Time for a couch coach pep talk. NFL Wild Card Weekend is here and we can’t afford to drop the ball. Here are some tips on how to win the weekend. Keep the remote within an arm’s length at all times. Set a small cooler filled with ice next to you with a minimum of three stored beers. Missing a big play while making a fridge run is a rookie mistake. We can’t have rookie mistakes! Not this time of year. Stay away from really spicy foods, nobody wants to spend the entire third quarter of great game in the bathroom because the chili was too strong. Be careful not to overeat or drink, you can’t fall victim to the afternoon nap. Utilize the DVR when necessary, it’s better to press pause too much than too little. Bathroom breaks are reserved for commercial breaks only, I shouldn’t have to coach you up on that. Make the simple decision, focus on process, and execute the viewing game plan. Do that and you’ll have a great weekend!
Kansas City Chiefs @
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS -3
Last January the 2-14 Kansas City Chiefs were busy making vacation plans. A year later, the result of a remarkable turnaround, the 11-5 Chiefs send a war party to Indiana to face Andrew Luck and the 11-5 Indianapolis Colts. It’s been an incredible season in Kansas City. A surprising 9-0 start to the schedule vindicated new head coach Andy Reid, who was booed out of Philadelphia a season ago. The team’s immediate success also validated new quarterback, former San Francisco 49er, Alex Smith as a winning passer in the NFL. Kansas City stumbled down the stretch losing five of its last seven contests to finish the year. The defense in particular has struggled. The Chiefs were allowing a league best 12.3 points per game during their 9-0 start. That number plummeted to 27.7 points per game over the remaining seven games. Do that for an entire season and you’re defense would rank 27th in the NFL just ahead of the Jacksonville Jaguars. That’s not good.
The Indianapolis Colts are a hard team to get excited about. The Colts have reached the postseason for a second consecutive season behind the play of wunderkind quarterback Andrew Luck and not much else. The receiving core was decimated by injuries to Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen. A mid-season trade for Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson has failed to help the rushing attack. Richardson, a former first round draft choice, produced an anemic 3.0 yards per carry as a Colt this season. The defense consists almost entirely of players deemed not good enough by other NFL franchises. Only defensive end Robert Mathis stands out as a pro bowl caliber player. Despite the obvious lack of star power Indianapolis is the only team that boasts victories over the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, and San Francisco 49ers this season. They also lost at home to the St. Louis Rams by thirty! Go figure.
The Colts and Chiefs faced each other two weeks ago with Indianapolis claiming an impressive 23-7 victory in Kansas City. The Chiefs offense, known for its conservative style, uncharacteristically committed four turnovers in the game. Kansas City found success on the ground, star running back Jamaal Charles gained 106 yards on just 13 carries. If the Colts expect to hold serve at home they’ll have to do a better job limiting the Chiefs star rusher. Expect a much closer contest this time but the Colts should be able to score enough points at home to cover against a Kansas City defense that has struggled greatly in recent weeks. Colts win 24-17
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS @ Philadelphia Eagles -3
The New Orleans Saints road woes are well documented. The team carries a 3-game road losing streak into Philadelphia to face Chip Kelly’s high flying Eagles. Mysteriously, the Saints offense, led by future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, averages a whopping 34 points per game at home but only 17.8 as the visiting team. During the 3-game road slide to finish the year New Orleans was outscored 78-36. “Who Dat Gonna Beat Dem Saints?” Apparently everybody outside Louisiana.
Chip Kelly’s first lap behind the wheel for the Philadelphia Eagles has been a fast paced success. The franchise had grown stale in the final years of the Andy Reid era. Kelly, who came to the NFL after a wildly successful run at the University of Oregon, turned the team around in just one season. Known for his innovative up-tempo passing attack Kelly has engineered the league’s top rush offense. That fact is hidden by Nick Foles breakout season filling in for an injured Michael Vick at quarterback. Foles produced Nintendo numbers for Philadelphia helping the team overcome a 1-3 start to the year.
