Wildcard Weekend Predictions

49ersPackersLast week was a very strong one for my predictions and as they always say, it’s nice to come into the playoffs on a hot streak. The NFL playoffs may be the best in all of professional sports. It is the only one that features a one game “win or go home” scenario. While one could come in as a very heavy favorite and win nine times out of ten in a certain matchup, they could fail to show up the one time that actually matters. It happens nearly every year and that’s what makes the playoffs so captivating.

Week 17 results:

Last week: 14-2, Season: 159-97

Last week against the spread: 10-6, Season: 119-137

Chiefs 24 Colts (-2.5) 20: This game was played just a few weeks ago so it’s interesting that they meet so soon into the playoffs. The Colts went on the road to win 23-7 but it was an uncharacteristic game for the Chiefs. The Chiefs had four turnovers and were without their left tackle Branden Albert along with star pass rusher Justin Houston.

While I feel Andrew Luck will have plenty of playoff success sooner rather than later, this is a tough circumstance to play under. With only one reliable receiver in T.Y. Hilton, he will need to get his other options like Coby Fleener involved. The Chiefs are now much healthier than they were the last time these two teams met. Combining that, their strong defense and potent rushing attack led by Jamaal Charles, they have enough to pull off a Playoff win on the road which is always tough.

Saints 23 Eagles (-2.5) 27: This one should be close, but has the potential to get rather ugly. There has been no shortage of talk about how the Saints as a team perform poorly on the road. They have a golden opportunity to prove it in a hostile environment where it is projected to be snowing. While statistics may show that Drew Brees should have a field day against the Eagles pass defense, the unit has really improved in recent weeks. Brees should still be able to force feed the ball to his All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham who the Eagles on paper appear unable to matchup with.

The Eagles offense has taken the league by storm with Chip Kelly at the helm and one thing I wasn’t expecting at the beginning of the season is how balanced it is. Nick Foles (who many wrote off for the system due to a lack of mobility) is thriving having thrown for 27 touchdowns compared to two interceptions in the regular season. LeSean McCoy also had a career year leading the league in rushing and worked his way into the upper echelon of running backs. The Saints defense has made improvements this year but they haven’t seen an offense quite like this. While the stars like Foles, McCoy and DeSean Jackson will get all the credit, don’t be surprised if its the Eagles defense that steals the show Saturday night.

Chargers 21 Bengals (-7.5) 27: Another matchup of teams who met in the regular season, the Bengals won on the road in the previous meeting 17-10. The Chargers have rattled off four straight wins since. A lot of this they can thank to the improved play of Ryan Mathews. In those four games, he has run for 473 yards and three touchdowns. The Bengals have a stout run defense, but they are missing their best defensive lineman in Geno Atkins who tore his ACL earlier this year. Look for Mathews to get around 20 touches.

Philip Rivers also appears to have found his mojo and a new number one receiver to boot. Keenan Allen surprised many as a rookie posting a 1,000 yard season. The most important asset of Allen’s game is his route running which is very advanced for this stage of his career. Some even go as far to say he is one of the ten best route runners in the entire league.

This will be Andy Dalton’s third playoff appearance and if he doesn’t win at least this game, rumblings amongst fans regarding his potential will emerge. In today’s NFL immediate results are expected and Dalton’s team is not lacking the talent. Dalton’s main problem has been inconsistency. When he’s on, the Bengals will almost certainly win and he looks like a franchise quarterback. If he has an off day, the Bengals have a tough time recovering.

A.J. Green should be able to put up big numbers as the Chargers secondary does not have anyone who could stop him in single coverage. Along with Green, I would figure rookie running back Giovani Bernard to have a big impact. Bernard has impressed so far both as a runner and receiver. When he gets the ball, good things tend to happen. At home in a cold day with the stronger defense and the ability to put up points, this should be a great opportunity for the Bengals to get the playoff win that has been eluding them for 20 years.

49ers 26 Packers (+3.5) 23: This is the rare game of the week that I would not want to be viewing in person. With wind chill, the game time temperature is supposed to be around -51 degrees. Yeah, I’m going to stick with the HD TV and snacks from the confines of my own living room.

The 49ers whenever they play the Packers always seem to be one step ahead of them. Last year in the playoffs, the 49ers shredded their defense with the read option. This year, the Packers spent all offseason getting ready to defend the option and Colin Kaepernick went out to throw for over 400 yards in a win. Kaepernick is as dangerous as ever right now. With Michael Crabtree back to go along with Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis, he has his receiving corps to date. With this weather, I would expect Frank Gore to see a heavy workload. The Packers run defense is pretty shaky so a nice performance from Gore would not be surprising.

The Packers have had essentially every possible break go their way lately in terms of health. Aaron Rodgers coming back last week was obviously a huge factor in their last minute win over the Bears. The main question is if Rodgers will play like he did in the fourth quarter last week or show some of the rust he had through the first three quarters. Eddie Lacy is dealing with an ankle injury but he should also see a good amount of work. Lacy has lived up to the billing as a rookie rushing for over 1,100 yards and has been a focal point in the Packers offense. Other than Rodgers returning, Randall Cobb also came back and had a huge impact for the Packers last week. Despite being on a snap count, Cobb caught two touchdowns including the game winner. Having Cobb back in the slot also opens things up for Jordy Nelson and James Jones on the outside.

Despite having a home field advantage and plenty of positive momentum, I see the 49ers prevailing in this one. Their personnel is better suited if it becomes a “ground and pound” run oriented game and the coaching staff is very good at making adjustments. There are a lot of teams in the NFC that I wouldn’t want to play right now who have a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl. Of  those the 49ers between their personnel and experience are right at the top of the list.

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