd by his old team. That makes this a huge game, and Manning folds in huge games (Jim Isray knew exactly what he was doing when he made those pre game comments). Imagine the weather getting snowy and cold. Manning does not play well in those conditions. Image a do or die game with playoff intensity. Well, Manning is 9-11 in those situations, and his stats are not good. If by chance they get past the first round, then yes, it will probably his worst enemy ever, Brady & the Pats, that KO his season. But I think it's going to be the Colts. 

Zeshan
Zeshan

@redflagsam @Ken14 Admittedly, I'm a 'Hawks homer, but another thing to consider is that several of RW's INTs have come from end-of-the-game/half Hail Marys. Like you, can't comment on CK's "quality" of INTs, but just figured I'd mention that.

jonjrob
jonjrob

@Jeff27 @Ken14 Unfortunately you're not taking into account the fact that Arizona's defense is miles ahead of Green Bay's.  As for Kaepernick's "inaccuracy"…consider his down games were against Seattle, Carolina and on the road at New Orleans, I wouldn't put a lot of stock in that.  Also…GB can not stop the run.  Logic says that Green Bay needed a miracle to beat Chicago…one of the worst defenses in the league.  Not sure how they're going to fare against arguably the best.  Remember, the Niners have not given up one rushing touchdown this year and have been almost invincible against the run.  That makes an already suspect GB team even more one dimensional.  Don't believe the hype.  SF will win rather easily.

VicWilliams
VicWilliams

@Jeff27 @Ken14 I'm a Niners fan too, and I agree. They are the better team here but against the Cards they had ample chance to blow them out by early in the third quarter. Could easily have been 31-0 but they came away empty from two red zone drives (missed FG and 4th down turnover). They figure out the red zone offense, they'll be tough to stop. Especially by the porous Pack.

Nyctag
Nyctag

@Zeshan @DmN33 Yes, the Cardinals had a fabulous year.  A really tough division.