Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts:
4:35 PM Saturday
Two weeks ago, the Colts and Chiefs played in Kansas City and the Colts came out victorious in a low scoring game. The Colts were able to control the game and comfortably won the game 23-7 on the road. The Colts dominated the game after the Chief’s first drive of the game. The two teams are heading in opposite directions. The Colts are playing their best football of the season, especially on the defensive side of the ball, while the Chiefs are playing horribly. Outside of their win against the Raiders, the Chiefs have won once in the last 8 games and have lost two straight games. Kansas City was great during the beginning of the season because they ran the ball effectively, did not turnover the ball, and played great defense. However, the team has not played great defense since the injuries of Houston and Hali, their two best pass rushers. Without an effective pass rush, the Chiefs’ defense has been vulnerable and has allowed more than 20 points per game. Their porous defense has forced Smith to throw the ball more often and force more passes into tight windows. Besides for the offensive clinic against the Raiders and the late explosion against the Redskins, the Chiefs do not play well in high scoring games and have lost three of the last five games when they score more than 24 points. While the Chiefs have tried to become more dynamic because of their poor defense, the Colts are playing better defense and have simplified the offense. The Colts have won their last three games and have allowed a combined 20 points in those games. Although the Colts lost their best offensive weapon in Reggie Wayne, they have run the ball more effectively and have become more efficient in the passing game. Also, players, like D’Rick Rogers and Greg Whalen, have risen from the bench and have produced for the team. The Colts will be benefited by playing at home on the turf and in front of their home crowd. The Colts are 6-2 at home and use the speed of the turf to play better defense. At home, they have beaten the Broncos and the Seahawks. The speed of the turf improves the Colts pass rush, especially Robert Mathis, and allows their speedy linebackers and secondary to track down opposing running backs. In this game, the Colts should be the favorite. They are playing better, at home, and have the better quarterback. Although Smith is older than Luck, he has only one more playoff appearance and does not have the skill or leadership like Luck. The game should be close, but Luck has been great in close games this season. The Colts will be looking to stop the run, which will make Smith pass the ball more frequently. Unless Charles is able to beat 7 or 8 men box, the Chiefs will have difficult scoring against the athletic and feisty Colts defense. The game should come down to the last few minutes, but Luck should be able to pull out a big win and garner his first playoff victory in his career.
Prediction: Colts win 24-20
New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles:
8:10 PM Saturday
The Saints will attempt to win their first road game in their franchise’s history when they head to the City of Brotherly Love to play the Eagles. Although the Saints have been one of the most dominant teams since the addition of Drew Brees, the Saints do not play well on the road, especially in the cold. All five of the Saints’ losses have been on the road this season. The three Saints’ wins on the road have been by a combined 14 points against the lowly Bucs, Bears, and Falcons, neither team is above 500. Also, the Bears’ game was the only contest that was not in a warm weathered climate or in a dome The Saints have trouble on the road because they are built for the fast turf field and the controlled climate in the Superdome. Although the Saints do not play well or have the team set for the cold weather, they are extremely dangerous and have Drew Brees, who always gives them a chance in a game. The Saints have lost two of their last three because the offensive line has not played well. The Saints are forced to start a rookie left tackle, who should be abused and over matched against Trent Cole and Mychael Kendricks. The key for the Saints will be Jimmy Graham. Last week, the Eagles could not stop Dallas’ tight end, Jason Witten, who is not on the same tier as Jimmy Graham. If Graham can explode and Brees’ limits the amount of turnovers, the Saints will have a chance in Philly. While the Saints play poorly on the road, the Eagles have played well at home, winning their last four games. The Eagles have been extremely fortunate this season that Nick Foles has put forth one of the best statistical seasons in NFL history. Although Foles has been great because he does not turnover the football, he is given a lot of help from Shady McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper, the talented tight ends, and the stable offensive line. The Eagles running game has been the best in football because McCoy has been great this season and they cannot crowd the line with the skill of Nick Foles. Although the players have been playing well, Chip Kelly deserves a lot of credit for turning around the third worst team in football, last season. His offenses has been constructed because of the speed and talent. He has given McCoy the opportunity to run and catch the ball out of the backfield, which has made him the best non-quarterback in the NFL. Along with the offense’s success, the defense has improved throughout the season. Although the defense allows plenty of yards, they have adopted the “bend don’t break” philosophy and have been great in the red zone. As seen from their last 7 games, the Eagles hold teams to field goals and frequently cause turnovers, which has been a formula that wins championships. The Eagles should be able to force a few turnovers this weekend because Brees does not have the same accuracy in cold weather games and the ball is harder to grip, which causes more fumbles. The Eagles have been on fire of late and should be able to continue their winning ways against the Saints. The Saints will have trouble scoring because of the cold and the deficiencies on the offensive line. While the Saints have improved at stopping the pass under Rob Ryan, the Eagles are a great running team and should rely on McCoy, Brown, and Foles to lead them to a win in Kelly’s first playoff game.
