With the regular season wrapping up Sunday, the NFL’s wild-card weekend is set to go. Here’s the NFL Radio Power 12 preview for the NFL playoffs with a look at the injuries, quirks and odds for each team that made it into the NFL’s second season.
The Pretenders (and I don’t mean the new wave band):
Green Bay Packers
Don’t let the Packer-brand name fool you — this is a down season for the Packers, and the team has only gotten worse as the season’s progressed. A depleted o-line has provided no time for Aaron Rodgers. And when Rodgers has found time in the pocket, a slow-footed, brick-handed receiving corps has made the going tough. Dropping the season finale (and the NFC North crown) at Lambeau to the rival Vikings was hopefully the nadir for the Green and Gold faithful, but if Green Bay loses on the road to Washington in the wild-card round, Wisconsin residents will be redefining “bummed out” and “rock bottom.”
On the other side of the Green Bay Packer sadness coin is Washington which, after having lost to the Seattle Seahawks in their past three trips to the postseason, must be happy to be hosting a down and out Packers squad in the nation’s capital. Even better news? The only way Washington can face Seattle in the playoffs this season is if both teams make it to the NFC title game, so win-win scenario for fans in the DC/NoVa region. Still, Washington, in spite of Kirk Cousins’ VERY impressive season behind center, is just here because they won what became a watered down NFC East after Tony Romo’s collarbone was broken for the second time during the season.
Forced to play quarterback roulette for the entirety of the regular season, the Texans rode on the coattails of J.J. Watt’s superhero cape all the way to the AFC South title. Now in the playoffs and hosting a very good Kansas City Chiefs team that’s won 10 games in a row, the Texans will have to bank on their defense generating turnovers against the turnover-averse Chiefs offense led by Alex Smith, while also hoping to find some holesin the Chiefs formidable defense.
Not quite pretenders, not quite contenders:
Having outlasted the despised Packers on the road in frosty Green Bay, the Vikings are “rewarded” with a home game against the white-hot Seattle Seahawks over wild-card weekend. While anything is possible in the playoffs and “any given Sunday” and all that, Seattle opens as the biggest favorite for the weekend at minus-6 (odd fact of note: every road team is the favorite this wild-card weekend) for good reason. The ‘Hawks are a much better and more complete team than Minnesota, and thoroughly roughed the Vikes up a few weeks back in the Twin Cities.
Kansas City Chiefs
Yes, the Chiefs have won 10 in a row. Yes, they’ve been one of the best defenses in the back half of the season. Yes, they should beat the Texans in a low-scoring first-round match in Houston. But do you see Alex Smith beating Denver’s defense on the road in Denver? Do you see them keeping up with a healthy Patriots squad in Foxboro? You’ve gotta squint your eyes pretty hard to see either of those scenarios occurring.
Call me crazy, but I like Cincinnati’s defense more than I like Pittsburgh’s offense without DeAngelo Williams. A.J. McCarron has been downright serviceable during Andy Dalton’s absence from a broken thumb, and as nuts as it sounds to bet against the Steelers’ points-a-minute offense, here I am doing it and predicting that the Bengals beat Pittsburgh at home on Saturday night.
The dark horses:
Placed here not because of a lack of faith or being unimpressed, but rather by the fact that it’s very, very, very hard to make it to three straight Super Bowls. (Since 1970, two franchises, the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills, have pulled the feat). Seattle has the added burden of needing to win three straight road games to make the Super Bowl this season. If any team can make a three-peat of reaching the Super Bowl it’s this Seahawks team, but man, it’s gonna be TOUGH.
Arguably the most balanced team behind maybe Carolina or Arizona, the Bengals’ Super Bowl chances only will go as far as A.J. McCarron/Andy Dalton’s respective arms and/or broken thumbs can take them. “Cincinnasty’s” vicious defense should keep them in any game against any team in the AFC no matter who is under center, but only a healthy Dalton would make this team the favorite to represent the AFC in the Big Game.
See above, but replace “A.J. McCarron/Andy Dalton” with Brock Osweiler and Peyton Manning. Home-field advantage throughout certainly makes Broncos a more compelling case than, say, if Denver were a wild card.
One or the other:
How much stock do you put in Seattle’s beatdown of Arizona yesterday? A lot, you say? Well, feel free to flip-flop the Cardinals and Seahawks in these silly rankings. I like what Arizona has done all season long and feel pretty confident in Carson Palmer’s and Bruce Arians’ abilities to devise passing attacks for every team they’ll potentially face in the playoffs. What I saw Sunday was Bruce Arians wisely pulling Palmer after realizing the Cards weren’t going to claim the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC, what with Carolina putting the screws to the Bucs in Tampa, giving the veteran quarterback two weeks to rest up before hosting a home game. What’s that? Seattle exposed Arizona’s deficient secondary with Tyrann Mathieu gone for the year? I trust Bruce Arians to find a fix for that with two weeks to plan against either of the quarterbacks his defense will face.
A week after stumbling against the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina made a few adjustments and returned to form as a hyper-efficient offense and suffocating defense against Tampa. Cam Newton should be hoisting the MVP trophy at the NFL Honors ceremony the night before he’s competing for the Lombardi Trophy in Santa Clara on Sunday, Feb. 7 against the New England Patriots.
100% gonna be in the Super Bowl:
New England Patriots
Julian Edelman should be ready to go in two weeks .Danny Amendola has two weeks to heal up. Rob Gronkowski, unless consumed by a black hole that shows up in a nightclub, will be doing dead lifts while romping into the endzone. And most importantly, Tom Brady appears to have only suffered an ankle sprain and no torn ligaments. With Brady’s ankle ready to go and with the rest of the team healing up, New England remains the clear favorite in the AFC. The Pats offense, before the injuries started piling up, were on pace with their legendary 2007 offense. The Patriots defense, thanks to Belichick’s schemes and personnel, can slow down any of the quarterbacks in the AFC.