The NFL Wild Card round is upon us, so why not kick it off with some predictions for the teams vying to make it one step closer to the big game.
AFC Wild Card Playoff Prediction
Wild Wild West
My crystal ball has been cloudy as of late, but somewhere in the ether I can make out Philip Rivers. Oh yes, and I see Andy Reid’s mustache followed by the phrase, “I am the walrus.” Hmmm, and it looks like it’s the second round of the playoffs. That’s right, the second round of the AFC playoffs will essentially be the AFC West plus New England. I’m calling it now.
Let’s start with Kansas City. They’re going in to Indianapolis following a dismal 2-3 finish to the season which was pretty surprising when you consider how strong they started. However, when you take into account that those 3 losses were to eventual playoff teams then it doesn’t seem too far-fetched. One of those 3 losses happened to be to the Indianapolis Colts, and now it’s time for revenge when it counts most. The Chiefs had one of their worst games of the season thanks in large part to 6 fumbles and an interception. However, through all that, Jamaal Charles had over 100 yards on the ground and 38 through the air; it’s safe to say that we can expect even more this time around.
Of all the teams in the playoffs, I view the Colts as the weakest. They’ve had a good run this year and played with a lot of heart but, in my opinion, the only reason they made the post season is because their division is about as good as a heart attack. That doesn’t mean I think they’re a bad team though. Andrew Luck has had a great season despite losing Reggie Wayne. In fact, Luck was fourth in fantasy points among QBs in the regular season, but when we place his numbers next to Alex Smith’s, they aren’t all that different.
Andrew Luck: 3822 passing yards | 23 TDs | 9 INTs | 4 rush TDs
Alex Smith: 3313 passing yards | 23 TDs | 7 INTs | 1 rush TD
With that said, what it will come down to is this. Andy Reid will wear down the Indianapolis Colts with Jamaal Charles and if the Colts somehow manage to keep him contained on the ground then Charles will just move to the air. Between rushing and receiving, Charles has amassed 1,980 total yards and 19 total TDs. He leads his team in both categories as well as the Colts. By the end of the game, we’re going to see a Chiefs defense that will sack Luck 5 times while Charles scores 2 touchdowns and goes for over 150 total yards in what is inescapably the best year of his career.
Final Score: 31-24 Chiefs
While we’re on the subject of impressive seasons, Philip Rivers is having the best year of his career and he won’t just let it slip away from him in the first round. As a matter of fact he’s been the most accurate QB in the regular season with a 69.5% completion percentage. Mix that with his 4,478 passing yards and 32 TDs and one could argue that the Philip Rivers from 2008 built a time machine. Andy Dalton won’t just lie down though. He’s had a very comparable year to Rivers, but the main exception is Dalton has been an interception machine all season. He’s the only QB in the top 16 who has thrown 20 interceptions. On a positional basis, I have to give the advantage to Rivers here. Dalton has better weapons but Rivers is in sync with his offense which is just as good in this case. I don’t want to take any credit away from Ryan Matthews and Keenan Allen though. Matthews isn’t having an “incredible” year, unless you consider the fact that he’s stayed relatively healthy all season incredible, but he’s had his best season yet. Keenan Allen really showed up at the tail end of the year and has proven he can be a reliable target for Rivers who has connected with him 8 times in the end zone thus far.
The key to a Chargers victory on Sunday rests on the shoulders of one short man though. Danny Woodhead. Before the season began I listed Woodhead as one of my top sleepers for the year and he really followed through for me. Would you believe he’s tied for the lead in total touchdowns (8) on his team with Eddie Royal and Keenan Allen? He’s also got over 1,000 total yards and if he caught one more pass he would have tied Antonio Gates for most receptions on the team this season. If the Chargers are able to fully utilize their RBs in Cincinnati, then the game is theirs to win. Woodhead is such a dynamic back that I believe he is the sole reason Matthews even crossed 1,200 yards this year. The Bengals will have to respect every aspect of Rivers’ offense to survive what I predict will be a shootout in the cold (light snow is expected). The Bengals aren’t slackers on defense, so I’m expecting 3 picks from Dalton (2 for TDs) to help the Chargers move in to round 2.
