With the 16 game regular season over in the NFL, the attention now turns to the playoffs, where 12 teams will compete for the chance to win a coveted Super Bowl trophy. As Wildcard Weekend approaches, eight teams (four in each conference) will play each other, with the winner advancing to the Divisional Round. The top two seeds in both the AFC and NFC have earned bye this week by having the top records during the regular season. The Denver Broncos (#1 in AFC), New England Patriots (#2), Seattle Seahawks (#1 in NFC) and Carolina Panthers (#2) will await the winners of this weeks’ games. Here is a schedule, as well as a breakdown of the games that will take place this weekend.
#5 Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at #4 Indianapolis Colts (11-5) (4:35 p.m. on NBC)
Chiefs Breakdown: Both teams have played very good football throughout the season, finishing with identical records. The Chiefs started 9-0, and looked on their way to claiming a top two seed in the AFC, but lost five of their last seven games to finish as the fifth seed. However, their defense is top-notch when healthy, and running back Jamal Charles had the best season of his career and has shown no signs of slowing down. Combine him with quarterback and game manager Alex Smith, as well as big play weapons such as Dwayne Bowe and Dexter McCluster, and Kansas City has a very real chance to defeat Indy and advance to the next round. Keep in mind that the Chiefs are 6-2 on the road this year, a mark that is tied for the best in the league.
Colts Breakdown: Indianapolis has been able to overcome the loss of star wide receiver Reggie Wayne, and has won the AFC South for the second year in a row with a record of 11-5. They have also been able to beat the best teams in the league, defeating the Broncos, Seahawks and the Chiefs during the regular season. The Colts have won three in a row and boast a home record of 6-2. With second-year quarterback Andrew Luck continuing to improve, look for Indy to manage the game and commit few turnovers in the process.
Prediction: Indianapolis 24, Kansas City 13
#6 San Diego Chargers (9-7) at #3 Cincinnati Bengals (11-5) (1:05 p.m. on CBS)
Chargers Breakdown: San Diego was able to get into the playoffs on the final day of the season by defeating the Kansas City Chiefs 27-24 in overtime. San Diego also had some help, as they needed both the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins to lose, which they did. Led by veteran quarterback Phil Rivers, the Chargers posted the fifth most total yards of any team during the regular season. Breakout rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen, and star tight end Antonio Gates will both play a big role in the efficiency of the San Diego offense. Look for the Chargers to establish the run with tailback Ryan Mathews, and then air it out with Rivers.
Bengals Breakdown: Cincinnati is coming off of a regular season in which it won the AFC North for the first time since 2009. Led by former TCU quarterback Andy Dalton, and star receiver A. J. Green, the Bengals finished eighth in the NFL in total passing offense. Dalton threw a career-high 33 touchdowns, while Green caught 11 touchdowns for the second consecutive year. The Bengals definitely have home-field advantage in their favor, having gone 8-0 in the regular season at Paul Brown Stadium. Look for Cincinnati to pull away in the second with a couple big plays.
Prediction: Cincinnati 31, San Diego 21
#5 San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at #4 Green Bay Packers (8-7-1) (4:40 p.m. on FOX)
49ers’ Breakdown: San Francisco is in a great position going into the playoffs. Fans think that with the return of Aaron Rodgers for Green Bay, the Packers will return to form just in time for a super bowl run. However, the 49ers won 12 games in the regular season, and would’ve won the division, had Seattle not outlasted them by winning 13 games. San Francisco has won six in a row and appears to be right in rhythm entering the NFL’s second season. Dynamic duel threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick dominated Green Bay in the 49ers’ 2013 playoff win over Green Bay last season, and will be tough to stop once again. Look for San Francisco to apply heavy pressure defensively, and generate multiple turnovers which will be converted into touchdowns on the offensive side of the ball.
Packers Breakdown: Green Bay slipped into the playoffs by scoring a touchdown with just under a minute to play in their final game of the season against the Chicago Bears. The Packers’ have several holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball, as they gave up the eighth most points during the regular season. However, quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a former MVP who will look to lead his team to a second super bowl win in five years. Look for the Packers to establish a balance between the pass and the run, with breakout rookie running back Eddie Lacy.
Prediction: San Francisco 35, Green Bay 20
#6 New Orleans (11-5) at #3 Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) (8:10 p.m. on NBC)
Saints Breakdown: New Orleans recovered from an underachieving 2012-13 season to claim the sixth seed with an 11-5 record for the 2013-14 season. Led by the most accurate quarterback in the league, Drew Brees, the Saints tallied the fourth-most yards in the NFL. Brees, who threw for 5,162 yards and 39 touchdowns, will have a bevy of receivers to throw to. Expect New Orleans to throw early and often, testing the weak Philly secondary.
Eagles Breakdown: Philadelphia experienced a quarterback changed midway through the season that changed the fortunes of the franchise and transformed them into the NFC East champs for the 2013 regular season. Breakout quarterback Nick Foles posted a league-best 27-2 touchdown to interception ratio, while running back LeSean McCoy ran for a league-high 1607 yards, as well as nine touchdowns. The constant problem for the Eagles has been their defense, which gave up the fourth-most yards in the NFL. Expect these two high-powered offenses to put on a show for the fans for the entirety of the game.
Prediction: New Orleans 38, Philadelphia 31