The New England Patriots (12-4) were able to clinch a first-round bye last Sunday with a 34-20 win over the Buffalo Bills. The star of the game was running back LeGarrette Blount, who ran for 189 yards and two touchdowns in the victory. History will tell you that in the five Super Bowl appearance the Patriots have had over the last 15 years, they have had a bye in each one of those postseasons.
With that being said, we continue our yearly tradition at Foxboro Blog by giving a mini preview of each of the four Wild Card matchups. The Patriots will play the highest remaining seed in the AFC next Saturday night (January 11th) at 8:15 ET on CBS at Gillette Stadium.
AFC Wild Card Matchups
(5) Kansas City Chiefs at (4) Indianapolis Colts
(Saturday, 4:35 ET, NBC)
These two teams may feel a little deja vu when they face each other on Saturday afternoon. In Week 16, they faced each other at Arrowhead Stadium with the Colts winning 23-7 in a road upset. In that game, the Chiefs turned the football over four times and allowed the Colts to rush for 135 yards combined. The Colts' offense has struggled to run the ball all season (21st in the NFL), even with the acquisition of Trent Richardson via trade earlier in the season.
For Indy, success and failure goes on the shoulders of quarterback Andrew Luck. Even without his star receiver Reggie Wayne, Luck threw for eight touchdowns in December (most in any month). His main weapon is T.Y Hilton, who had 11 catches for 155 yards last week against the Jaguars. The Chiefs have their all-pro running back Jamaal Charles as the main weapon in their arsenal. Charles had 1,287 yards yards and 19 combined touchdowns during the regular season, including his 106 yards and a touchdown against the Colts two weeks ago.
The key to this game will be the Chiefs' passing game. . Chiefs' quarterback Alex Smith normally is good at protecting the ball, but the Colts' defense led by pass rusher Robert Mathis forced four turnovers in the win in Week 16. The Chiefs are well-rested, but their defense has not played as dominant as they did earlier in the season. Mathis and his league leading 19.5 sacks (5 sacks in his last five games) should be enough for Indianapolis to sneak out a close home victory.
COLTS 23 CHIEFS 20
(6) San Diego Chargers at (3) Cincinnati Bengals
(Sunday, 1:05 ET, CBS)
This game is the most intriguing matchup for me during Wild Card weekend. The reason is back in August, I picked the Cincinnati Bengals to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. The Bengals have made the playoffs for the third straight years, but the regular season isn't the problem for quarterback Andy Dalton. When the bright lights are on the third-year quarterback, he turns the football over. In two postseason games, he is 0-2 with zero touchdowns and four interceptions. He is also coming off throwing four interceptions in a win against the Ravens last week.
Now, these two teams did play in Week 13 with the Bengals winning 17-10 out in San Diego. Despite needing a miracle and a bad call last week, the Chargers made the playoffs in the first season for head coach Mike McCoy. The reason for this is Phillip Rivers. The San Diego quarterback had a career high in completion percentage (69.5%) and his leading receiver is the frontrunner for offensive rookie of the year in Keenan Allen (1,046 yards, 8 touchdowns.) Patriots' fans also know the impact Danny Woodhead could have for San Diego on key third downs against a Bengals' defense that is top five even without star defensive tackle Geno Atkins. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has three INT's in his last five games as well.
For me, this game comes down to the turnover margin. These two teams combined for five turnovers in their first game. Andy Dalton can light up the scoreboard with explosive targets such as A.J Green and rookie Gio Bernard running the ball. The problem for the Bengals in their past playoff failures is putting too much on Dalton. If the Law Firm can repeat his 20 carries for 92 yards performance from the first meeting, that won't be an issue in this game. San Diego will need players like safety Eric Weddle (team leader in tackles) to make a big play in the secondary. The Bengals have the right mix this time around on offense to earn a trip to Foxboro next Saturday night.
BENGALS 30 CHARGERS 17
NFC Wild Card Matchups
(6)New Orleans Saints at (3) Philadelphia Eagles
(Saturday, 8:10 ET, NBC)
The Philadelphia Eagles went into Dallas last Sunday and were able to pull off the NFC East title for first-year head coach Chip Kelly. After some struggles early in the season, quarterback Nick Foles has been one of the great surprises in 2013. In ten starts this season, Foles has thrown for 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Philly has also won four straight home games after having a ten-game home losing streak. You have a chance for a ton of points in this game with the offensive weapons on both sides whether its running back LeSean McCoy for the Eagles (1,607 yards, 11 combined touchdowns) or Saints' tight end Jimmy Graham (1,215 yards, 16 touchdowns).
The Saints are vastly improved on defense compared to a season ago (4th in points allowed per game), but did not end the season the way they wanted it. Sean Payton's squad went from competing for home field early in December to losing the NFC South. The problem is the Saints are much different on the road compared to the Louisiana Superdome. They are 3-5 on the road and only average 17 points in those games. Can New Orleans compete in a shootout in cold weather even with Brees and his 39 touchdowns under center).
I expect this game to be high-scoring despite the freezing temperatures in the northeast. Both offenses are going to put up points, but the Eagles have been the more opportunistic defense by forcing five turnovers in their last two games. Keep an eye on rookie cornerback Brandon Boykin. Boykin had an interception in each of the last two games. In the end, Philly is the more explosive offense and wins because of the home-field advantage.
EAGLES 38 SAINTS 34
(5) San Francisco 49ers at (4) Green Bay Packers
(Sunday, 4:40 ET, FOX)
On Sunday, these two teams will square off for the fourth time in the last two years. The San Francisco 49ers will be on the road in freezing Lambeau Field despite having a 12-4 record during the regular season. They have won the last three meetings with the Packers. Green Bay won the NFC North last week against the Chicago Bears due to the return of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Packers are healthy again on offense with Rodgers and wide receiver Randall Cobb on offense. If they are going to win, they need Eddie Lacy to be effective running the football. The second round pick out of Alabama averaged 4.6 yards per carry with five touchdowns in the month of December.
For the 49ers, they are a different team as well compared to the opening game of the season that San Francisco won 34-28 at Candlestick Park vs. the Packers. Colin Kaepernick was the star of that first game throwing for 412 yards and three touchdowns. As the season has gone on, he hasn't needed to throw as much with Frank Gore running the ball. Kaepernick threw for seven touchdowns and just one interception the month of December. Michael Crabtree is also back at wide receiver.
The difference in this game is the Packers' lack of health on defense. Linebacker Clay Matthews is going to miss this game after having surgery on his thumb last week. Green Bay is 30th in yards allowed per game and 31st in rush defense. Kaepernick ran for 181 yards in last year's NFC Divisional win for the 49ers. Dom Capers, the Packers' defensive coordinator has been unable to dial up an effective scheme to contain Kaepernick. Aaron Rodgers can put up the yards and the points, but linebackers Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, and Ahmad Brooks will make enough plays to win on the road.
49ERS 34 PACKERS 23