Thursday, January 3, 2013

NFL Wild Card Round Preview

I apologize for not posting any weekly NFL Previews the last three weeks. I had a lot going on with working two jobs and have barely had any time to myself. I even took a break from writing about RAW the last two weeks. It didn't help that those two RAWs were on Holiday Eves, but I just needed a break to recharge. But I am now back and am starting a new year.

The NFL Playoffs start this week with the Wild Card Round. I never posted any official Playoff Predictions to start the season, but I can say that I correctly picked 4 out of the 6 AFC teams (Missed Cincinnati and Indianapolis, picked Buffalo and Tennessee instead). I correctly picked 3 out of 6 NFC teams (Missed Minnesota, Washington and Seattle, picked Detroit, NY Giants and Chicago instead). A little better than 50% so not great. There are a couple of hot teams heading into the post-season and also a couple sliding teams. Without wasting time, lets get into the Preview. Each Preview will be accompanied by 3 bullet points then a prediction at the end.

Cincinnati Bengals vs Houston Texans

1. What Is Wrong in Houston?
-One month ago it appeared that the Texans were easily on their way to a 1st round bye at the least, and more than likely home field advantage in the AFC. But the Texans lost 3 of their last 4 games and are now playing the opening weekend of the Playoffs. They were demolished by the Patriots. The offense looked terrible in a home loss to the Vikings. And the Texans split two games with the Colts and they could just have easily lost both. Outside of the victory against the Colts, Arian Foster has looked a bit off. He has been dealing with an irregular heartbeat. The defense has also been playing poorly, giving up an average of 27 points in their last seven games. This was suppose to be Houston's year, but the Texans are heading into the Playoffs on a down note.

2. Will Cincinnati's Dynamic Duo Shine On The Big Stage?
-I was one of the doubters of Cincinnati this year. I didn't think they would be able to make the Playoffs again this year and expected Andy Dalton and A.J. Green to take a step back. Cincinnati's schedule was more difficult than last year. But Cincinnati won some difficult games this year. They beat the Giants and won in Pittsburgh to clinch a Playoff spot. Green saw an increase in receptions, yards and touchdowns this year. Dalton also saw an increase in his completions, yards, and touchdowns. It is pretty safe to say that the Bengals offense is in good hands for years to come. There may be a changing in the guard in the AFC North. With teams like Baltimore and Pittsburgh getting older, the young Bengals may be ready to take control of the AFC North. Dalton and Green have played well this year, and I don't see them being intimidated when they walk into Houston.

3. Same Script As Last Year?
-The Bengals hung with the Texans for the majority of the first half in last year's Playoff meeting. But then Andy Dalton threw a bad interception to J.J. Watt, which was returned for a touchdown with less than a minute to go in the half. That gave Houston a 17-10 lead going into the half. The Bengals never scored again and didn't look good in the second half. Dalton threw a total of 3 interceptions and the Texans shut down A.J. Green. Houston also did this with T.J. Yates at QB. But Matt Schaub hasn't been playing that well to end the season, and the Bengals defense is better overall.

Houston was my Super Bowl pick in the AFC this year. I thought this would finally be the year they put everything together and make a run to the Super Bowl. But the Texans have struggled mightily the last month of the season, while the Bengals put together a strong couple of weeks to clinch a Playoff spot in the AFC. A.J. Green is playing like one of the best WRs in the league. He may be the second best WR in the league after Calvin Johnson. The match-up faces two of the Top 10 defenses in the league. If Houston can get Arian Foster going, that will open up the field for Matt Schaub. Cincinnati has had problems with their running game this season, ranking only 18th in the NFL in average rushing yards per game. I think the game is close throughout, but in the end, the Texans find a way to pull it off thanks to a last second field goal.

