January 4, 2013 by shivusharma
The NFL Playoffs are always wildly entertaining. It’s when the great players elevate their games to new levels, great coaches make game-winning adjustments, and great teams play with war-like passion.
Below I’ve broken down each of the four wild-card matchups with predictions on what I think the outcomes of the game will be. Post your thoughts in the comments section and let me know why you agree/disagree.
Texans Offense vs Bengals Defense: The Texans have been slipping since their week 14 loss to the New England Patriots. While their running game is still potent, we’ve learned
throughout the course of this season that the Texans struggle to play from behind. They are a one-dimensional team in many respects. Their passing game functions through the play-action pass, set up because of the threat of their strong running game. Arian Foster has carried the ball a lot over the past couple seasons, but has still been playing with great effectiveness. The offensive line has played well throughout the year though, ranking in the top 10 for both run-blocking and pass-blocking, according to Football Outsiders.
They are going to need to play well on Saturday, because the Bengals’ defense has been a revelation during the second half of the season, ranking 3rd in weighted DVOA. They have been particularly effective at rushing the passer, where their defensive line has achieved the 2nd best sack rate in the NFL. If the Texans are down early and forced to throw, they will struggle to get yards through the air. However, the Bengals have only been average against the run. This could prove to be a problem against the run-heavy Texans.
Bengals Offense vs Texans Defense: The Bengals are also a one-dimensional offensively. Andy Dalton loves to throw the ball up to star receiver A.J. Green, and that’s about it.
Defenses have to respect him by shading a safety over to his side, allowing more space to be freed up for Benjarvus Green-Ellis and the running game. Green-Ellis has been much more consistent towards the end of the year, providing some much needed balance to the Bengals offense.
The Texans defensive prowess starts with their defensive line. J.J. Watt might be defensive player of the year, leading the charge for their unit in both run-stopping and pass-rushing. According to DVOA, the Texans rank 5th against the run and 4th against the pass. The Bengals will need to get creative if they are going to make some progress against the stout Texans front.
Prediction: If you watched the Bengals face the Ravens in week 17, you saw their starters struggle against the Ravens’ 2nd string. I think that’s all you really need to know going into this game. Sure the Texans haven’t been playing well as of late, but they are just too talented on the defensive side of the ball to give the Bengals’ one-dimensional offense any breathing room. If the Bengals are going to win this game, they are going to need to find creative ways of getting Jermaine Gresham and Andrew Hawkins involved. The Texans will be getting back linebacker Brooks Reed, while also seeing all-star CB Jonathan Joseph at 100% health. A.J. Green will have a tough time carrying this offense as he has done this entire year, and Andy Dalton will be in trouble against a pissed off Texans defensive line. Texans 21 Bengals 10
Packers Offense vs Vikings Defense: This is probably the most intriguing matchup of the
game. Aaron Rodgers is electric, but he has been getting no help from his offensive line the entire year. The Packers putrid offensive line ranks 31st in sack rate. This was a big issue when these two teams played against each other in week 17. Rodgers should have his full complement of weapons this time around though, as Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb will likely play. Having Nelson and Cobb, along with Greg Jennings and James Jones on the field, will help spread the Vikings defense out and give Rodgers more options in the short passing game.
Vikings Offense vs Packers Defense: The Vikings are such a difficult team to defend against. The Packers are great at bringing pressure on the quarterback, but it is very
easy to overcommit on blitzes when you have a running back like Adrian Peterson who can rip off 20 yard runs against nine-man fronts. Several of Peterson’s big runs in week 17 came when the Packers safeties and linebackers overcommitted to making a tackle, versus keeping contain. Against a back like Adrian Peterson, you cannot expect to tackle him 1-on-1. He is simply too strong, and will overpower any sole tackler. Peterson’s ability to make cuts at full speed allows him to burn defenders who overpursue. The Packers have to find a way to slow down AP, by keeping contain. The Vikings Offense on the other hand, needs to continue to take pressure off of Christian Ponder. In week 17, they did a great job of picking their spots to take shots downfield. Ponder must play mistake-free football if the Vikings are to win this game.
