NFL Playoffs: AFC Wild Card Weekend Preview

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With the NFL’s regular season officially over, 20 teams have hit some golf courses and started their offseason planning.

For 12 teams, there is still a Vince Lombardi Trophy to chase, and a crown of “Super Bowl Champions” to strive for. With the start of the postseason, comes Wild Card Weekend, where 8 of the 12 playoff teams will face off to advance to the Divisional Playoffs round.

Here is a look at each of the 4 games that will be going on this weekend in the NFL.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Houston Texans- Saturday, January 9th, 4:35 PM

Houston got a bad draw with their wild card matchup, drawing the Kansas City Chiefs (11-5), winners of 10 straight games. The Chiefs were 1-5 after Week 6, but have rifled off 10 wins, mostly against teams they were competing with in the AFC for a playoff spot. Back in Week 1, this Chiefs team won against Houston, 27-20. While it was close then, the Chiefs have played like a different team in the second half of the season. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith has been able to make more plays than usual, setting career highs for passing and rushing yards in a season. The Chiefs had running back Jamaal Charles in the first matchup, but are now rocking a two headed tandem in Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware in the running game, and they have been just as effective as Charles, averaging 4.7 yards per carry this season. Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin went over 1,000 yards for a second straight season, and a career high in receptions. Maclin, along with upstart wide receiver Albert Wilson and tight end Travis Kelce, have re-invigorated life into Smith’s passing attack. On defense, the Chiefs have a stable secondary, with cornerbacks Sean Smith and Marcus Peters and safety Eric Berry. However, the Chiefs pass rush has hit a rash of injuries. with edge rushers Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and Dee Ford all are in danger of missing the game. It would help to get them all back, as the Chiefs have the second most sacks in the NFL since Week 7, which is second to…

Houston (9-7) won the AFC South, which was one of the weakest divisions in football this season. However, Houston can’t be knocked for the division’s weak teams, as the Texans have played well, going 6-2 in the second half of the season. Houston is led by their prized wide receiver, DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins is fresh off of an incredible 2015, setting career highs across the board with 111 catches, 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hopkins’ play has eased the pain of Houston having to start four different quarterbacks this season, with their starter, Brian Hoyer, returning for this game. Hoyer has been effective, with a 19:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. However, when teams have been able to hold Hopkins to less than 60 yards, the Texans were 2-3 and averaged only 15.8 points in those five games, leaving the Texans without much of a punch. Defensively, the Texans have All-Pro defensive end and potential test tube baby J.J. Watt, who is playing as well as he normally does. Watt and Texans edge rusher Whitney Mercilus have led the Texans on a sack attack, with the most sacks in the NFL since Week 7.

What happens in this game: Both teams have a solid defense, with reasons to think that each team may be able to score points in different ways. Houston has Hopkins, but a lack of true weapons outside of the Texans wideout cast doubts over how well the offense can play. The Chiefs lack that pure superstar, but boast a more balanced offense, which will make the difference here. THE PICK: The CHIEFS will win their 11th game in a row, beating Houston, 23-16.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals- Saturday, January 9th, 8:15 PM

Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good, as the Steelers (10-6) needed help in order to make it into the postseason. The Buffalo Bills obliged, clearing the way for Pittsburgh to win and get into the AFC Wild Card as the #6 seed. The Steelers are best known for their high-octane -but inconsistent- offense. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will put up solid games and follow them up with absolute clunkers on the stat sheet, running back DeAngelo Williams isn’t fully healthy for this game and wide receivers Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton have had stretches of inconsistency as well. However, the Steelers still have wide receiver Antonio Brown, who rarely has an off day and is a defensive coordinator’s nightmare. Brown makes this offense more dynamic, and has played the Bengals well this season. However, this offense will only go as far as Roethlisberger, who threw only one touchdown and four interceptions in the two games against the Bengals this year. Defensively, the young Pittsburgh unit needs to hold down the fort against a Bengals team that has averaged only 15.0 points per game in the two games against each other this season. Led by their young linebackers, Ryan Shazier, Jarvis Jones, Lawerence Timmons and Bud Dupree, Pittsburgh needs to contain the Bengals’ run game, which has averaged 113 yards per game. They also need to key on Cincinnati’s A.J. Green in the passing game, as Green had 250 yards and two touchdowns in the two games against Pittsburgh this year.

Cincinnati (12-4) missed out on the chance to rest a week and wait for the Divisional round. The Bengals would’ve liked that, because starting quarterback Andy Dalton remains out with a thumb injury that he sustained against the Steelers in Week 14. In Dalton’s stead is A.J. McCarron, who has been playing a caretaker role for a talented Bengals roster. McCarron was victimized by the Steelers back in Week 14, being intercepted twice before getting some yards in garbage time. McCarron can rely on the ground game to assist him, as running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill have both woken up from cold streaks. Bernard is a pass catching back who can be a checkdown for McCarron, while Hill is the thumping runner who can get the tough yards. Cincinnati has one of the best receiving corps in the NFL, led by star wideout A.J. Green and tight end Tyler Eifert and supported by wide receiver Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu. For the Bengals defense, it’s all about continuing to contain Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, where Brown has only averaged 67 yards against Cincinnati this year.

What happens in this game: The Steelers have the better offense (third in the NFL in 2015), but the Bengals defense has contained them relatively well this year. It’s all going to come down to the inexperienced McCarron, who has been in high pressure postseason situations in college with Alabama. But McCarron has been outdone in the passing game by the likes of Brock Osweiler, Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Mallett in McCarron’s three starts. If the Steelers can bottle up Bernard and Hill, they’ll win against the over-matched McCarron. They’ll use that plan, which will lead to the STEELERS winning, 24-10.

The Postseason Picks:

AFC WILD CARD: Kansas City, Pittsburgh

Keep it here to Better Live Than Dead Sports, as the NFC Wild Card preview is coming up next!

Written by Derek Kramer

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