Ah, it's the most magical time of the year (though next weekend is the real cherry) the NFL playoffs! We now know who's in, so let's get stuck right into it.
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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (#5) @ INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (#4)
The only game that definitely won't be effected by the wild weather this weekend is this one, which is a huge advantage to the home-bound Colts. These two met in Kansas two weeks ago in a fairly meaningless game after Kansas switched off after being swept by the Broncos, leaving the Colts to pick up an easy victory. Don't expect it to be so clear cut this time though as the Chiefs' reserve squad showed a valiant effort against the Chargers last week and Jamaal Charles playing some career-defining football at the tail end of a slumping season. Amazingly, Kansas' 5 losses this season came to AFC playoff teams (Broncos, Chargers & Colts) whereas the Colts are 4-0 against playoff teams beating the Broncos, 49ers, Seahawks and indeed Chiefs.
If the Chiefs' pass rush can be as incredibly effective as it was at the beginning of the season, they can shut Luck down. Last time out, it was the Colts who consistently managed to get to Alex Smith and make his life hell. This should be a tight, intriguing game, but all the numbers are pointing towards a Colts win at home. They've learnt to live without their best receiver Reggie Wayne, and have quietly ended the season with more defensive prowess than before. If the Chiefs can't re-capture that frankly scary form from the start of the season, then it does not bode well for them. (IND by 3)
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (#6) @ PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (#3)
To say the Eagles are hot right now is a bit of an understatement. As fun as this game should be (as Saints playoff games often are) I am frankly amazed at the amount of people who picked the Saints in the previous thread. The Saints have never won a playoff game on the road, and they ended the season with a string of disappointing away losses. Meanwhile, the Eagles have been on fantastic form (minor blip at Minnesota notwithstanding) effectively eliminating the Cardinals, Lions, Bears and Cowboys in the process. On top of that, there's a good chance of snow and certainly very cold weather, which does not bode well for the pass happy Saints, so expect Shady McCoy to have yet another monster game. (PHI by 7)
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (#6) @ CINCINNATI BENGALS (#3)
This should probably be the most intriguing and unpredictable game, for although the Bengals are undeniably a much stronger, well rounded squad, they have been pathetic in their previous 2 playoff games and any game involving the Bolts is unpredictable by definition. I would LOVE the Bolts to go all the way (and like the Saints, Packers, Giants and Ravens before them, their visit to Philly at the beginning of the season means they will...) but the odds are stacked against them, again, rather like the Ravens before them. Phillip Rivers is having one helluva year, has a decent record in cold weather games and on his day can beat anyone (he beat Denver @ Mile High three weeks ago) with the two headed beast of Danny Woodhead and Ryan Mathews behind him. Andy Dalton has equally shown that on his day, he can beat anyone (with a little help from A.J Green, Marvin Jones and Giovanni Bernard) but importantly, this depends on which Andy Dalton shows up. His two playoff appearances prior to this have been awful (0 TDs, 4 INTs) but he has been much better this year, leading the Bengals to an undefeated season at home (something even the formidable Seahawks couldn't manage).
So ultimately, this game depends on which Rivers and Dalton turn up. If they both do, we could have a classic on our hands; neither of them, a scrap; just one of them and it will be a damp squib. Chargers' D has tightened up as of late, but they're really going to have their work cut out for them against this explosive offence. This puts extra pressure on Rivers to get through the strong Bengals' defensive unit. The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since 1990, so it would be a big victory if they pull it off, and my head says they almost certainly will, but my word when these Chargers show up, they can really play. (CIN by 4-5)
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (#5) @ GREEN BAY PACKERS (#4)
They've only gone and done it again. The Niners may well have ended the season in terrific form, but the Packers' last minute entry into the playoffs just feels familiar. Of course the Niners are a stronger squad all-round; Boldin has remembered he won a superbowl this year, Kaepernick that he lead this squad to the same superbowl, their D has showed up to be the tough unit that helped them get there last year as well. But when Aaron Rodgers gets into the playoffs, things happen. He has the third highest playoff QB rating ever (being Bart Starr & Drew Brees) and after a slow start coming back from injury (and looking a little porky) in Chicago last week, he once again proves he is one of the best QB's to play the game, banishing yet another division foe in the closing moments of the season, with some absolutely thrilling play.
It is for these reasons (and the freezing, probably snowing conditions) that I can only see a Pack win. In what will surely be the game of the weekend, the Niners will bullishly try everything to win as the far more rounded team of the contest (the Pack's D is pretty woeful) but they always do just enough to keep Rodgers in the game and do the rest. It shouldn't be the way, but this is where the weekend's upset is. (GB by 4-5)