Ah, the Wild Card Round—where you can be guaranteed of at least one shocking upset, a slew of tight games and hearing fans from teams on a bye week incessantly discuss which team they would most like to face in the Divisional Round.
It's a hoot.
But this year's slate of games is especially intriguing. In the NFC, the two hottest teams in the conference face off in one game, while we get a Week 17 rematch in the other. In the AFC, we two battles between slumping division winners and hot Wild Card qualifiers.
It promises to be a wild weekend. Here, I attempted to predict what would happen. Let's take a closer look at each of these wild-card clashes.
Seattle Seahawks at Washington Redskins
There are reasons I'm concerned making this selection. The Seahawks were 3-5 on the road this year. Robert Griffin III is awesome, and the Redskins come into this game having won seven in a row.
But Seattle comes into this game on a five-game winning streak of its own, and the defense hasn't allowed more than 17 points in any of those games. That's the major difference I see here—Seattle's defense is one of the league's best, while Washington's defense has flaws, namely against the pass.
And given the way Russell Wilson has played of late, I think he'll take advantage of a poor Redskins secondary.
Look for the Seahawks to pound the rock, control the clock and beat the Redskins over the top with timely play-action shots down the field. RG3 will make plays, but he's hardly 100 percent and the Seattle defense will make life tough on the young star.
Prediction: Seattle wins, 21-17.
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
It's one thing to be playing at home, with your playoff hopes on the line against a team that really is only playing for a bye week.
It's quite another thing to eliminate the Packers from the playoffs at Lambeau Field. And that's why I don't like the Vikings in this game.
The Vikings were 3-5 on the road this year, while Green Bay was 7-1 at home. The Vikings have Curtis Ponder starting at quarterback. The Packers have Aaron Rodgers. Adrian Peterson rushed for 210 yards and a touchdown in the first game, but Minnesota still lost.
This will be a fun game, but the Packers will take the conclusion to this trilogy.
Prediction: Green Bay wins, 35-23.
Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans
The Texans are reeling, having lost three of four. The Bengals are hot, having won seven of eight. So why do I keep thinking the Texans will win this one?
Could it be that the Texans throttled the Bengals last year in the playoffs? Because Arian Foster and J.J. Watt are the two best players in this game? Because I really thought this was going to be the year the Texans won the Super Bowl?
I don't know, but I'm betting against my gut here. The Bengals have played sparkling defense down the stretch, allowing more than 17 points just once in the last eight weeks. Given the way Matt Schaub has played lately—he has just one touchdown pass in his last four games—I'd rather have Andy Dalton as my quarterback.
This game will be a tight defensive affair, but I just can't bet on the Texans given the way they finished the season.
Prediction: Cincinnati wins, 16-13.
Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens
There hasn't been a better story in football than what has taken place in Indianapolis this season. The team rallied around head coach Chuck Pagano during his leave of absence, rookie Andrew Luck has been better than advertised and the Colts went from being the worst team in the league a year ago to a playoff team this season.
Meanwhile, the Ravens lost four of five down the stretch (though the last game of the season was meaningless) and Joe Flacco has reverted to being, well, Joe Flacco.
But the Ravens will absolutely win this game.
Look, it's pretty simple: Baltimore has Ray Rice, a better defense and played a much tougher schedule. The Colts had just five games against playoff teams, and won seven games by one possession or less against teams that didn't make the playoffs.
If Baltimore and Flacco don't get too cute and ride Rice, they should win this game. But don't expect Luck and the Colts offense to go down without a fight.
Prediction: Ravens win, 31-24.
Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets always nail these predictions. Well, almost always. Like, 35 percent of the time.
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