NFL Wild Card Weekend: Predictions Against the Spread for Each Game
NFL Wild Card Weekend: Predictions Against the Spread for Each Game
The 2014 NFL wild-card round presents a more even slate than last year. Joe Webb marched the Minnesota Vikings into Lambeau and the overmatched Indianapolis Colts threw out a dud in Baltimore, each validating their status double-digit underdogs.
This weekend's schedule does not even feature a two-score underdog and it's hard to imagine the Cincinnati Bengals giving more than eight to the San Diego Chargers by the time Sunday afternoon rolls around. Rivers knows a thing or two about winning as underdogs on wild-card weekend, having dropped Peyton Manning's Colts back in 2009.
Today's Colts are unrecognizable from those teams of recent years and look to collect their first playoff with the new group. The Kansas City Chiefs come to town Saturday with a similar squad from their last postseason bid but a whole new approach under to Andy Reid.
Coming down from this manic scoring affair will be tough, so Sunday afternoon gives us a more physical altercation between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers to close the weekend out. Not sure this game returns your heart to a normal rate but it does make you glad to be watching all this from the comfort and safety of your home — as opposed to being crushed to the freezing ground by Patrick Willis or Eddie Lacy.
All listed spreads are from Bovada as of Monday evening. Read through for my score predictions and analysis for each game in the wild-card round.
Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts (-3)
Why Kansas City would win:
1) Alex Smith flew under the radar in November and early December while his team picked up a few losses, but Smith was playing the best football of his career. If Dwayne Bowe can finally wake up this pass offense jumps to another level, while utilizing Jamaal Charles and Dexter McCluster in the pass game has worked like a charm.
2) For all the issues Andy Reid has had with making in-game adjustments over the years, he's typically done well in attacking teams in a rematch. The 2008 season comes to mind when Philly dropped the first matchup against New York before beating them later in the regular season and again in the playoffs. Just because Indy won in KC doesn't mean KC can't win in Indy.
3) NT Dontari Poe along with DEs Mike DeVito and Tyson Jackson figure to annihilate the soft interior of Indy O-line.
Why Indianapolis would win:
1) Andrew Luck is a much more aggressive and gifted passer than Alex Smith. An elite arm and eagerness to challenge secondaries deep is especially critical in the postseason, just ask Joe Flacco, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger or Eli Manning.
2) It will be tough for Trent Richardson to ever validate a first-rounder dealt away, but T-Rich has begun quietly contributing over the past month, averaging over 60 total yards a game over this span and finding paydirt in the red zone. Coupled with Donald Brown's re-emergence the Colts' run game is no longer laughable.
3) Robert Mathis led the league in sacks and Chuck Pagano will likely find creative ways to rush him against struggling rookie RT Eric Fisher.
The call: Chiefs 17, Colts 16 KC boasts too big an edge in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles (-3)
Why Saints would win:
1) Drew Brees brings a Super Bowl MVP's experience into a game against Nick Foles, who's yet to start a full NFL season. Brees has shown a few times this year that his ceiling remains high as ever.
2) Rob Ryan's creative blitz schemes tend to baffle less experienced quarterbacks. Foles took five sacks and lost a fumble in his own end in Week 17, and his pocket presence could be a real issue in this one.
3) Who do the Eagles have with the skills and body type to effectively cover Darren Sproles, Jimmy Graham or Marques Colston?
Why Eagles would win:
1) Chip Kelly's scheme and the lateral mobility of Philly's line neutralizes interior stalwarts Brodrick Bunkley and Akiem Hicks, while mitigating stud DE Cameron Jordan.
2) Saints ILBs Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne rank 27th and 41st respectively at their position in Pro Football Focus grading, and this is out of 55 qualifying inside backers. LeSean McCoy and Evan Mathis are licking their chops.
3) New Orleans is 3-5 on the road this season while the Eagles are 7-1 since Foles returned from his concussion.
The call: Eagles 44, Saints 37 Kelly could show Sean Payton that he has a rival for the title of greatest offensive mind in the game.
San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals (-7)
Why San Diego would win:
1) The value of a good regular-season home record can often be overstated upon reaching the postseason, and the Bengals' 8-0 mark should not be worth more than the customary three points on spread. A team quarterbacked by Philip Rivers has a decent chance to not only win straight up in Cincy, but Denver too. (Oh yeah, they're the only ones to do it.)
2) Coach Mike McCoy's methodical approach to chain-moving has been bolstered greatly by running back Ryan Mathews this season. This has allowed San Diego to grind out superior opponents and keep its shaky defense fresh.
3) Getting 2012 first-round OLB Melvin Ingram back the past couple weeks could not have come at a more crucial time. Ingram must flash that potential as Dalton doesn't deal well at all with pressure in his face.
Why Cincinnati would win:
1) Danny Woodhead ranks third in yards per pass route run and constantly moves the chains on those little dump-offs on third down. Meet Bengals Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the owner of PFF's fourth-best grade in coverage among 4-3 OLBs.
2) San Diego managed only seven points before a late-fourth quarter BenJarvus Green-Ellis fumble in the first meeting back on Dec. 1, helping the Chargers draw to a one-score loss. Rivers compiled 252 yards but his 14 incompletions spelled one of his less efficient days on the season. Part of this owes kudos to the emergence of young Bengals secondary players like George Illoka and Dre Kirkpatrick, who ripped a pick from Antonio Gates.
3) Dalton seems to struggle against good secondaries and get rewarded for his aggression when AJ Green, Marvin Jones and Co. are going up and schooling bad secondaries — outside of Eric Weddle this is a very bad Chargers secondary.
The call: Bengals 28, Chargers 24 A touchdown is so many points to give Dalton against a good team, though I do also like this Bengals defense's ability to close out games.
San Francisco 49ers (-3) at Green Bay Packers
Why San Francisco would win:
1) Green Bay's playing at home but San Fran seems better fit for the conditions. Watching blockers turn AJ Hawk and his mates into roadkill at the second level has become painfully common. Green Bay's run D started off the year nicely against the Niners, which did not continue much further through the season.
2) Colin Kaepernick roasted Green Bay for 412 yards passing on Sept. 8 and the only person harassing him much at all was Clay Matthews — who just had surgery and won't play.
3) Aaron Rodgers struggled with accuracy in his first game back Week 17 and got up gingerly when hit. Not only is the rust a factor here but also how much of an issue the shoulder will be as arguably the league's most physical defense takes their shots. A couple well-timed A-gap blitzes from NaVorro Bowman could be in order.
Why Green Bay would win:
1) Rodgers shakes off the rust, reclaims the persona of an audacious scrambler and lights up San Fran's secondary with Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb.
2) The powerful running of Eddie Lacy helps Green Bay match San Francisco physically. The Pack offensive line has gotten push this year and Lacy has forced the fourth-most missed tackles in the league, two behind LeSean McCoy.
3) Green Bay forces Kaepernick into one of those games where he looks like a developmental quarterback. Not sure how Green Bay would accomplish this, though it might involve Sam Shields shutting down Anquan Boldin. Shields did an excellent job against Dez Bryant weeks ago.
The call: 49ers 26, Packers 17 Jim Harbaugh vs. Dom Capers: I'll take Harbaugh every time.