Thursday, January 2, 2014

NFL Football - Playoffs Preview

This weekend begins the NFL Playoffs as the Wild Card round gets going on Saturday with two games and two more the following day.
The last three Super Bowl champions have been in the wild card round (Green Bay in 2010 season, New York Giants in 2011 and Baltimore last year) so one never knows quite what to expect from the teams in these games.
The following will offer a look at the four games with predictions for the outcomes. Incidentally, Heftyinfo picked the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos to face each other in Super Bowl 48, with the Seattle Seahawks winning the big game. That pick was made back in late summer just before the season opening weekend.
So, here goes nothing with the following previews and predictions for the Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs.

Saturday, January 4 

Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts - The Colts beat the Chiefs 23-7 just two weeks ago in Kansas City, so it stands to reason they will win this game too.
Not so fast.
The Chiefs had already locked up a playoff spot while the Colts had done likewise by Week 16, and after a fast start for the Chiefs, the Colts took the game over and rolled to the easy win.
These two teams show good balance with steady play at quarterback and solid defense, especially with the pass rush. Indianapolis had 42 QB sacks this season while KC totaled 47 sacks.
Look for a hard fought game with KC trying to establish the running game with AFC leading running back Jamaal Charles (1,287 yards with a 5.0 ypc average and a league high 19 touchdowns) posing a dual threat as he led the team with 70 catches, including seven for touchdowns. QB Alex Smith is efficient, passing for 3,313 yards with 23 TD and only seven interceptions. The leading wide receiver is Dwayne Bowe.
The Colts counter with QB Andrew Luck (3,822 yards passing with 23 TD and just nine INT) and his main target is T.Y. Hilton, who had 82 receptions with five for touchdowns. The defense is led by Robert Mathis, who had 19 QB sacks this year.

New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles - These two teams can put up some numbers on offense and are led  by quarterbacks that both enjoyed much success in 2013.
Saints QB Drew Brees (5,122 pass yards with 39 TD and 12 INT) and Eagles QB Nick Foles (2,891 pass yards with 27 TD and only two INT) were two of the better quarterbacks this season and have a wide array of weapons surrounding them on offense.
Philadelphia has a better running game, featuring league leading rusher LeSean McCoy (1,607 yards rushing with 5.1 ypc average and 11 total TD) but also has a quartet of wideouts, including DeSean Jackson, who made 82 catches and also scored nine touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Brees can throw the ball to a variety of players as well, including tight end Jimmy Graham (86 catches with 16 TD receptions) and two running backs (Daren Sproles and Pierre Thomas) who each had more than 70 receptions.
On defense, the Saints rate the edge, allowing 305 yards per game (111 rushing and 194 passing) compared to Philadelphia giving up 394 yards per game (104 rushing, 290 passing), plus the Saints get after the opposing quarterback better, registering 49 QB sacks to the Eagles 37 sacks this season.

Sunday, January 5

San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals - Just like the other AFC wild card match, the Bengals and Chargers faced each other in the regular season, with Cincinnati winning, 17-10 back in Week 13 in San Diego.
The  Bengals have great balance on offense (110 rush yards per game and 258 passing per game) and QB Andy Dalton passed for 4,296 yards with 33 TD and 20 interceptions in 2013. Meanwhile running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis (756 yards rushing and seven TD) and Gio Bernard (695 rush yards and five TD) form a solid running tandem.
The big weapon for Cincinnati is WR A.J. Green, who had 98 receptions for 1,426 yards and 11 TD grabs. Marvin Jones emerged late in the season as another prime receiver, making 51 catches, including ten for touchdowns.
The Chargers are led by All-Pro QB Philip Rivers, who had perhaps his best season (statistically) in 2013 by passing for 4,478 yards with 32 TD and just 11 interceptions, while compiling a league best 69.5 completion percentage.
Running back Ryan Mathews had his best season as a pro, going for 1,255 yards (4.4 ypc average) and scored seven touchdowns. Tight End Antonio Gates led the team with 77 receptions while RB Danny Woodhead made 76 grabs and rookie WR Keenan Allen stepped up in a big way, hauling in 71 receptions for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns.
Defensively, the Bengals have a big edge, allowing just 306 yards per game compared to 367 yards for San Diego. The Chargers allowed 259 passing yards per game while getting 35 QB sacks. Cincinnati gives up only 209 yards passing per game and 97 rushing yards per game and sacked opposing quarterbacks 43 times this season.

San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers - The 49ers edged the Packers, 34-28 in San Francisco way back in Week One of the 2013 season and they also crushed the Pack last year in the playoffs, going for 323 rushing yards in the process.
San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick passed for 3,197 yards with 21 TD and eight INT while running for 524 yards and four touchdowns. Running back Frank Gore (1,128 rushing yards with nine TD) is the top back for the 49ers while Anquan Boldin (85 catches, seven TD) and tight end Vernon Davis (52 receptions, 850 yards, 13 TD) are the main targets. A big addition has been Michael Crabtree, who made 19 receptions after coming back in early December from an off-season injury.
Green Bay managed to win the NFC North division and get the home field edge in this game by beating the Chicago Bears, 33-28 last week as QB Aaron Rodgers found WR Randall Cobb for the game winning score in the closing seconds.
Both Rodgers and Cobb missed significant time this season with injuries and will be huge factors in this playoff game.
Unlike the past few seasons, Green Bay has a running game to go with the dynamic passing game. Rookie running back Eddie Lacy (1,178 yards with a 4.1 ypc average and 11 TD) and James Starks (493 yards and 5.5 ypc average) lead the way while Rodgers will look to leading WR Jordy Nelson (85 catches, 1,314 yards and eight TD) as well as Cobb.
The defense is another story as San Francisco is among the NFL's best on this side of the ball. Green Bay's defense has been atrocious this year, giving up 372 yards per game, including 125 yards on the ground. One bright spot for the Packers has been the pass rush, as they had 44 QB sacks.
San Francisco allows just 317 yards per game (96 rushing, 221 passing) and gave up just 94 points during the six game winning streak they put together at the end of the season.

The Heftyinfo picks for the Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs  . . .

Indianapolis over Kansas City
Philadelphia over New Orleans
Cincinnati over San Diego
San Francisco over Green Bay

Last Week's Record:  14-2


Final Lock of the Week Record: 15-2

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