It’s Wildcard Weekend time!

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The time has finally come, it’s playoff season in the NFL. 17 weeks of regular season play have come to an end and now, it’s the home stretch. The 2015 regular season was like no other regular season I can remember. It was an exciting one filled with upsets, surprises, injuries, officiating controversy and much more, and now, we’re less than a month away from the conclusion. There have been several disappointments when it comes to big name player production this season, however, that does tend to happen on an annual basis. The 2015 season has flown by, faster than any other season and before we know it, we’ll be sitting around in May, twiddling our thumbs, waiting for the next season to start. This weekend, eight of the 12 playoff teams begin their quest for the holy grail of football, the Vince Lombardi Trophy, awarded to the winners of the Super Bowl.

It’s Wildcard Weekend in the NFL, which means the league’s top four teams will enjoy a bye week with the other eight teams battling it out in hopes of advancing to the Divisional round.

With that being said, here is how these Wildcard round teams match up against each other.

 

Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) vs. Houston Texans (9-7)

The Kansas City Chiefs come into the playoffs as the hottest team in the NFL having won ten games in a row and they are one of the best stories of the 2015 season. The Chiefs started the season with a 1-5 record and at that point, not a single person would have thought they would go on a tear while making a valiant run to the playoffs. A massive kudos to head coach Andy Reid for keeping that whole team together and driven. The Chiefs come into this game ranked 27th in the league in overall offense. The reason for that lacklustre rating is their passing game, or lack thereof. The Chiefs rank near the bottom of the league in passing and near the top in rushing. On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs rank 7th in the league in overall defensive production. They are a power football team that likes to win the battles in the trenches.

The Houston Texans also coming into the playoffs red hot, as they have won seven of their last nine games. The Texans can run a very balanced offense, as they have the personnel to have an effective passing game and rushing attack. Their strength however, is their defense. The Texans enter the playoffs ranked 3rd in the league in overall defense. Their defense has finally come together and is starting to play that shutdown style of football they were supposed to be playing.

If the Chiefs want to be successful in this game they will need to get creative on the offensive side of the ball. They will be going up a very stingy Texans defense that give up a lot of yardage in the air so they must try and be patient in the passing game, which should be no problem for Alex Smith. It’ll be tough for them to get the run game going as well, especially when JJ Watt is lining up on the other side of the ball. The Chiefs will need to have success running the ball out wide using successful stretch runs with blocking tight ends. If their defense can keep them in it, they have a chance at downing the Texans. For the Houston Texans to be successful, they will need their defense to shine and keep that KC offense on the sidelines. It’ll also be tough for them to beat a stingy Chiefs defense so they will also need to get creative when it comes to moving the ball downfield.

Both of these teams match up very evenly as they are built with a lot of similarities so naturally, it’s tough to pick a winner. However, I do think that the Texans defense is going to use that home crowd to their advantage and help lead their team to victory in this low-scoring affair.

Game details: Kickoff on Saturday, January 9th at 4:35pm from NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)

Steelers-Bengals, a classic AFC North rivalry game; playoff edition! This is a classic rivalry that has not lost its allure whatsoever. These two teams simply just do not like each other and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out this weekend.

The Steelers come into the playoffs on a good run as they have won six of their last eight games. The Steelers rank 3rd in the league in overall offense as QB Big Ben Roethlisberger has been having yet another fantastic season. The Steelers have so many weapons on the offensive side of the ball that it can be very tough to stop them. They are missing their star RB Le’Veon Bell, however, veteran RB DeAngelo Williams has stepped up big time for his team. On the flip side of the ball, the Steelers defense has been exposed a few times this season, especially in the passing game where they rank near the very bottom of the league. Oddly enough, they have proven that they can stop the run, as their rushing defense ranks near the top of the league.

The Cincinnati Bengals come into this game with a little bit of a streaky record, mostly due to the fact that they lost their number one QB Andy Dalton, in week 14 in a game against these very Steelers. QB AJ McCarron has taken over at the helm these past few weeks and he has proven that he can lead his team to victory. The Bengals come into this game with one of the league’s most balanced offensive attacks. They have several weapons that can give opposing defenses fits (Bernard, Green, Jones and Sanu). On the other side of the ball, the Bengals defense ranks 11th the league in overall defense and they are group that can have an impact on a game for sure. They have, however, had some trouble with their pass defense at times.

If the Pittsburgh Steelers want to be successful in this game, they will have to be aggressive on the offensive side of the ball, especially in the passing game. They have a plethora of talented wide receivers that can stretch the field and make it very difficult for opposing defense to contend with. WR’s Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton must be used effectively because you know the Bengals will throw a double team on Antonio Brown. Another key to success for the Steelers is get pressure on the QB. They must make AJ McCarron uncomfortable in the pocket and try to force him into making mistakes in the passing game. If they can do that successfully, it will pay dividends for them. In order for the Bengals to find success in this game, they will need to be able to throw the ball deep on offense and exploit that Steelers secondary that are prone to give up some big plays down field. It might be tough for them to get RB Jeremy Hill going in the middle of the field, so the Bengals might want to look at using their speed back, Gio Bernard as an option in both the passing game and with the stretch runs.

In my opinion, what this game will most likely come down to is how the Bengals defensive secondary can cope with the Steelers passing attack. If they can play some shut down defense, they have a great shot at keeping the game close and coming out with the win. It’s tough to pick against the 12-win Bengals playing at home, but I think I’m going to take the Steelers in this game as they are usually more prepared than the Bengals when it comes to the big game.

Game Details: Kickoff on Saturday, January 9th at 8:15pm from Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.

