Kansas City Chiefs (+2-1/2) at Indianapolis Colts: The Chiefs' 2013 season was quite remarkable given they went from 2-14 last season to 11-5 (including a 9-0 start) this year. The two major changes were hiring Andy Reid as head coach and trading for quarterback Alex Smith. With a reliable QB, the Chiefs were better able to utilize their top offensive stars in RB Jamaal Charles and WR Dwayne Bowe. And since the offense was productive, it allowed their formidable defensive unit to not have to be on the field constantly.
Meanwhile, the Colts are an enigma to me. The AFC South champs have some impressive wins under their belt (e.g. at Kansas City, at San Francisco, and at home vs. Seattle and Denver). On the other hand, Indy has suffered some truly ugly losses (38-8 at home vs St Louis, 19-9 at San Diego and 40-11 at Arizona). But in only his second season, QB Andrew Luck was solid despite a lack of continuity on offense. WR Reggie Wayne and RB Ahmad Bradshaw have been on IR and the trade for RB Trent Richardson has turned out to be a bust. Nevertheless, Luck threw for more than 3,800 yards, 23 TDs and only 9 INTs. His leading receiver in terms of yardage? T.Y. Hilton.
It's hard to get a read on this game since both teams have had stretches where they've looked brilliant and then in a matter of 2-3 weeks later looked utterly inept.
Call it a hunch.
Kansas City 27 Indianapolis 24
New Orleans Saints (+2-1/2) at Philadelphia Eagles: Given the Eagles are ranked dead last in terms of defending the pass, Saints all-world QB Drew Brees may well be salivating over this matchup. However, the Saints this season have given off the aura of the typical dome team where they're unstoppable at home but mediocre on the road. The stats would bear that out as the Saints averaged 16 points fewer on the road as opposed to the Superdome. But one can also make the argument that this New Orleans team is different in that they bring the NFL's fourth ranked defense into this game. While they're stingy versus the pass, the Saints are 19th against the run. That could spell trouble against Eagles RB LeSean McCoy, who happens to be the 2013 NFL rushing champion with 1,607 yards.
Eagles QB Nick Foles has quickly adapted to the razzle dazzle offense installed by rookie head coach Chip Kelly. In ten starts since spelling Michael Vick, Foles has compiled 27 touchdown passes and a scant 2 INTs. Even though he's only in his second season, Foles has already has proven he can emerge victorious in a "win or go home" scenario thanks to the defeat of the Dallas Cowboys last week for the NFC East title.
As of now, the Philly area is expecting temperatures in the 20s with little chance of snow. Brees should be able to function as a result, but only if he has the ball enough. Expect the Eagles to ram McCoy down the Saints' collective throats with Foles mixing in a big play or two.
Philadelphia 28 Saints 24
San Diego Chargers (+7) at Cincinnati Bengals: These two teams met in week 13 of the regular season, with the Bengals prevailing 17-10 in San Diego. However, this matchup will take place in Cincinnati where the Bengals were a perfect 8-0 in 2013 and have scored an average of nearly 42 points per game in their past five home contests.
Does anyone remember the last time the Chargers and Bengals met in Cincinnati in the postseason? It was the 1981 AFC Championship game, won by the Bengals 27-7. However, that game may be best remembered for the weather conditions where the game time temperature was minus nine with a windchill factor of minus fifty nine!!!!
I seriously doubt the two teams will face that kind of weather on Sunday. Nevertheless, I expect the game's result to be similar.
Bengals 31 Chargers 10
San Francisco 49ers (-2-1/2) at Green Bay Packers: Having fallen just short in last year's Super Bowl, the 49ers are poised for another run. Wide Receiver Michael Crabtree is now healthy, giving QB Colin Kaepernick another weapon in the passing game to go along with WR Anquan Boldin and TE Vernon Davis. And RB Frank Gore had another 1,000 yard season, making that his seventh in a 9-year career. Speaking of Kaepernick, he seems to have put some early season unevenness behind him. In his first ten starts, Kaepernick had a QB rating of 100+ (maximum is 158.3) in only three games. But in the final six regular season contests, Kaepernick amassed a rating of 100+ in five games.
Sure, the Packers won the NFC North almost by default. But the fact of the matter is their franchise is back and healthy for the postseason. Despite missing seven games with a broken collarbone, QB Aaron Rodgers was huge in the regular season finale in Chicago. But what really benefits Rodgers this season is a terrific rookie running back in Eddie Lacy. While Lacy was a little dinged up in last week's win over Chicago, James Starks (the top RB in the Pack's 2010 Super Bowl season) filled in nicely with 88 yards rushing. Of course the caveat here is the 473 yards of offense generated last week was done against a pitiful Bears defense. The Niners still possess a top five unit, making this week a more daunting task.
In the previous three matchups vs. Green Bay over the past two seasons, the 49ers (who were victorious in all three games) averaged 36 points scored and 483 yards of total offense per contest. What's scary is those kind of numbers were put up against a Packers defense featuring All Pro LB Clay Matthews. Unfortunately for the Pack, Matthews is out for this game (no word on who Green Bay will use instead to levy a cheap shot on Kaepernick).
A potential equalizer for Green Bay could be the weather, with temperatures dropping into the single digits. The Niners have not endured such conditions all season long. Nevertheless.....
49ers 31 Packers 24