Prediction: Eagles win 31-27
San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals:
1:00 PM Sunday
In another rematch, the Chargers will be heading into Cincinnati in hopes of extending their season. Although the Chargers should probably not be in the playoffs, they are a dangerous team and played very well toward the end of the season. The Chargers are a dangerous team in the playoffs because Phillip Rivers is playing like a top quarterback again under Ken Whisenhunt. Phillip Rivers has decreased his number of interceptions and has increased his completion percentage, touchdowns, and yardage. Rivers has been aided by the emergence of rookie Keenan Allen and Ryan Matthews. Matthews has added a running game that San Diego has not seen since Tomlinson. Allen has filled the void left by Vincent Jackson when he went to Tampa two seasons ago and recorded over 1000 yards. The Chargers have Woodhead and Gates, who are great situational receivers and provide safety blankets for Rivers. The Chargers have won 4 of their lat 5 games, but the one loss came to the Cincinnati Bengals in sunny, warm San Diego. However, this game will not be played in the sun or the warmth. The temperature is going to start at 37, but is intended to drop to 1 with a 100% chance of rain in the forecast. The rain, snow, and cold could affect Rivers’ ability to throw the ball against the stout Bengals defense. The Bengals’ defense is ranked 5th in both yards per game against the rush and the pass. The Chargers were unable to master the Bengals’ defense in week 13 and scored only 10 points. The Bengals were able to pick off Rivers and force two fumbles in the contest. The Chargers may turn the ball over again because the poor weather is conducive to slippery hands and off target passes. Along with the Chargers’ offense, the Bengals’ offense will be negatively affected by the weather as well. The Bengals have the 8th best passing attack in the league because Dalton has dramatically improved and AJ Green is one of the three best wide receivers in the league. In the past two playoff match ups against the Texans, Green did very little, which dramatically decreased their ability to score and move the ball. Unlike the Texans, the Chargers do not have the shut down secondary or the pass rush to stop quarterbacks from succeeding. The Chargers are currently 29th against the pass. Like their week 13 matchup, Green and Dalton should connect for 100 yards and at least one touchdown. If the Bengals can establish their ground game and account for over 150 yards, like week 13, the Chargers will have a difficult time scoring enough points against the Bengals’ stingy defense. Also, the running game in the snow will allow the Bengals to throw less frequently and not risk turnovers. The Bengals’ defense and the weather should be able to hold down the Chargers’ potent offense, while doing enough on offense to get their first playoff win in Marvin Lewis’ tenure.
Prediction: Bengals win 24-17
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers:
4:40 PM Sunday
The fans going to the game should wear their gloves, a hat, a scarf, a coat, and about eight more layers of clothes. The weather Green Bay is set to be around 0 degrees at the start of the game and go toward -18 as the sun drops and game ends. However, the weather does not include the wind chill, which should make the fans even happier. The TV companies that want to black out the game because of poor attendance should go out and sit in the stands before condemning the fans. Like 2 of the other three match ups, the Packers played the 49ers in week one in San Francisco. Although it was a long time ago, the 49ers won and won in the previous playoffs, which should give them confidence against the Packers. Although the Packers are playing at home and are more “used” to the cold, if one can be used to the weather, the cold probably benefits the 49ers and their ground and pound style of play. However, the Packers should be happy that they made the playoffs after losing Aaron Rodgers for seven games during the middle of the season. In normal situations and weather, the Packers would want to throw the ball about 35 times because their wide receiver core is one of the best in the league and not many teams can limit Rodgers’ skills. Although the Packers will always have a chance with Rodgers, they need Eddie Lacy to play effectively, if they are going to challenge the 49ers. Currently, Lacy is listed questionable, but the Packers needs him because he bruises the opposing defense and adds an extra element to the Packers’ offense. Aaron Rodgers will probably have trouble with the accuracy because it is very difficult to handle the ball when it is cold, let alone -18 cold. Even if Rodgers wears a glove, it will affect his accuracy and ability to drive down the field. While the Packers’ offense should be fine, the defense will be challenged against the 49ers offense. The Packers defense currently ranks 24th and 25th respectively in passing and rushing yards allowed. Although the 49ers have what many believed was one of the ten best quarterbacks in the league before the season, the 49ers rank 30th in passing yards, but 3rd in rushing yards. Although the 49ers have not achieved much from their quarterback, the team is incredibly hot. They have won 6 straight and 11 of their last 13 games, which bodes well for their playoff future. The key to 49ers is their ability to play great defense and run the ball, which can translate into any weather. The 49ers rank 7th in passing yards and 4th in running yards allowed this season because they have great linebackers, Bowman and Willis, and their secondary is very good. The 49ers, like the previous two games, should be able to control the pace of the game and time of possession with their running game. Although Kapernick has not been great this season, two of his best games of his career has been in his last two games against the Packers. However, the cold will probably stop Kapernick from running wild, but his strong arm should allow him to throw through the cold and possible snow. Without Clay Matthews providing a pass rush and assisting against the run, they will not be able to stop the improving 49ers offense. The Packers will need to cause turnovers, like their 2010-11 title run, in order to keep the 49ers off the field and give more touches to their All-Pro quarterback. Although the last two match ups have been high scoring, the weather should disrupt the offense and make it a low scoring game.
Prediction: 49ers win 24-23
pics and stats from ESPN.com