 

Seattle Seahawks (10-6) vs. Minnesota Vikings (11-5)

The Seattle Seahawks come into this game as another one of the league’s hottest teams having won eight of their last ten games. The Seahawks got off to a bit of a rocky start this season as they went 2- 4 in their first six games, not the ideal start for a team that is looking to avenge it’s heartbreaking loss in the Super Bowl last season. We all know about the fantastic Seattle defense, it’s no real surprise that they come into this playoff game ranked 2nd in the league in overall defense. The real surprise is that they come into these playoffs ranked 4th in the league in overall offensive production. It’s foolish to think that they have achieved the numbers they have this season without RB Marshawn Lynch and TE Jimmy Graham out of the nearly the entire season. They have completely re-tooled their offense and it shows.

The Minnesota Vikings, led by second year head coach, Mike Zimmer, come into the playoffs with an impressive 11-5 record. The Vikings possess one of the leagues most balanced defences as they have proven that they can stop the run and defend against the pass. In all of their wins this season, they have held the opposing team to twenty or less points. On the other side of the ball, the Vikings offense ranks 29th in the league in terms of overall production, that low ranking is due mostly to their passing game, which is still a work in progress. We all know they can run the ball effectively with RB Adrian Peterson and CO. in the backfield.

If the Seahawks want to be effective in this game, they will need to be aggressive on offense, which means taking shots down field and setting up some designed quarterback runs with Russel Wilson. If Seattle can stretch the defense with their two star wide receivers, Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin, they have a great chance at running up the score and leaving Minnesota with the win. They will also need to have their run-stopping defenders ready to go against Adrian Peterson. If they can limit AP’s gains, it’ll be a good day for the Seahawks. If the Vikings want to be effective in this game, they will need to be functioning near a 100% on offense by limiting the number of mistakes they make and trying to methodically breakdown the stingy Seattle defense. This game will be a massive test for second-year QB Teddy Bridgewater; he will need to try to avoid turning the ball over or throwing into bad coverage. I know it’ll be tough to do, but it the Vikings can get their running game going early with Adrian Peterson and Jerick McKinnon, they will be able to contend with the Seahawks. Special teams are going to be a huge factor in this game as both sides boast tremendous punt and kick returners. The Vikings will need P/K returner, Cordarrelle Patterson to be on his a-game for this one. He has had some fumble trouble at times, so you know the Seahawks will be looking to exploit that. It will be interesting to see how the Seahawks P/K returner, Tyler Lockett, will perform in the bitter cold this Sunday against the Vikings.

I think the Seahawks will come out of this game the victors as they just seem to be clicking in all facets of the game right now; they look like Seahawks we’re used to seeing.

Game details: Kickoff on Sunday, January 10th at 1:05pm from TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

 

Green Bay Packers (10-6) vs. Washington Redskins (9-7)

The Green Bay Packers enter the playoffs as losers of their last two games and are most certainly not playing their best football. It seems as if the Packers have been just a hair off of their normal selves this whole season. When you look back at Green Bay’s season, they’ve only had one really convincing win and that came in week 14 against the battered Dallas Cowboys where they won 28-7. The Packers enter the playoffs ranked 23rd in the league in overall offensive production, nowhere near where they normally are. The odd thing is that their rushing stats are better than their throwing stats. That’s a clear sign that they miss WR Jordy Nelson, who has missed the whole season due to a knee injury. Defensively, however, the Packers have been playing a lot better this season, largely due to the fact that they have been a whole lot healthier than in seasons prior. When Nelson went down, WR Randall Cobb was set to step up and be the number one guy, however, we haven’t seen the type of production from him that we had thought. Instead, veteran WR James Jones stepped into the spotlight after returning back to Green Bay from an unsuccessful stint with the Oakland Raiders.

The Washington Redskins enter the playoffs as one of the league’s hottest teams, as they have won their last four games and have gone 5-1 in their last six games. QB Kirk Cousins has revitalized the Redskins offense since being named starter this season and his numbers can prove it. In the regular season, Cousins threw for nearly 4,200 yards, 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, all while rushing for 5 TDs as well. The Redskins have a lot of underrated offensive weapons that have come alive this season. The likes of RB’s Alfred Morris, Matt Jones and Pierre Thomas have all been key for the Redskins offensively. However, their true star has been tight end, Jordan Reed, who has accumulated nearly 1,000 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. The issue for the Redskins has been their defense as they have been vulnerable at times throughout the season. They come into the playoffs ranked 28th in the league in terms of overall defensive production.

If the Packers want to be successful against the Redskins, it all starts with their defense. If they can contain Kirk Cousins and defend against the great deep ball that he throws, it will improve their chances of winning. They will need QB Aaron Rodgers to get that passing game going. It may sound simple, especially when you’re talking about A-rod, however, his flow and chemistry with his wide receivers has been off all season and it needs to get better in a hurry. The Packers need WR Davante Adams to step up his game like he did for them last season in the playoffs. If the Redskins want to be successful in this one, they will need to contain RBs Eddie Lacy and John Starks in the running game. Statistically this season, the Packers have run the ball much better than they have thrown it. If the Redskins can contain the Packers ground game and force Aaron Rodgers into long third downs, it will benefit them considerably. With regards to their offense, the Redskins will need their rushing attack to take advantage of a somewhat porous Packers defensive line.

It’s tough to pick against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, however, I think that Redskins will prevail in this game. They’re on a better roll and have been playing great at home this season, earning them a true home field advantage.

Game details: Kickoff on Sunday, January 10th at 4:40pm from FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.

 

Matt Kassabian

Twitter: @PassDaKassabian

Author: Matthew Kassabian

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