Breaking down this weekends NFL wild-card games:
Cincinnati at Houston(Saturday, 4:30 p.m., NBC)
Key stat: The Cincinnati defense allowed an average of 12.8 points per game in the final eight games of the regular season.Hot and cold: The Texans cooled off at the wrong time. They were 11-1 at one point but they werent the same after their 42-14 drubbing in New England. They lost three of their last four in the regular season.Momentum: The Bengals have won seven of their last eight games.Intangibles: The Bengals have revenge on their side. They lost to Houston in the wild-card round last season, 31-10. Quarterback Andy Dalton was intercepted three times.Player to watch: Houstons J.J. Watt was the most disruptive defensive player in the NFL this season. He led the league with 20 and batted down 15 passes. He made the big play in last seasons win over the Bengals, intercepting a Dalton pass and returning it for a touchdown.Prediction: Houston stumbled down the stretch and quarterback Matt Schaub is in a funk (one touchdown pass in the last four games), but I still believe they are the better team and will bounce back at home.Texans 20, Bengals 17.Minnesota at Green Bay(Saturday, 8 p.m., NBC)
Key stat: The Vikings are not a great team on the road (3-5 in the regular season) and all three wins came in domes -- Detroit, St. Louis and Houston (roof closed). Now they have to play on the frozen tundra at Lambeau Field.Hot and cold: The weather forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-teens for the 8 p.m. kickoff. There was a time when the Vikings loved playing in those conditions. That is not true anymore. They are just another dome team now.Momentum: You would have to say the Vikings have the edge in this department since they defeated the Packers on Sunday, 37-34. Prior to that, the Packers had won five in a row against the Vikings.Intangibles: This will be the third meeting between these division rivals in 34 days. I have a feeling the Green Bay defense is getting really tired of seeing Adrian Peterson.Player to watch: Clearly, it is Peterson. He had 55 carries for 409 yards in two games against Green Bay during the regular season. He won the rushing title with 2,097 yards, falling just short of Eric Dickersons single-season record. He carried the Vikings to the postseason on his shoulders.Prediction: Viking quarterback Christian Ponder looked good last Sunday against the Packers, but this is the playoffs and Charles Woodson will be back in the lineup. I cant see Ponder outdueling Aaron Rodgers (105.5 postseason passer rating) in this spot.Packers 28, Vikings 10.Indianapolis at Baltimore(Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS)Key stat: Colts rookie Andrew Luck had seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, tying for the most by any quarterback since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.Hot and cold: The Colts' run defense allows an average of 137.5 yards per game. The Ravens are 23-3 when Ray Rice has 25 or more touches. Look for many helpings of Rice on Sunday.Momentum: The Ravens are 1-4 in their last five games, although they chose to rest some veterans in last Sundays loss to Cincinnati.Intangibles: The Colts have been inspired all season by head coach Chuck Paganos courageous battle against leukemia. That certainly wont diminish Sunday as Pagano returns to Baltimore where he was once defensive coordinator under John Harbaugh.Player to watch: Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis announced this week that he will retire after this season. At 37, he is not the same fearsome player he once was but he will have it cranked up for one last run at the Super Bowl.Prediction: The Ravens come into the playoffs on a down note and the Colts are red hot, but the Ravens have a huge edge in postseason experience (they are the only team in the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year) and the Colts are new to all this. This looks like a tough spot for Indy.Ravens 23, Colts 14.
Seattle at Washington(Sunday, 4:30 p.m., FOX)Key stat: The Redskins led the league with 2,709 yards rushing. It is the first time in the history of the franchise the Redskins accomplished that feat. They did not do it with John Riggins or Clinton Portis, but they did it with rookies Robert Griffin III (815) and Alfred Morris (1,613) leading the way.Hot and cold: Griffin has excelled as a dual threat with the Redskins, but Russell Wilson has been equally dynamic for Seattle. He has a passer rating of at least 104.4 in seven of the last eight games.Momentum: The Seahawks have outscored their opponents 193-60 in their current five-game winning streak. The Redskins have won seven in a row and are only the fifth team in NFL history to make the playoffs after a 3-6 start.Intangibles: The Seahawks have defeated the Redskins the last two times they met in the postseason (2005 and 2007) but both of those games were played in Seattle. This is only the second time in NFL history that two rookie quarterbacks faced each other in the postseason. The first was last season when Andy Dalton and T.J. Yates (replacing an injured Matt Schaub) started for Cincinnati and Houston.Player to watch: In this case, two players. Seattle safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor will have to be aggressive in shutting down the Redskins' running attack, but if they are too aggressive they will leave themselves vulnerable to big plays through the air. They are the keys to the Seahawk defense.Prediction: If RG3 was 100 percent I might favor the Redskins at home, but he is not. He is limited with the brace on his knee and without his running threat this isnt the same offense. The Seahawks have the leagues best scoring defense (15.3 points per game) and Wilson should hit some big plays against the Redskins' blitz.Seahawks 28, Redskins 21.
E-mail Ray Didinger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Breaking down this weekends NFL wild-card games: