By: WTBU Staff
Starting with the Wild Card round this weekend, our staff will be picking and analyzing each game in hopes of successfully foreseeing how these playoffs will unfold. ESPN has their experts, but does anyone actually listen when Ray Lewis, Chris Mortensen, or Trent Dilfer are speaking? As a Patriots fan, I know I don’t. Our writers have never been arrested, and have never propagated lies about certain NFL teams/players while covering up the wrongdoings of other NFL teams/players/foreheads. So, check out our picks, they’re not sponsored by Subway or DraftKings, just by the good folks at WTBU Sports.
-Alex Greenberg, senior staffer.
Also on the panel will be Sports Director Zach Halperin, Assistant Sports Directors Dan Shulman and Marisa Ingemi, and men’s ice hockey PxP man Chris Picher.
#5 Kansas City at #4 Houston
Greenberg: Kansas City
I’m not expecting this to be a close game. The Texans won the worst division in the AFC at 9-7 and are starting Brian Hoyer at Quarterback. If we’re lucky we may get to see them play Brandon Weeden as well! Yes the Texans have J.J. Watt, but they’re also playing a Chiefs team that has won 10 in a row. Texan fans will point to their own 3-game win streak to end the season, but those games were against the Colts, Titans, and Jaguars. Shame on Bill O’Brien and the Texans for instilling hope in their fans by getting another mediocre team to the playoffs! They should get bounced easily by KC.
Shulman: Kansas City
On the first Sunday of the season, Kansas City and Houston played a close game which the Chiefs won 27-20. On October 25, their chances of meeting in the playoffs looked bleak. Both teams were 2-5, and headed for the cellar in their division. However, both teams turned their seasons around. The Chiefs won their final ten games and the Texans went 7-2 down the stretch. The Chiefs will make a return trip to NRG Stadium looking to win for the second time this season. The Kansas City Chiefs, behind quarterback Alex Smith, should pull off a gutsy win in Houston.
Ingemi: Kansas City
This is a game where the majority of the experts are picking the Chiefs, but I believe it is naive to overlook the Texans as well. Kansas City struggles to score and Houston has one of the best defenses in the league. However, the Chiefs have won ten games in a row and Houston “backed in” thanks to an absolutely putrid division. Alex Smith is playing the best football of his career right now and the savior in Houston is… Brian Hoyer.
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.
Picher: Kansas City
I like Kansas City in this game for the obvious reasons, but I think Houston makes this a good game. It will be close in the first half, but I think the Chiefs will force a couple turnovers, which will be the difference. Alex Smith is receiving well-deserved praise this week for his great statistical season and his underrated playoff numbers. Although Kansas City has the advantage in the passing game, I think Charcandrick West will play a big role to a balanced offense that will do just enough in the second half to win.
#6 Pittsburgh at #3 Cincinnati
Big Ben and Pittsburgh don’t look nearly as dangerous as they did a couple weeks ago. The Ravens had a horrible season, but the Steelers still found a way to lose to them. Pitt even allowed Austin Davis and the Browns within a touchdown in the fourth quarter of a game Pitt had to win. Andy Dalton misses out for the Bengals, but the Steelers will be without DeAngelo Williams. Cincy wins this one because AJ McCarron can cut through the Steelers secondary, it really doesn’t take much. Big Ben will have much more trouble with the Bengals defense, especially as they’ll be ready for a pass-heavy offense.
The Steelers and Bengals are AFC North Division rivals who have already met twice this year. In their previous visit to Cincinnati on December 13th, the Steelers beat the Bengals 33-20. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has made the postseason in each of the past four years, bowing out in the first round every time. With Dalton out for sunday, the Bengals will go with A.J. McCarron, who makes his first playoff start. But for Pittsburgh and a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers should have no problem against Cincinnati. When it comes to the playoffs, experience beats youth.
I think the hype around the Steelers has been a bit much, especially since they lost to Baltimore and Cleveland was about to score a game tying touchdown before Austin Davis was intercepted in the red zone just last week. However, I have about as much confidence in the Bengals winning a playoff game as I have in University of Central Florida football making it to a bowl game next season, which is to say, none whatsoever. An AJ McCarron-led Bengals is a lot worse than Andy Dalton, so this game could get ugly fast.