Houston 23  Cincinnati 20

Minnesota Vikings vs Green Bay Packers

1. Whatcha Gonna Do, When Adrian Peterson Runs Wild On You???
-Adrian Peterson should be the MVP of the NFL this year. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it if you ask me. Peterson came within 9 yards of breaking Eric Dickerson's single season rushing record. He also carried the Vikings on his back in their march to the Playoffs. Peterson's late run against Green Bay last week put them in better field goal range and made the game winning kick easier for kicker Blair Walsh. When you face the Vikings you have to live with this fact: You cannot stop Adrian Peterson, you can only hope to contain him. In Peterson's two games against the Packers he ran for 210 and 199 yards, with a touchdown in each game. AP also caught a TD in Week 17. For the Packers, I would say holding Peterson to around 100 yards would be a win.

2. Will Packers Remember Last Year's Playoffs?
-Last year going into the Playoffs, the Packers were the heavy favorites to win the NFC and Super Bowl. Instead of breezing through the NFC, they were handled rather easily at home against the Giants. The Packers inability to stop the Giants came back to haunt them. The Packers WRs on offense also had a case of the dropsies. Will that performance from the Packers linger in the back of their mind? The defense is still giving up big points and yards. They also had some costly penalties last week against the Vikings. The Packers defense can't expect to have Aaron Rodgers bail them out every game. If the Packers can't stop AP, or let Christian Ponder get hot, then it could be a long day for Green Bay fans.

3. What If It Comes Down To The Kickers?
-If the game is a close one coming down to the wire, it could come down to field goal kickers. And these two teams have what you would call polar opposites when it comes to that position. Minnesota has Blair Walsh, who has been one of the best kickers in the NFL this year. Walsh was 35 for 38 kicking field goals this year, including hitting 10 from 50+ yards away. Green Bay, on the other hand, has Mason Crosby. Crosby has had a terrible year. Crosby is only 21 of 33 in field goal attempts this year and has looked shaky for the last couple months. If Green Bay is in a short yardage situation late in the game, will Mike McCarthy send out Crosby? Or will he have more faith in Aaron Rodgers to get him 3 or 4 yards?

Minnesota was close the last time they played the Packers in Lambeau, but a couple of costly Christian Ponder interceptions sealed the Vikings fate. Ponder has been playing better in recent weeks, including a strong performance against the Texans and Packers. With the Packers expected to focus on stopping Adrian Peterson, Ponder will have one-on-one match-ups with some of his WRs. What might hurt the Vikings as well is the injury to CB Antoine Winfield. He is dealing with a broken hand and may not play. WR Jerome Simpson is also questionable. Green Bay is dealing with some injuries of their own as well at WR, with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb both hobbled as well. Adrian Peterson is a great story and easy to root for, but I think the Packers take this one behind the arm of Aaron Rodgers.

Green Bay 31  Minnesota 23

Indianapolis Colts vs Baltimore Ravens

1. Will Indianapolis Continue To Be ChuckStrong?
-If you had the Colts finishing 11-5 this year and making the Playoffs, then I want to see your proof. I'm pretty sure everyone saw this as a rebuilding year for the Colts, and probably thought 6 wins would be a good season. But the Colts proved everyone wrong. Andrew Luck came along quicker than anyone expected. The Colts started the season 1-2, then found out during their bye week that new coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia. After their bye, the team went 10-3 and marched on to the fifth seed in the Playoffs. Now rookie Andrew Luck gets his first taste of post-season play, and Chuck Pagano gets to go up against the team he used be defensive coordinator for. Indianapolis played with a lot of heart this season and should now be even more motivated with Chuck Pagano back on the sidelines.

2. Joe Flacco: Elite?
-Joe Flacco believes he is an elite QB in this league. He will be a free agent this off-season, and he believes that he should be paid like he is one of the top five QBs in the league. But the problem for Flacco is that he has never proven anything to show that he is an elite QB. Flacco has never taken his team to the Super Bowl. He's been to 2 AFC Championship games but has not won in either one. This is Flacco's final audition to show if he is worth a big time contract. The Ravens struggled down the stretch. They were blown out by the Broncos and beat by a Charlie Batch lead Steelers team. Flacco hasn't played the greatest this year. Even after firing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, Flacco only had one good game against the Giants. Flacco needs a strong post-season to show he is worth the contract he desires.

