Saturday, January 09, 2016

2015 NFL Playoffs: Wildcard

Kansas City Chiefs (-3) at Houston Texans: After a 16-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 6, the Chiefs' record stood at 1-5. A week later, the Texans trailed the Miami Dolphins 41-0 at halftime. They would go on to lose that game 44-26, falling to 2-5.

Since their respective low points, Kansas City closed out the 2015 season with 10 consecutive victories while Houston won 7 of its final 9 contests.

Look for this to be a defensive struggle as neither team features explosive offenses (an obvious statement given that Alex Smith and Brian Hoyer are the starting quarterbacks). Both teams feature strong defenses with the Chiefs ranking #7 in total yards allowed while the Texans are #3 overall. Look for a big game from Houston's all world DE J.J. Watt. That'll be the difference.
Houston 20 Kansas City 17

Pittsburgh Steelers (-3) at Cincinnati Bengals: This is not your father's (or grandfather's) Pittsburgh Steelers. Their six Super Bowl titles were won largely on the strength of good defense. But the 2015 Steelers rank third offensively in total yardage, thanks to QB Ben Roethlisberger and a trio of dynamic wide receivers, led by Antonio Brown (1.834 yards receiving and 10 TDs in 2015). However, Pittsburgh is pretty much one dimensional as their top running backs, DeAngelo Williams (foot injury in Week 16) and Le'Veon Bell (torn MCL in Week 6), are not available this game. Their third leading rusher? Backup QB Michael Vick with 99 yards.

In his 13 seasons as Bengals head coach, Marvin Lewis has had only three losing campaigns. He is arguably the best regular season coach in franchise history. But in the playoffs? 0-6. With quarterback Andy Dalton still sidelined with a bad thumb, A.J. McCarron will once again get the nod. In three starts since replacing the injured Dalton, McCarron has been solid. However, the postseason is a whole different atmosphere. And he also has the unenviable task of leading Cincinnati to their first playoff win since 1990. McCarron should have ample opportunity to put up good numbers against the NFL's 30th ranked pass defense. But will it be enough? I'm gonna roll the dice and say "yes."
Cincinnati 27 Pittsburgh 23

Seattle Seahawks (-5) at Minnesota Vikings: The Seahawks dealt the Vikings their most lopsided loss this year, a 38-7 shellacking at TCF Bank Stadium. In fairness, the Vikes' defense was severely undermanned due to the injuries of starters Linval Joseph, Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith. However, the Minnesota offense didn't score a single point while compiling a feeble 125 total yards. QB Teddy Bridgewater was under duress all day, including getting sacked four times.

In his fourth season at the helm, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson had perhaps his best all around season. While being dismissed as a "caretaker" his first couple of seasons, Wilson threw for over 4,000 yards and 34 TD passes in 2015. However, Seattle doesn't have a proven running game as Marshawn Lynch will not play despite being 50-50 a couple of days ago. And Thomas Rawls, who racked 101 yards in the regular season game versus the Vkings, is out for the season with an ankle injury. Ah, but that 'Hawks defense? Yeah, they're still good. They allowed the fewest points in the NFL this season as well as allowing the fewest rushing yards. No doubt that NFL rushing leader Adrian Peterson will have his work cut out for him.

While I don't believe Seattle will rack up the kind of yards offensively as they did in Week 13 against the Vikes, their defense seems to be back at that Super Bowl caliber level. While the Minnesota defense (when healthy) is itself a solid unit, it just can't match Seattle's.
Seattle 17 Minnesota 10

Green Bay Packers (+1) at Washington Redskins: I honestly don't recall Packers QB Aaron Rodgers enduring such a stretch of futility as he has displayed over the past 10 games or so. I can't tell if he has a nagging injury that is not being revealed or if he's become a little gun shy playing behind a porous offensive line. The potential good news there is it appears Tackle David Bakhtiari will return this week, though how effective he'll be is anyone's guess. I do see an opportunity for RB Eddie Lacy to have a good game, especially since the Redskins allow 4.8 yards per rush, which ranks 31st in the NFL.

Prior to the 2015 regular season, Washington head coach Jay Gruden basically staked his coaching career on the arm of quarterback Kirk Cousins, making him the starter ahead of what was once the franchise QB in Robert Griffin III. It turned out to be the right move as Cousins threw for 4,166 yards and 29 touchdowns. While Green Bay's defense is stingy against the pass, it appears they are once again without the services of Cornerback Sam Shields, who is still overcoming a concussion he suffered a while back. The Redskins may look to establish a running game given the Packers allow 4.5 yards per carry, which is 29th in the league. RB Alfred Morris ran for 100 yards in Washington's regular season finale, so perhaps he was just getting warmed up.

I don't see Green Bay making a deep playoff run but I believe they're the better team in this matchup.
Green Bay 31 Washington 24


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