NFL Playoff Predictions: Projecting Wild Card Weekend's Top Performers

Patrick Clarke@@_Pat_ClarkeCorrespondent IJanuary 3, 2013

December 9, 2012; Landover, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice (27) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Washington Redskins in the fourth quarter at FedEx Field. The Redskins won 31-28 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

NFL fans will be in for a treat this weekend, as some of the league's brightest stars get ready to square off in four can't-miss, win-or-go-home matchups.

From former league MVP Aaron Rodgers, to Rookie of the Year candidates like Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris and Russell Wilson, there will be no shortage of prime-time performers during the postseason's much-anticipated first round.

With endless potential for upsets and legacy-altering performances, I ask you this: What's not to love about Wild Card Weekend? 

With the first kickoff of playoff football on the horizon, let's put on our prediction hats and project who will turn out to be the first round's top performers. 


Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers, QB

Former Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers is among the best players in today's NFL, and will prove it this weekend against the Minnesota Vikings. 

Beating Rodgers and the Packers once is tough to do, but twice in a row is an entirely different sort of challenge. Green Bay hasn't lost back-to-back games since December 2010, two months before it won the franchise's fourth Super Bowl title.

But back to Rodgers, who will be dropping against the Vikings for the second time in six days on Saturday, the very same defense he torched for 365 yards and four touchdowns in Week 17 on the road. Given how hot Rodgers has been as of late (11 total touchdowns, no interceptions in his last three games) and the fact that he's set to take on a familiar foe at home on Wild Card Weekend, you have to believe he'll put up incredible numbers.

The Vikings ranked 24th defending the pass in 2012, and gave up 28 touchdowns through the air in 16 games. Rodgers has 39 passing touchdowns all by himself coming into Saturday night.

Projection: 25-of-35, 315 yards, three touchdowns


Andre Johnson, Houston Texans, WR

The NFL's second-leading receiver this past season in terms of yards was Houston Texans star Andre Johnson. The veteran reeled in 112 passes for nearly 1,600 yards and four scores. Even in Houston's recent losses Johnson has been stellar. 

The former Miami Hurricane has surpassed 100 yards receiving in six games this season, including twice in the last three weeks of the season.

Johnson will face talented opposition on Saturday evening, though, as the Texans' Wild Card opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals, ranked seventh in the league defending the pass, holding teams to roughly 212 passing yards per week during 2012. But get this: The Bengals ranked ninth against the pass coming into last year's AFC Wild Card Game against the Texans, and Johnson torched them for 90 yards and a touchdown on just five receptions. 

Expect a similar situation to unfold the second time around.

Projection: nine receptions, 120 yards, one touchdown


Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens, RB

Baltimore's Ray Rice is a dynamic running back and a playmaker sure to deliver on Wild Card Weekend. With the Ravens set to host one of the NFL's worst run defenses on Sunday afternoon in the Indianapolis Colts, expect Rice to run wild down on the field at M&T Bank Stadium.

Rice, the Ravens' leading rusher this season, has racked up over 1,100 yards on the ground, to go along with more than 475 through the air as one of the league's top pass-catching backs.

Indy gave up more than 137 yards on the ground per game during the regular season, and ranked 21st in rushing touchdowns allowed, surrendering 14 in 16 games. 

Rice never got a shot to go up against the Colts' front seven during the regular season this past year, but he did rush for 103 yards and a score in his last outing against Indy back in 2011. He also caught six passes for 46 yards in the Ravens' win.

I like Baltimore to win this weekend, being powered by Ray Rice's performance on the ground. 

Projection: 20 carries, 115 yards, one touchdown, three receptions, 25 yards


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