It's one of the best months of the year for me. Not only are the NFL Playoffs about to begin, but the January (mid-season) transfer window opens in soccer. If you like the "Hot Stove League" in the MLB, this is that...on steroids (now that...is....irony. And a nice pun). Anyway, after taking a week off of the power rankings (Giants..you let me down), I have returned with my previews/predictions for this weekend's action. I hope you enjoy the hilarity that are my predictions, considering that I thought that the New Orleans Saints would be playing for the Super Bowl before the season started. Nice factoid about this year's playoffs: there will be three rookie QBs (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson) and three sophomore QBs (Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder, and Colin Kaepernick) leading six of the twelve 2013 playoff teams.
|Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans 1/5/13, 4:30pm ET|
The Facts: In a rematch of a 2012 matchup that saw the Texans advance in what was the Texans franchise's first playoff win, the Bengals are back with a vengeance. There's a bunch of weird history here. The Bengals are 0-5 on the road in the playoffs. Only the Saints can share in Cincinnati's NFL-worst playoff road record. However, can you guess who Cincinnati's last playoff win was against? That's right -- the Houston Oilers.
The Reason Why The Bengals Could Win: The Bengals were third in the NFL in sacks (51), only one behind league leaders Denver and St. Louis. If the Bengals force the Texans into passing situations (third-and-longs or by getting out to an early lead), then they will win with their elite pass rush.
The Reason Why The Texans Could Win: They have the ability to shut down the Bengals #1 weapon: A.J. Green. Jonathan Joseph is an elite cover-corner and can take Green completely out of the game. Without the threat of Green, the Bengals offense struggles too much to score enough points to beat the Texans.
Who Will Win: The Texans, at home, do JUST enough to squeak a victory over a very competitive Bengals team. There is a reason why the spread for this game is only 4.5. This means that Houston is only a 1.5 point favorite + the 3 standard points for home field. I think this is a field goal game, but in favor of the Texans. Houston 20, Cincinnati 17 (CIN covers)
|Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers 1/5/13, 8:30pm ET|
The Facts: In a rematch of the week 17 matchup that Minnesota was able to win in order to reach the postseason, the Packers look to get the last laugh in this wildly entertaining matchup. These two teams, offensively, could not be more different. The Packers have not had a 100-yard rusher since Brandon Jackson in 2010 (43 consecutive games). The Vikings have Adrian Peterson, who just fell nine yards short (2,097) of the single season rushing record. Additionally, Peterson rushed for 409 of those yards against the Packers. Yikes. Combine that with the Packers' recent home playoff struggles (2-4 in previous six games), and we've got a game on our hands.
The Reason Why the Vikings Could Win: As mentioned earlier, Adrian Peterson rushed for 409 yards in the two regular season games against the Packers. An effective Adrian Peterson does two things for the Vikings: 1) Puts points on the board and 2) Keeps Aaron Rodgers and the potent Green Bay offense off the field. If the Vikings control the clock, they can win.
The Reason Why the Packers Could Win: There are not many teams that can put points on the board faster and more frequently than the Packers. Assuming Randall Cobb returns healthy, the Packers arsenal of passing weapons can overwhelm what is a very young Minnesota secondary.
Who Will Win: Let's not get too carried away with the Vikings' week 17 victory against the Packers, at home. Playing in the friendly, domed confines of the Metrodome will be far different from the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. No better motivation to beat a team soundly (covering that 7.5 point spread) than losing your first round bye position because of them the week previous. Green Bay 31, Minnesota 20
|Baltimore Ravens vs. Indianapolis Colts: 1/6/13, 1:00pm ET|
The Facts: The Colts have converted the second-most amount of third downs (98), and are 7th in percentage (42.8). The Ravens? 80 third down conversions and a 36.9 percentage (that's the same percentage as the New York Jets). Yikes. In an equally startling contrast, the Ravens ranked third in the AFC with a +9 turnover differential. The Colts? 13th...with a -14. Double Yikes.
The Reason Why The Colts Could Win: They have the better quarterback, a head coach who was hired because of how well he managed the Ravens defense, and a recent good run of form. In a word, they have been Chuckstrong.
The Reason Why The Ravens Could Win: Experience. Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Ray Lewis have been there and done that when it comes to playoff football and can come up big against rookie QB Andrew Luck. If Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce (underrated backup RB) get effective touches in both the run and pass game, the Ravens offense can do enough to take advantage of what is an extremely mediocre Indianapolis defense.
Who Will Win: There's something to be said about a wildcard team getting hot at the right time. Andrew Luck and the Colts went 6-2 in the second half of the season, and 3-2 on the road (losses @ Houston and @ New England). With that, give me the 6.5 points, and I'm calling for the win outright. Colts 16, Ravens 13
|Washington Redskins vs. Seattle Seahawks: 1/6/13, 4:30pm ET|
The Facts: In the battle of district vs. state (wait for it....now you get it) district's Robert Griffin III and state's Russell Wilson are phenomenal. They finished the 2012 season as the third and fourth highest-rated passers (102.4 & 100.0 rating respectively). Both of those numbers were higher than Tom Brady's and Drew Brees'. They're really, really good. Throw in Alfred Morris (district) finishing second and Marshawn Lynch (state) finishing third in rushing, and you have two very balanced offenses. Virtually mirror images. Will be the sexiest matchup of the weekend, hence it's 4:30pm Sunday slot.
The Reason Why the Redskins Could Win: Given the previous facts, let's assume the offenses are a stalemate. If the Redskins win, Jim Haslett's pressure-based defense has to get home against Russell Wilson, causing sacks/turnovers. If they Redskins don't win the turnover battle, they will lose.
The Reason Why the Seahawks Could Win: Once again, taking the offense out of the equation, Seattle's two top cornerbacks, Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, will both be back for this game. These two physical cornerbacks are both over 6'3 and can keep up with nearly any receiver. Those timing plays the Redskins run off of the zone read can be disrupted with physical cornerback play, and the Seahawks have that. If those two play good games and reroute the Skins receivers, they will win.
Who Will Win: Seattle's defense will be the determining factor in this one. Washington will put up a good fight, but team speed with Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin off the edge combined with the likes of Bobby Wagner at the linebacker level, and the two previously mentioned elite corners will prove to be too much for even RG3 to overcome. Seahawks 27(-3), Redskins 23