The NFL Playoffs are upon us, the time when the top 12 teams in the league enter and battle it out until one remains. The start of the playoffs is usually bittersweet as we get a few weeks packed full of top notch football but are now about a month away from no football until August, leaving us to pretend to be interested in mid-season NBA games and baseball spring training.
While traditional fantasy leagues are over, I’ve heard of and joined in a few playoff fantasy leagues that help keep the spirit of “I’m going to root more for a specific player’s performance more so than the outcome of the game” going. My favorite team, the Vikings, finally made it back to the playoffs so I have at least one week to legitimately be excited for a specific team.
Because everyone and their grandmother are making their playoff picks, I figured I’d better turn off Call of Duty and do something a bit more productive with my Saturday morning and type out my picks along with a few thoughts and some keys to the games. I’ll do these round by round but I’m on the record and predict that the New England Patriots will win the Super Bowl when it’s all said and done.
Cincinnati Bengals vs Houston Texans
Current line: Texans -4.5
These two teams finished the year heading in opposite directions with Houston dropping 3 of it’s last 4 games and not looking like the team that started out dominating while the Bengals won 3 of their last 4 games. Houston is kicking themselves blowing a chance to have a first round bye and now will be forced to leave the friendly confines of Reliant Stadium and play on the road at New England if they win. The Bengals are pretty much middle of the road offensively (17th in passing yards per game, 18th in rushing yards per game) but have the 6th rated defense.
Keys to the game
For Cincinnati: Contain Arian Foster. In Houston’s 4 losses this year, Arian Foster rushed for a total of 186 yards for an average of 46.5 yards per game. In their 12 wins, Foster averaged 103 yards per game. The Bengals have 51 sacks on the year and if they can force Houston into a lot of passing downs, they should be able to pressure Schaub.
For Houston: Dominate time of possession. One way to slow down a dominant pass rush is to make sure the defense spends a lot of time on the field wearing them down. Houston not only has a great RB in Foster but a great run game in general and if they can hold the ball for long drives that will not only tire out the Bengal defense but keep the explosive WR AJ Green on the sideline.
Prediction: Houston wins a close game, 21-17
Minnesota Vikings vs Green Bay Packers
Current line: Green Bay -7.5
These two teams split the regular season meetings and played each other last week in a close, exciting game. Offensively these teams are basically opposites with the Vikings having a dominant running game and virtually no passing game and the Packers can sling the ball but tend to struggle with the rush. Adrian Peterson has destroyed the Packers this year running for over 400 yards in the two games against them but Rodgers picked apart the Vikings secondary, particularly last game once starting CB Antoine Winfield left the game with a broken hand.
Keys to the game
For Minnesota: The Vikings defensive line. They need to make sure DuJuan Harris doesn’t get 5 yards per carry again this week as Aaron Rodgers is hard enough to stop without the threat of a run anyway. Jared Allen and Co. need to get after Rodgers who, if given time, will have no problem picking apart a sub-par Vikings pass defense.
For Green Bay: The obvious key would be to stop Adrian Peterson, but I’m going with forcing Christian Ponder to stay in the pocket. Ponder has had a rough season overall but showed some signs of life last week against the Packers, especially when he rolled out on play action. Keeping him contained in the pocket will help take away his speed and take away some of the short throws he likes to complete to tight ends running short patterns.
Prediction: Green Bay wins by a touchdown, 27-20.
Indianapolis Colts vs Baltimore Ravens
Current line: Baltimore -6.5
These teams did not meet in the regular season and finished on different notes. Indy won 4 of its last 5 while Baltimore dropped 4 of their last 5 (three of those losses came against playoff teams). Andrew Luck has lived up to the hype this year and has had a great rookie season. On the other side of the ball, Ray Lewis announced that he will retire after the playoffs ending his Hall of Fame career following an injury shortened season. The Colts, despite their 11-5 record, are said by some to be one of the worst playoff teams in recent memory and they will need to overcome what will surely be an amped up Ravens team.
Keys to the game
For Indianapolis: A heavy dose of Andrew Luck. Baltimore’s defense is not as stout as it once was and if Andrew Luck can spread the ball and establish an early lead the Ravens may have to go less with the run, their preference, and try to make up ground through the air. The Colts aren’t expected to win this game so there is no reason (and nothing better to fall back on) not to let Andrew Luck sling the ball 40+ times.
For Baltimore: Take shots downfield. The Ravens shouldn’t have trouble running against the Colts 29th rated run D and Indy will likely be playing more to stop Ray Rice. If Flacco can take some shots down the field, even incompletions will keep the defense thinking about the pass which will only open up more holes for the solid Baltimore run game.
Prediction: Baltimore wins 24-14.
Seattle Seahawks vs Washington Redskins
Current line: Seattle -3
This game will feature, for just the 2nd time in NFL history, two teams with rookie starting quarterbacks. While RG3 and Andrew Luck have received the majority of the ink this year, Russell Wilson has had a great year of his own tying the rookie QB TD record with 26. Seattle relies heavily on their high rated defense while the Redskins bring the league’s top rushing attack behind Griffin and fellow rookie Alfred Morris. This game is projected to be the closest matchup and it could very well come down to a late 4th quarter drive engineered by either of these excellent rookie QBs.
Keys to the game
For Seattle: Trust Russell Wilson. Despite the 26 passing TDs, Seattle is a running team and Wilson was tied for 25th in the league in total passing attempts this year (ironically tied with RG3). The Redskins defense is 5th against the run and 30th against the pass and Seattle could take advantage of that if they open up the playbook and let Wilson handle more of the offense.
For Washington: Protect RG3. Griffin is listed as probable going into this game stemming from the knee injury he suffered a few weeks ago. He’s an explosive runner who is dangerous on the move, but the Redskins need to limit the number of hits he’ll take, especially considering the size of the Seattle corners who will be coming at him when he takes off downfield.
Prediction: Seattle wins 21-20.
Enjoy the games!