Saturday, January 5, 2013

NFL Postseason Wild Card Round Preview

Cincinnati @ Houston -4 O/U 42

The Bengals are on the rise having won seven of their last eight games while Houston is spiraling downwards (having lost three out of their last four). Aside from J.J. Watt, Houston's defense isn't that good and I have to give the defensive edge to Cincinnati. Jonathan Joseph hasn't met expectations this year and one could argue Kareem Jackson is the better cornerback (I'm interested to see if they take turns on A.J. Green). Despite receiving minimal recognition, Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins has almost been as good as Watt while Leon Hall has been one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL this season.

The game plan for Cincinnati has got to be stop the run and make Matt Schaub beat you through the air. Schaub's bread and butter is play action (along with some bootlegs) and it is the primary reason for his success as a starting NFL QB. When you have (arguably) the best running back and offensive line in the league it's much easier to operate as a quarterback, so the Bengals must make it a priority to control the line of scrimmage and stop the run. 

-Andy Dalton will be making his second straight playoff appearance while Matt Schaub will hope to get the butterflies out early considering this will be his first career postseason start.

-Marvin Lewis has never won a playoff game.

-The Texans have scored two offensive touchdowns in their last three games. 
Minnesota @ Green Bay -8 O/U 45

Green Bay's defense will get a tremendous boost considering their best defensive back (and arguably most important defensive player) Charles Woodson has been cleared to play after missing nine straight games with a broken collarbone. The return of Woodson will allow Dom Capers to confuse Ponder with exotic blitzes and disguised coverages which is something they were unable to do in last week's matchup. Ponder had all the time in the world last week (and to his credit played extremely well) but I'd rather put my faith in Aaron Rodgers than Ponder. Clay Matthews was also playing on a limited snap count last week and I assume there will be no such restriction tonight.

The weather forecast indicates temperatures should be in the low twenties which definitely plays to the Packers' advantage. The Vikings are a dome team that will be playing outdoors (in freezing temperatures) on the road and their quarterback has never started a game in 40 degree weather or less.

After Winfield checked out of last week's game with a hand injury, Aaron Rodgers threw for 316 yards and the Packers scored 27 points on their final six offensive drives (all without Winfield on the field). Winfield should be available tonight but he will be wearing a cast on his hand which will definitely impact his ability to lock down Greg Jennings, amongst other receivers. Add Randall Cobb back into the mix who missed last week's game and I like Packers' chances tonight. 

-Christian Ponder is officially listed as questionable with an elbow injury but he is expected to play. (According to a Minnesota beat writer, Ponder hasn't thrown the ball at all during practice this week in an attempt to keep his elbow in place.)

Indianapolis @ Baltimore -7 O/U 47

Baltimore may have lost four of their last five games but there's more to the story. The Ravens locked up the AFC North after a win over the Giants in Week 16 and thus had nothing to play for in Week 17 against the Bengals. The other three losses came against Denver, Pittsburgh and Washington, all of whom have a combined record of 31-17 (65%) so it's not like Baltimore was playing weak opponents during their losing skid. I don't believe Ray Lewis will be much of factor in this game considering he'll be playing with torn triceps, but he should definitely give them an emotional boost that could potentially counteract the Chuckstrong movement out in Indianapolis.

As mentioned previously, dome teams playing outdoors on the road isn't usually a recipe for success, especially in the playoffs with a rookie quarterback. Andrew Luck has more interceptions than touchdowns when playing on the road. Remember this team got blown out by the Jets earlier in the season. The Colts have easily played the weakest schedule compared to the other playoff teams. Indianapolis' defense allows 5.1 yards per rushing attempt (31st in NFL) and Ray Rice should have a field day. With that said you never know with this Colts team and I'm going to have to pass.

-Joe Flacco is 34-7 at home during his career but only 21-20 against the spread.  
-The Ravens are the only team to make the playoffs each of the past five years.

-It's been 14 weeks since the Colts' bye week while it's been 10 weeks since Baltimore's.

-Andrew Luck hasn't completed more than 50% of his passes in any of the past five games.

-Chuck Pagano was the defensive coordinator of the Ravens last season.

Seattle -3 @ Washington O/U 46

Robert Griffin III is clearly not 100% healthy (even if he is somewhat healthy that bulky knee brace limits his mobility) and he did not look like himself last week against Dallas (50% completion percentage and only 100 yards passing). Kyle Shanahan will have to limit the playbook (and potentially eliminate some of the misdirections) while the play action threat will become less effective because of Griffin's injury. (RG3 used play action 36.1% of the time which lead the NFL.) Alfred Morris appears to be in line for another 30+ carries, but that's not the recipe for success against this stout Seahawks defense. Granted Seattle's weakness is their rush defense (23rd in NFL) but RG3 will have to effectively throw the football because you cannot be one-dimensional against the Seahawks and expect to win. 

Seattle has played one of the toughest schedules in the league (5th in NFL) while the Redskins have faced average competition (15th in NFL). Washington's defense is mediocre at best, while Seattle has arguably the best defense in the league. Seattle's defense allows an NFL-best 15.3 points per game while the Redskins' defense gives up 24.2 points per game (21st in NFL) and I believe that will be the difference in the game. Seattle's offense should be able to consistently drive down the field on Washington but I'm not sure the Redskins' offense will be able to do the same against the Seahawks. Additionally, Washington's red zone scoring defense is particularly suspect and definitely concerns me.
-Pete Carroll is 3-13 against the spread as a road favorite during his career.

-Seattle's average margin of victory is third in the league behind New England and Denver (+10.5 points per game).

-Seahawks are 6-0 against the spread in their last six games against teams with a winning record.

Seattle is 6-1 against teams with a winning record while Washington is 5-3. 

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