Prediction: Did you see how Angry Aaron Rodgers was after last week’s loss? I think Aaron Rodgers will be in full on John Boehner “Go f— yourself” mode on Saturday. I expect Green Bay to counter their offensive line issues with the short spread passing game, featuring multiple wide-receiver sets. The Packers will look to take the ball out of Adrian Peterson’s hands, by putting up points early, and forcing Christian Ponder to throw deep in the frigid cold of Lambeau Field. Packers 34 Vikings 21
Ravens Offense vs. Colts Defense: Indianapolis has played poorly on the defensive side
of the ball this whole year. They are transitioning from the Tony Dungy Tampa 2 to Chuck Pagano’s 3-4 scheme, and have been struggling to get stops in both the running and passing games. Indy’s 32nd ranked run defense will have a huge issue stopping Ray Rice, who should see a lot of work in this game. It seems like new play-caller and former Colts head coach, Jim Caldwell, has made a commitment to getting Ray Rice the ball more. Smart man. The Colts’ best hope is to make some plays on special teams that will help them in the field position battle.
Colts Offense vs Ravens Defense: The NFL world was shocked to hear that this will be Ray Lewis’ final season. While his play has tailed off in his final seasons, his ability to make his teammates better through his leadership, wisdom, and football knowledge will continue to live on. No doubt, the Ravens will be playing their hearts out for their inspirational leader.
How does the Ray Lewis factor compare to the #Chuckstrong factor though? Does one
trump the other? Do they cancel each other out? The Colts have ridden the good karma of #Chuckstrong this whole season, pulling off some amazing 4th quarter comebacks, as well as their win against the Texans in week 17. Andrew Luck is a legit QB, and will be one of the stars in this league in due time, but he is getting absolutely no protection from his O-line. This has led to several tipped passes, errant throws, and fumbles. A lot of pressure will be on Luck to minimize his mistakes and make big plays in this game.
Prediction: I tend to believe that the #Chuckstrong and Ray Lewis mojos will cancel each other out, allowing this game to come down to execution. While both Joe Flacco and Andrew Luck have had their fare shares of inconsistency, Luck has been significantly worse on the road as opposed to at home. Sans some crazy special teams plays from the Colts, I think the Ravens have the slight edge in this game. Ray Rice will be playing his butt off to honor Ray Lewis, and the Colts haven’t had an answer for any running back this entire season. Ravens 17 Colts 14
Seahawks Offense vs Redskins Defense: You can’t say enough about how well the Seahawks’ offense has been, ranking 1st overall in Football Outsiders’ weighted DVOA
rankings. Rookie sensation, Russell Wilson, has lit up opposing defenses in the second-half of the year, earning him the 6th best DVOA for league quarterbacks. Marshawn Lynch has eviscerated all expectations of a post-contract slump, and risen to become one of the most consistent rushers in the league. The Redskins have squeezed out solid play from their defense all year long, despite the absence of Brian Orakpo. They are best when they are creating turnovers, but that will be tough against a disciplined Seahawks squad that has run the ball effectively even against the most dominant defensive lines. All signs point to the Redskins defense having their hands full on Sunday.
Redskins Offense vs Seahawks Defense: Seattle has pro-bowl talent at every level of their defense, but the 1-on-1 play of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner against
the Redskins wide receivers will be key. It will be infinitely important for the Redskins to establish Alfred Morris early and often, to open up the play-action pass as well as the read-option. More than that, the pressure will be on offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, to devise some unorthodox schemes that will keep the Seahawks’ pass rush on its toes. If RG3 is healthy and can be a threat running the ball, the Redskins might have a shot.
Prediction: This is my favorite game of the weekend, featuring two rookie quarterbacks who have disproved their respective haters and helped get their teams to the playoffs. The Seahawks are clearly the better team in every phase of the game, special teams included, however my gut is telling me not to trust them on the road, where they are just 3 – 5. I think the Redskins will try and blitz the heck out of Russell Wilson, and force him to make quick decisions in traffic. On Offense, RG3 will step up and be “Black Jesus” like he has before. His running ability will keep the Seahawks defense at bay, and help the underdog Redskins sneak out a victory. Redskins 28 Seahawks 27