Second year Bengals players Andy Dalton and AJ Green have become the most prolific quarterback/wide receiver duo in an inaugural two season span. Dalton will definitely have his work cut out for him as he tries to evade Texans’ standout DE J.J. Watt, who led the NFL in sacks with 20.5. The Bengals will also have to rely heavily on the pass since their leading rusher, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, will find it difficult to gain yardage against the NFL’s seventh ranked run defense.
Texans QB Matt Schaub was outstanding the first 12 games of the season but really struggled in those aforementioned final four games where he threw only one TD pass with three INTs. It doesn’t help that here he faces the seventh ranked defensive unit against the pass. RB Arian Foster, who was sixth in the NFL in rush yards, will be expected to put forth a 100+ yard effort, something he’s only done once in the past five games.
Overall these teams seem pretty even, which is why I believe home field will be the difference.
Houston 23 Cincinnati 20
Minnesota Vikings (+7 ½ ) at Green Bay Packers: The popular talking point regarding this game is how the Vikings (a predominately indoor team) will not be able to function in the frigid conditions of Lambeau Field and the Packers will roll as a result. But answer this: what kind of offense can function better in treacherous conditions, a top tier run game or potent passing game? I would definitely take my chances with the run, especially with Adrian Peterson, who is statistically the best running back in the NFL over the past six seasons. AP’s 2,097 rush yards a year removed from tearing two ligaments in his left knee may be the most impressive offensive display in NFL history.
While the Vikings have been able to escape any serious injuries throughout the regular season, they have some question marks coming in to this game. The quarterback of their secondary, DB Antoine Winfield, irritated his injured right hand on Sunday and his status is questionable for this game. Also, stellar rookie Safety Harrison Smith has been limited in practice due to a knee injury as well as a stinger suffered in the regular season finale against the Packers. On the offensive side, QB Christian Ponder, who had one of the finest games of his career last Sunday when it counted most, has been plagued with a sore elbow on his throwing arm.
On the flip side, the Packers seem to be getting healthier. CB Charles Woodson was a full participant in practice this past week and appears good to go for this game. Also, WR Randall Cobb is expected to play, which should give Green Bay their full complement of receivers for the first time in a while. Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings have also battled various injuries throughout the season but are now healthy and ready for this week. And if all that doesn’t present enough of a challenge for the Vikes defense, RB DuJuan Harris has given the Pack a formidable run option.
While the Vikings’ defense registered 5 sacks of QB Aaron Rodgers last Sunday, they still surrendered 365 yards passing. Even if Winfield and Smith are able to go for the Vikes, Rodgers has pretty much all of his weapons in play. Also, history isn’t on Minnesota’s side, as the Packers have never lost consecutive playoff games at home in franchise history (the Pack’s 2011 season ended with a home playoff loss to the NY Giants). As is usually the case, the Vikings will need to stay close so their running game can be a factor. That said, game time temperatures will be in the teens with a 30% chance of scattered flurries. That doesn’t appear to be much of an inhibitor to Green Bay’s potent passing attack.
Green Bay 31 Minnesota 21
Indianapolis Colts (+7) at Baltimore Ravens: Ravens all pro LB (and future Hall of Famer) Ray Lewis announced this past week that he will retire after this his 17th season. The Colts, 11-5 this year after a 2-14 campaign in 2011, are a terrific story. Rookie QB Andrew Luck has been all they have hoped for in replacing the legendary Peyton Manning. However, I think the Ravens will ride the wave of emotion of their fearless leader moving on at the end of this season and win this contest. Beyond that, who knows?
Ravens 28 Colts 20
Seattle Seahawks (-2 ½ ) at Washington Redskins: Both Seattle and Washington feature stellar rush offenses (third and first in the NFL, respectively) as well as stingy run defenses (tenth and fifth, respectively). However, I think this game will be decided by the pass. The Redskins rank near the bottom in pass yards allowed, so Seahawks rookie QB Russell Wilson will have a good opportunity to put up solid numbers. Meanwhile, that other rookie signal caller Robert Griffin III is quite formidable himself. However, he’s facing a top tier defense which just got back CB Brandon Browner from a four-game suspension for PEDs. He along with their other standout corner Richard Sherman will give the Skins WRs fits all day. RGIII and the NFL’s second leading rusher Alfred Morris will need to rack up a lot of rush yards in order to win this game. In my opinion, I don’t believe it will be enough.
Seattle 28 Washington 17