SPORTS

NFL Wildcard Weekend offers intriguing match-ups

TAGs: Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, NFL, NFL 2014, Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, sports

nfl-season-to-return-july-15-featuredWild card action in the NFL is a few hours from kicking off so what better way to prepare ourselves for our first taste of the NFL playoffs than brushing up on who’s likely to move on and who’s going home for the winter.
So buckle up and get your popcorns ready. The NFL playoffs has arrived!
Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts
It’s gonna be cold and there’s a good chance that we might get to see some pretty crazy things happen, but the NFL playoffs has arrived with Wild Card Weekend.
Four games are on tap over the weekend beginning with the Kansas City Chiefs going to Indianapolis to take on Andrew Luck and the Colts. The home team opens as 1.5-point favorites in a match up between two teams that just crossed paths in Week 16.
The Colts took that one 23-7 in Arrowhead Stadium and the story of that game centered on a balanced Indy attack that saw Luck throw for a steady 241 yards and a touchdown to go with a balanced running attack that netted 135 yards on the ground with a Donald Brown TD.
With the game being played in Indianapolis, the Chiefs will have to bring back that defense that wrecked havoc on the league in the first half of the season. It’s easier said than done but with defensive demons Justin Houston and Tamba Hali expected to suit up, KC’s defensive line could give the Indy O-line the kind of pressure it didn’t get in Week 16. Expect an ugly game with lots of turnovers and a score that will be lot closer than most people think. There’s a reason why the line is so low, and it figures that the game could well go down to a field goal or a late defensive stop.
New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles
Right after Colts-Chiefs, the Saturday night game goes live from the City of Brotherly Love with the New Orleans Saints facing the Philadelphia Eagles. The Saints have struggled on the road this season and figure to have a tough go at it playing outdoors in the cold, especially with frigid conditions expected during game time. That’s largely the reason why Philly will open the game as 2.5-point favorites.
Don’t be fooled by that line, though, because the Saints are still considered one of the most well-balanced teams in the league. Drew Brees is still Drew Brees and his laundry list of targets just happens to include two of the worst matchups for opposing defenses in the league: Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles.
Philly still has the horses to go toe-to-toe with the Saints with QB Nick Foles having one of the most quietly brilliant seasons for a quarterback. Running back LeSean McCoy will give the Saints run D some fits and speedster DeSean Jackson should be a handful for a depleted Saints secondary that’s already lost rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro to injury. If the weather cooperates and we don’t see any form of precipitation during the game, this one has the makings of a high-scoring affair that will have its share of highlight plays. But if Mother Nature decides to drop some snow on the field, then all bets are off – figuratively, of course.
San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals
The game with the biggest spread among the four wild card games for the weekend will pit the San Diego Chargers traveling to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals as 7-point underdogs.
The game is expected to be played in the low 40s, and that plays into the Chargers believe it or not with Cincy preferring to see the temperature drop another 15 to 20 degrees. Be that as it may, the Bengals are still touchdown favorites against a Chargers team that’s looking to earn some vindication after they way it back-doored itself into the playoffs.
None of that will matter, though, after kickoff and the Bengals would be smart to unleash its full arsenal before the game starts getting close in the last few minutes. For all the flak Philip Rivers has received over the years, he’s still one of the better quarterbacks in the league and has proven that he could win games when it counts. He’s lost a handful, too, but who hasn’t?
On the other side, everybody will be looking at Andy Dalton to see if he can lead the Bengals to that long-sought playoff victory after bowing out the past two seasons. The pressure will also be on Bengals coach Marvin Lewis to finally get that playoff win that has eluded him in his time in Cincy. It’s put up or shut up for the Bengals, and if it wants to be taken seriously as contenders for the SuperBowl, beating San Diego at home is the first step in that direction.
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay PackersĀ 
The San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers were touted as two of the favorites to come out of the NFC so seeing them face each other this early in the playoffs is pretty weird. But such were the breaks for both teams during the season and now, the two squads that opened the season facing each other (the Niners won that one, 34-28) are back in each other’s cross hairs.
The 49ers have taken the last three games against the Packers but the elements for this game could play as big a role as any other factor. The Packers received a huge boost with the return of Aaron Rodgers and with him back under center, the Packers offense is finally returning to its dynamic self. The same, unfortuantely, can’t be said for Kaepernick, who has struggled for most of the season living up to the high-caliber play he showed in leading the San Fran to the SuperBowl last year.
We have a feeling though that Kaepernick is one of those QBs that plays better when the lights are on and the stakes are highest. He finally has a healthy group of weapons at his disposal and don’t be surprised if the vaunted read-option makes a comeback during this game. We all saw how that went for Green Bay last year, and it figures that the Pack will have an equally hard time slowing down the Niners.
Green Bay is playing at home, but there’s a reason why the Niners are 3-point road favorites. Recent history says that San Fran handles its business and leaves Lambeau with a ticket to either Carolina or Seattle.

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