The Sports Director’s NFL Wild-Card Weekend Picks

By: Zach Halperin

AFC

#5 Kansas City at #4 Houston

Listen, everyone’s on the Chiefs. My grandma, your grandma, your grandma’s housekeeper, your aunt’s best friend’s flower guy, Andy Reid, Andy Reid’s electrician, and even my fellow staffers. And I can see why. The Chiefs haven’t lost a game since October. Two games after losing Jamaal Charles to a torn ACL, KC rolled off 10 in a row to improve from 1-5 to 11-5.

The Chiefs success comes from their turnover differential (+14, second in the NFL) and their ability to run the ball, even without Charles (6th in NFL in rush yards). They’re a damn good team but you also have to take into account Andy Reid’s propensity to make coaching mistakes (guy manages the clock worse than I would manage a Rite Aid). Couple that with the Chiefs’ cupcake second-half schedule (opponents combined record of 39-59)* and you start to wonder if they are being a bit overvalued.

*That’s even including the Broncos 12-4 record. But the Chiefs caught Denver at Peyton Manning’s lowest (5-25, 35 yds, 4 INT).

On the other side, the Texans are also hot. Since starting 2-5, they finished the year 7-2, beating both Cincinnati and the New York Jets. I think the turning point in the Texans season was that Miami game in week 7, where they surrendered 44 points on 248 rushing yards and nearly 300 passing yards. Houston gave up four, count ’em, FOUR scoring plays of 50 or more yards. In only the first half!

But since that disaster (did I mention Ryan Tannehill scored a perfect passer rating too?), Houston has been solid, even with a revolving door at quarterback. But now, original starter Brian Hoyer who, coincidentally, was pulled in the fourth quarter against these very Chiefs in week one, gets his chance at revenge.

I think Hoyer’s up to the task (he actually posted a respectable 19:7 TD/INT ratio this year). And I like Houston, who somehow ended the year as the NFL 3rd best total defense in terms of opponent yardage, to contain Smith and company.

Houston 26, Kansas City 19

#6 Pittsburgh at #3 Cincinnati

Another AFC road favorite here as the Bengals will be without starting quarterback Andy Dalton. But what’s flown under the radar is that Steeler running back DeAngelo Williams (4.54 yards per carry, 11 rushing TD) is also ruled out.

Most people are on Pitt, but once again, I’m taking the opposite route. Road less traveled, read about it in a book once, ever hear of Ernest Hemingway?

Anyways, I like Cincy for a few reasons. One is of course the Steelers playing without DeAngelo. Everyone talks about their potent passing attack, but running effectively allows Pittsburgh to spread it out. Now, they’re starting some guy named Fitzgerald Toussaint. I’m pretty sure he was a famous jazz player. Or maybe he’s a distant cousin of Madame Tussaud (was that even a real person?).

As for Cincinnati’s offense, A.J. McCarron has been competent in place of Dalton. He’s thrown for six TD’s, two INT’s and a 97.1 passer rating in four games. The two interceptions both came against Pittsburgh in week 14, which isn’t surprising considering Pittsburgh’s opportunistic defense (17 INT). But the passing game is also where Pittsburgh’s most vulnerable (30th in opponent yards).

And let’s not forgot the Steelers also looked shaky against the Browns last week and lost at home to the Ravens one week prior. I ain’t trusting the Wax Statue.*

*Toussaint’s official new nickname. You see it works because of the name (I don’t care if it’s really pronounced two-sant) and because he doesn’t move.

Cincinnati 34, Pittsburgh 20

**It also shall be noted that last year I correctly predicted the Pittsburgh/Baltimore wild-card round final score perfectly. Got it on a late safety, nbd**

NFC

#6 Seattle at #3 Minnesota

Supposedly the weather in Minnesota is gonna be 1° Sunday. And WTBU’s own Alex Smith will be in attendance, as he hails from the land of purple-people eaters and Marshall Eriksen. Bundle up, Smith, this could be a tough afternoon.

Seattle destroyed the Vikes in Minnesota 38-7 week 13 in one of many brilliant second-half Russ Wilson performances. In Seattle’s last eight games, Russ threw 25 touchdowns and only two picks, posting a passer rating 123.7 or above six times. Like the Steelers, the ‘Hawks were a popular pick late this season to sneak into the playoffs and make noise. But after Seattle’s week 16 loss to St. Louis, the hype has vanished.

And I don’t understand why. Yeah, I know the weather will play a factor, but that will effect both teams. If anything the freezing temperature will help Seattle. I just don’t see Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings’ 31st-ranked pass offense moving the ball against Seattle’s 2nd-ranked pass defense.

I think the key to Minnesota keeping it close will be getting pressure on Wilson. If the Vikings’ excellent pass rush (7th in sacks) can disrupt Wilson (Seahawks 7th in sacks allowed), that could change the field position battle, allowing AP to do his thing. If Minnesota can’t get to Russ and create turnovers, well then I just don’t trust Teddy to get the ball downfield.

Seattle 21, Minnesota 7

#5 Green Bay at #4 Washington

On the surface, this pick should be easy. The Packers won 10 games and have Aaron Rodgers as their quarterback while the Redskins play in the lowly NFC East. And, yes, while these statements are true (The Cowboys/Giants/Eagles combined to go 14 games under .500), they don’t accurately depict the state of these teams.

Let’s dig a little deeper than the tired narrative. First, the NFC East’s poor record sans Washington should not reflect on the Washington professional football team. The ‘skins took care of business against their lesser NFC East opponents, going 4-2 in their division. Of course a home loss against Matt Cassel and the Cowboys doesn’t look great, but since that game Washington has rolled off four straight wins. And Cousins posted a 12:1 TD/INT ratio in those victories (Yeah I mention TD/INT ratios a lot, sue me).

There’s a reason Washington is favored. They’re playing well while Green Bay is not the same Green Bay we’ve become accustomed to. For all the talk about Eddie Lacy’s poor performance, the Pack were 12th in rush yards per game while ranking 25th in total pass yards. TWENTY-FIFTH. So don’t give me that Rodgers talk. He’s been off his game and it hasn’t helped that his receivers can’t get open.

The entire season Green Bay has missed Jordy Nelson. And it’s been even more apparent as of late (Green Bay is 4-6 in their last 10, including the last-second hail mary win, and have lost two straight). I’ll take the hot team over the reeling one every time. That’s how you make picks in the playoffs.

Washington 24, Green Bay 20

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