Final Score: 35-34 Chargers
NFC Wild Card Playoff Prediction
Saints of the Pack
I have to admit, between Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy, it’s hard to believe that offense can be stopped or even slowed down – but it has been done. Where the Philadelphia Eagles falter is their defense and naturally that’s going to be the key to a Saints victory. Not long ago, the same could be said about the D in New Orleans, but with Rob Ryan at the helm that rag tag squad is wearing glass slippers (bad Cinderella reference). They’re no Seahawks, but they’re giving their offense a lot more help than they used to. Philly on the other hand is giving up a league-most 205 yards per game to wide receivers and a league-most 306 yards per game to quarterbacks. If I remember correctly, isn’t Drew Brees on the Saints? I’m pretty certain that he’s had over 5,000 passing yards in the past three seasons. The numbers are right there and, in this case, I have a feeling the numbers won’t lie.
It goes without saying that Jimmy Graham will be the focal point of their offense tomorrow, but he’ll have a lot of help from Darren Sproles. The Eagles are giving up an average of 43 receiving yards per game to running backs which is good for ninth most in the league. The pass defense in Philly is swiss cheese and Drew Brees is going to cut through it in every direction because there’s nothing in their secondary to stop him. He’ll go deep to Graham, low to Sproles and everywhere in between. I predict we’ll even see some Kenny Stills action.
I know, I know; what about Philly’s offense though? McCoy will have a good game, believe that. I’m expecting 100 total yards and a TD despite the fact that the Saints D is giving up the tenth fewest yards to running backs and the fifth fewest to receivers. Foles has been solid, throwing only two interceptions all season and honestly I don’t even count picks in blizzards. However, we’ve seen Foles be contained and while he has persevered in the past, he can’t afford to struggle, especially since the Saints give up the third fewest yards to quarterbacks (213.5 per game). On paper, this seems like a no-brainer to me. I’m not saying Brees will be driving a Mardi Gras float through New Orleans in February, but I am saying he’ll get one step closer.
Final Score: 42-31 Saints
As Stephen A. Smith would say, “Aaron Rodgers is a baaaaaad man!”
I have to agree. The Green Bay Packers barely slipped through the proverbial cracks to make it to the playoffs, but that was despite losing their best player at quarterback, wide receiver, running back and linebacker for varying intervals throughout the season. The Packers have ground it out. Now, they seem to be nearly at full health and have most of those guys healthy. Rodgers has had a full game back as well as Randall Cobb and together they sealed the deal on their playoff spot. Eddie Lacy has looked like a bulldozer in nearly every game he’s played this season and Starks has been a great backup. Lest we forget about Jordy Nelson and James Jones; the duo could become unstoppable with Cobb drawing so much attention again. They’ll have their hands full against the 49ers though.
The San Francisco 49ers aren’t the most stingy defense in the league but they’re definitely in the stronger half. Against running backs they give up only 83 yards per game which is good for ninth fewest. As far as receivers go, they’re middle of the pack, giving up 161 receiving yards per game. That doesn’t sound like the powerhouse defense that we always allude to when we talk about San Francisco, does it? Well, they make up for the yardage by having the second best turnover ratio (+12) in the league, led by Seattle who is at a devastating +20. Aaron Rodgers has thrown 6 interceptions in 9 games this year, which is actually pretty high for him considering he threw only 6 and 8 in 2011 and 2012 respectively (15 games in 2011). On top of that, the 49ers are allowing less than 240 passing yards per game to quarterbacks but don’t expect that to slow him down. The bad man in Green Bay is going to be on a war path. He’s had to watch his team play without him all season and they did him the justice of getting him to the playoffs; he’s going to do whatever he can to not let them down. Kaepernick had better pull out all the stops because he’s going to need some points to keep up. Not only do I predict that the Packers will take down the 49ers, but I also have them beating the Panthers to face the Seahawks in the conference championship. I’m calling it now. Until then, let’s stick with Sunday.
Final Score: 34-24 Packers
For more insight and analysis from Ryley Henry, follow him on Twitter: @ryleyhenryff