3. Which Ravens Defense Shows Up?
-Baltimore has had an up and down year on defense. They have been a defense that was decimated by injuries. They lost Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs for various periods of time. Against the Colts, Baltimore will have to worry about stopping Andrew Luck and the play making ability he has behind center. The key to stopping Luck is putting pressure on him and forcing him to stay in the pocket. Luck can make plays with his feet if he escapes the pocket. But can the old, injury rittled Ravens defense keep up with Luck?

There is always a little bad blood between these two teams whenever they play. People still remember back in the day when the then Baltimore Colts were moved to Indianapolis. Expect Baltimore to rely heavily on Ray Rice as the Colts do not have a strong run defense. The Colts will be the complete opposite. Expect them to lean on the arm of Andrew Luck. I don't think Luck will be phased by the Playoff atmosphere. Luck played in big games at Stanford. The Colts look like a team that is out there having fun and exceeding all expectations people had for them. Baltimore is an aging team that deep down probably knows this could be their last run at a possible Super Bowl Title with the way they are currently built. Indy will compete, but Baltimore pulls it out in the end.

Baltimore 27  Indianapolis 19

Seattle Seahawks vs Washington Redskins

1. How Healthy Is Robert Griffin?
-Robert Griffin did a great job helping his team win down the stretch. But he did not look like his normal self the last two games of the year. Griffin has been playing with a knee brace because of the injury, and that is probably slowing him down a little bit. But I find it hard to believe that Griffin is fully 100% healthy. The shot Griffin's knee took in that Baltimore game was painful to watch. You have to think that Seattle knows Griffin isn't healthy, and they will try to make Griffin move around in the pocket while trying to keep him contained. The Redskins are a team that lives and dies with RG3, and if he isn't on his game, the Redskins offense could struggle.

2. Can Anyone Stop The Seahawks?
-Seattle has won five games in a row heading into the Playoffs and have looked very impressive in doing it. First they went into Chicago and won in overtime. They then put up 50+ points against the Cardinals and Bills. They crushed the 49ers at home and finished off the season with a comeback win over the Rams. Russell Wilson is making teams regret passing on him in the Draft. Many scouts were quick to write off Wilson because of his size. But Wilson is showing he is a winner and has some of the intangibles that coaches like in a QB. The read-option offense that is being run in Seattle is tough for defenses to stop. Not only is the offense playing great, but the defense has not given up more than 17 points during this five game win streak. To say Seattle is rolling would be an understatement.

3. Which Running Back Is The Difference Maker?
-While both of these team's will live or die on their QB play, they also each have running backs that can be game changers for them. Seattle has Marshawn Lynch. He already made a huge impact for Seattle two years ago in the Playoffs with his memorable run against the Saints. Lynch is very tough to bring down and can turn a two yard run into a ten yard run rather easily. Lynch also keeps his legs moving and is great at getting yards after contact. In Washington, rookie RB Alfred Morris is finding success in Mike Shanahan's system. Morris set not only the Redskins rookie rushing record but also the Redskins all time single season rushing record. He helped take the load off of RG3 in their win against the Cowboys. Whichever RB gets going first could change the momentum of the game.

This game, in my opinion, will come down to the performance of Robert Griffin vs the Seahawks defense. You know Seattle will be up to the challenge of stopping Griffin. But RG3 has this uncanny ability to make plays no matter who he is playing. Will Griffin's bad knee keep him in the pocket more? Seattle is rolling right now and I said a few weeks ago that they are the team I would least like to see in the Playoffs. While Washington has been a good story, I think the Seahawks as a team are better overall and will be a very tough out in the Playoffs. The injuries on Washington's defense are too much for them to overcome. Seattle wins this one.

Seattle 31  Washington 21

I will be tweeting thoughts throughout all of the games. I will only be able to see the second half of Cincinnati/Houston.

Until Next Time,
Justin C
Follow Me On Twitter @JCWonka

No comments:

Post a Comment