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 have doubted the Bengals all season, and that hate train will continue in the playoffs especially with a rookie quarterback. I like the Steelers in this game, as their wide receivers will wear down the Cinncy secondary, but I think the Bengals will keep this at a low scoring game. I am less confident in the Steelers without DeAngelo Williams, but I think they will find a way to get the job done. I like the Steelers in a hard-nosed AFC North matchup that we haven’t seen from these two high scoring teams.
#6 Seattle at #3 Minnesota
The weather is going to be an incredible equalizing factor in this game. The frigid temperatures will restrict Russell Wilson’s movement and range of passing so much that he will resemble a game manager. On the other hand, Adrian Peterson’s game is built for subzero temperatures. This will be an old-fashioned battle of the trenches in which I don’t expect either team to put up a lot of points. I think Seattle will also significantly miss Jimmy Graham in a matchup calling out for tight ends making plays over the middle on short passes. The Seahawks defense has had trouble dealing with other TE’s this season, so look for Kyle Rudolph to have a big game.
It’s supposed to be a real scorcher in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Sunday, expecting a high of three degrees. Minnesota is used to the cold weather while Seattle is not. The two teams met back in Week 13 in a much warmer Minneapolis where the Seahawks routed the Vikings 38-7. Adrian Peterson was held to 18 yards rushing and Teddy Bridgewater threw for just 118 yards. Despite Marshawn Lynch and Kam Chancellor set to return on Sunday, it has been nearly two months since Lynch carried a football in a game. Given the temperature and the location, the game will most likely be low scoring. Remember what happened between the Falcons and Panthers. A blowout led to a defeat just a few weeks later for Carolina, and the same will happen this weekend with Seattle.
It is difficult to pick against the defending NFC champions, however the early reports on weather conditions in Minnesota (and their outdoor stadium) will even the playing field. The Vikings have played well of late, and this is the exact type of game where Adrian Peterson can succeed. Seattle is a much different team than last season, and though they’ve played well of late, this will mark the end of what could have been a dynasty.
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.
This game is getting all the hype for the weekend mainly due to the weather. Out of all the playoff teams in 2016, there are no two teams that would be less impacted by freezing temperatures and harsh winds. The Seahawks have the experienced players with a quarterback who relies on the play-action pass to throw intermediate balls and Russell Wilson is a great decision maker. Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings are led by an underrated defense that ranks fifth in scoring defense this season. Peterson is the center of their offense and the Vikings’ pass attack is a secondary weapon. I like the Seahawks to consistently put seven men in the box to outlast the Vikings and exposing Teddy Bridgewater’s youth in the process. Give me the Seahawks in a small come-back victory.
#5 Green Bay at #4 Washington
Greenberg: Green Bay
The Packers have been going out of their way this season to lose games, but they’ve still got Aaron Rodgers. They’ve also got karma on their side as Washington still (how?!?!) has a racial slur as their team name. Washington was the beneficiary of the worst division in football, but Kirk Cousins may be a decent NFL quarterback. I think Cousins will be undone by the Packers top pass defense, while we’ll see Rodgers determined to put a franchise like Washington in the rearview mirror. Washington’s most impressive win all season was against the Bills….the Bills! Serious questions should be asked of all involved if Green Bay loses this game.
Shulman: Green Bay
In the only Wild Card weekend match up not to feature a regular season rematch, the Washington Redskins host the Green Bay Packers in a game that will likely be over by halftime. The Redskins snuck into the playoffs by winning their last four games to clinch the worst division in the NFL. Meanwhile, Green Bay, at 10-6, lost out on a division crown in the last week of the season. With Aaron Rodgers under center, the Packers are going to coast through Washington. Chances are Kirk Cousins won’t be “liking that” too much on Sunday.
Ingemi: Green Bay
Though Kirk Cousins and Washington have played phenomenal of late, and the Packers have struggled, it is difficult to pick against Aaron Rodgers. Does Washington have more weapons now? Yes. But the Packers have playoff experience as well, and I just can’t get behind a Jay Gruden run team.
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.
It is hard to believe the Packers will be playing Sunday afternoon in Washington. Green Bay has been so far from their true identity since week 7 of the NFL season. After starting the year 6-0 the Packers have been the biggest disappointment in the second-half. Surprisingly their offense has really struggled. I think the Redskins will score over 30 points on this swiss cheese Green Bay defense. Give me the Redskins by a score in the highest scoring game of the weekend.