The NFL season is 17 weeks long, and in those four months there have been a plethora of key injuries and compelling story lines that extend outside the playing field. This Sunday saw the dust settle on the 12 teams in the tournament to decide who will hoist the Lombardi Trophey in early February.
Sunday solidified the murky picture of where teams would be seeded, who would get a bye week, and whom would avoid a key injury entering the final showdowns heading into the playoffs.
Now that we know who is playing where, let us take a closer look at the matchups and particular details that make the games must watch for next weekend.
There will be four teams resting at home this first weekend, as they get a pass for securing the top 2 seeds in each confrence. In the AFC Denver secured the top spot while New England backed in to the second seed after going 2-4 in their final 6 games. In the NFC Carolina dismissed Tampa Bay to lock up the top spot while Arizona took the second spot.
AFC Wild Card:
1) Kansas City Chiefs @ Houston Texans
4:15 Saturday, January 9 on ESPN/ABC.
This game features the hottest team in all of football, due to KC ripping off 10 straight wins after an abysmal 1-5 start. Houston, in similar fashion, has rebounded from a 2-5 start, surged past division rival Indianapolis to secure the division title, setting up a very interesting matchup. It would appear to be a compelling defensive matchup as both teams do a great job on that side of the ball pressuring quarterbacks, forcing turnovers, and making opposing offenses become one dimensional. JJ Watt has recovered completely from his injured left hand, which is bad news for Kansas City's offensive line. The same can be said for Houston's offensive line as the spectacular Justin Houston is also back to terrorize the Houston backfield. Houston has resorted to using 4 QB's this season with Brian Hoyer taking the reigns for the tournament.
Prediction: Kansas City 20 Houston 13
2) Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals
8:15 Saturday, January 9 on CBS
Ring the bell for round three between these NFL division rivals who split their regular season matchups. No love will be lost, due to each teams injuring key players for the other. LeVeon Bell of Pittsburgh was lost to an ACL injury after being tackled by Bengals linebacker in the first game. 4 weeks ago Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton injured his thumb against Pittsburgh, which allowed the Steelers to overwhelm backup AJ Mcarron. 10 years ago these two also faced off in the Wildcard round, which saw Bengals QB Carson Palmer's knee get blown out on the first offensive play from scrimmage. The Steelers have 6 NFL championships and the most explosive offense in the NFL, but they are missing there top two running backs after losing Deangelo Williams in week 17's win over Cleveland. The Bengals have not won a playoff game since 1990, have lost their 5 previous playoff games under head coach Marvin Lewis, and may still be without Andy Dalton for their rubber match with the hated Steelers.
Prediction: Cincinnati 24 Pittsburgh 21
3) Seattle Seahawks @ Minnesota Vikings
1:05 Sunday, January 10 on NBC
The Seahawks are back again vying for another trip to the Super Bowl. Seattle has played in the last two, winning one and one yard away from back to back titles if not for New England defensive back Malcolm Butler. Quarterback Russel Wilson is on a 7 game hot streak in which he has thrown 24 TD and 1 interception and running back Marshawn Lynch (beastmode) has recovered from nagging injuries that has kept him out for several weeks. Considering Seattle has rounded back into the team that has dominated the NFC for the past three years and a drubbing of Arizona to the tune of 36-6 on Sunday. Minnesota is coming off a win on the road to secure their division over the rival Packers. Second year QB Teddy Bridgewater has embodided head coach Mike Zimmer's attitude, paired with Adrian Peterson's return to form, and a non name defense that has been stout all year has led to the Vikings being a legitimate contender. Can the young Vikings knock off the big dog in the two time NFC champion Seahawks? It would seem that the expierences Seattle squad will have none of it, but Minnesota has been an after thought all year and here they are as defending champs.
Prediction: Seattle 17 Minnesota 14
4) Green Bay Packers @ Washington Redskins
4:40 Sunday, January 10 on Fox
Washington has rallied behind signal caller Kirk Cousins, a stout defense, and a solid balance between the running of Matt Jones and big plays of their recieving corps. Despite playing in the weakest divison in football, Washington has put together a decent squad that gives opposing teams fits. Green Bay has had a roller coaster of a season, considering at one pont they were 6-0, their offense looked unstoppable with Aaron Rodgers throwing darts all over the field. Things have taken a dramatic turn and questions of offensive futility brought on by poor offensive line play, a lack of running game that has allowed defenses to focus primararly on Rodgers. Key injuries to their reciving corps has seen second and third options forced to step up and that just has not happened. Following a loss at home with the division on the line against Minnesota on Sunday night.
Prediction: Green Bay 20 Washington 17
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