Defensively, the Eagles have a clear weakness that New Orleans may be able to exploit. Philadelphia’s pass defense is ranked 32nd in the NFL. There are only 32 teams. The Eagles allow 290 pass yards per game. In contrast, New Orleans surrenders 194 yards through the air. Philadelphia’s run defense is stout but how much will that come into play against Drew Brees and the pass-happy Saints?
While New Orleans has certainly struggled as the visiting team their road woes are overblown. The Saints roads losses are to the Patriots, Seahawks, Panthers, Rams, and Jets. Those teams have a combined 55-27 record. It’s not like New Orleans is getting drubbed by the Little Sisters of the Poor every time they leave the bayou. Saints win 31-24
San Diego Chargers @
CINCINNATI BENGALS -7
The San Diego Chargers enter the postseason riding an impressive 4-game winning streak. The last team to beat the Chargers? The Cincinnati Bengals, the team San Diego must now defeat to advance in the playoffs. Cincinnati edged the Chargers 17-10 in San Diego just over a month ago. Can the Chargers return the favor in Cincinnati against the favored Bengals this Sunday?
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers experienced a career renaissance throwing passes for first year Coach Mike McCoy. This was following two subpar campaigns which had many questioning how much gas Rivers’ had left in the tank entering his 10th professional season. Rivers was aided by standout rookie receiver Keenan Allen. Allen caught 71 balls for over a thousand yards and eight touchdowns to lead the team.
Cincinnati, the AFC North Division Champions, is desperate for a postseason victory. It’s been 23 years since the Bengals won a playoff game. The team has qualified for the playoffs four of the last five seasons but regular season success hasn’t carried over into January. Quarterback Andy Dalton in particular has struggled in back-to-back season ending losses to the Houston Texans. Dalton has yet to throw a touchdown pass, but has connected with the opposing team four times in those contests. That’s not good.
The Bengals saving grace may be home field advantage. The team’s two prior playoff defeats in the Dalton era were road games. This contest will be played in frigid Ohio where Cincinnati went 8-0 this season. Sunday’s forecast calls for a low of -7 degrees and possible snow. How will the warm weather San Diego Chargers fair in such inhospitable conditions? Bengals win 33-20
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS @ Green Bay Packers +3
The fourth and final wild card game this weekend may be the most anticipated. The 12-4 San Francisco 49ers, last year’s runner-up, travel to Green Bay to face Aaron Rodgers and the 8-7-1 Packers. On records alone you’d think San Francisco would be a clear favorite, but as the old adage goes, records can be deceiving. Green Bay was without an injured Rodgers for eight games before the star quarterback returned to spark the team to a playoff clinching victory over the Chicago Bears last Sunday. Green Bay was an unsightly 2-5-1 minus Rodgers in the lineup. With Rodgers the Packers are Super Bowl contenders.
San Francisco is playing their best ball of the season as they enter the playoffs. The team failed to win a third consecutive NFC West title (Go Seahawks!) but is still positioned nicely to make a run at a return trip to the Super Bowl. Unlike last season, when the 49ers experienced remarkable health, this year’s group suffered a number of injuries at key positions. Michael Crabtree’s mid-season return from an Achilles injury gave quarterback Colin Kaepernick an outside weapon to pair with Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin working the middle of the field. The 49ers don’t need to be great on offense, they just need to be consistent. That’s because San Francisco boasts one of the most fearsome defenses in the NFL. Led by the terrifying Smith brothers, Justin and Aldon, the 49ers rank fifth in yards allowed per game and third in points allowed per game. With a strong defense and rushing attack San Francisco is a warm weather team built for cold weather football.
Any team with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback poses a threat, but this is a poor matchup for Green Bay. This will be the fourth contest between these two NFC powers in the last two years. San Francisco won the first three. There’s no reason to expect a different result this time. 49ers win 30-17