It seems like ages since these two teams played each other at NRG Stadium in Week 1. Both teams had their ups and downs since the Chiefs won the game 27-20. The Chiefs lost their next five games after the season opener and then underwent a stunning turnaround to win their final ten games to become the second team since the merger to make the playoffs after starting 1-5. The Texans also got off to a slow start as they struggled to find a quarterback. Brian Hoyer started the season lost his job to Ryan Mallett, who in turn lost it back to Hoyer, with the Texans losing five of their first six games. Injuries played a role in the Texans quarterback troubles, but T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden played well in relief of Hoyer as the Texans themselves finished strong to win the AFC South. The Texans have to be happy with how their offense has looked the last few weeks, scoring 64 points in their last two games. With their defense led by J.J. Watt the Texans don’t need too many points to be in good position to win the game. The Chiefs themselves have been winning with defense, as first year corner Marcus Peters and Safety Eric Berry give them one of the best secondaries in the NFL. The winning streak by Kansas City is impressive, but most of it was done against the bottom of the NFL as just two of their ten wins came against playoff teams. Both teams have significantly improved since their first meeting, and while Brian Hoyer’s lack of playoff experience is a concern against the Chiefs secondary it is hard for a road team to win twice in the same stadium in the same season. The Chiefs have had their struggles in the last few weeks, sweating out games against the Browns and Raiders at home. There is a reason ten game winning streaks are rare in the NFL and sustaining a streak gets harder every week. Another stat that is troubling for the Chiefs is the fact they have not won a playoff game in 22 years. The Texans defense will be the key as J.J. Watt will force a few turnovers while Hoyer is just good enough to get Houston a win.
A tale of two cities should be the theme every time the Steelers and Bengals get together. The Steelers for the last four decades have been NFL royalty, with six Super Bowl championships and eight trips to the big game. The Bengals have meanwhile largely disappointed their fans as they have not won a playoff game since before the first Iraq War 25 years ago. The Bengals spent more than a decade as one of the worst teams in the NFL, but in recent years have been on the rise, making the playoffs for a fifth straight season. However, in the postseason the Bengals seem to forget how to play, even losing games at home including two years ago to the Chargers. This was mainly due to the struggles of Quarterback Andy Dalton, who is sidelined with a thumb injury suffered last month against these same Steelers. The Bengals now turn to A.J. McCarron to beat one of the best offenses in the NFL. McCarron won two National Championships at Alabama, but in three starts had mixed results after taking over for Dalton in the first quarter of Week 14 against the Steelers. The Steelers defense is vulnerable to big passing games with their secondary struggling all season, but I just don’t see A.J. McCarron and his lack of experience doing it on such a big stage. On the other side of the ball the Steelers have nothing but championship experience, with Ben Roethlisberger taking Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl three times since 2005, winning twice. This includes the 2005 season which began with a playoff win at Paul Brown Stadium. With the high level that Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are playing at the Steelers could again come out of the sixth spot and win the Super Bowl this year. The Steelers offense was one of the best in the NFL all season, but was even stronger in the second half, scoring at least 28 points in seven of their final eight games. The Steelers dominance in Cincinnati also is a positive as they have won 14 of 17 games since Paul Brown Stadium opened in 2000, with Roethlisberger winning 11 of 13 starts in the Queen City. Even with a franchise best 12-4 record it is hard to see the Bengals reversing all these trends.
It has been nearly 40 years since the Vikings hosted an outdoor playoff game in the frozen Minnesota air. With a new domed stadium opening next September, their Wild Card round game against the Seahawks will be a one-time nostalgic throwback to the days at old Metropolitan Stadium, which were a big part of the NFL during the 70’s. The Seahawks are seeking to become the first NFC team to reach the Super Bowl in three straight seasons, this time needing to do it on the road after dominating the last two years in their own stadium. Despite a hiccup in Week 16 the Seahawks finished the regular season strong, winning six of their final seven games with Russell Wilson playing the best football of his career with the Seattle offense scoring at least 29 points in seven of their final eight games. This includes a December 6th matchup at TCF Bank Stadium, where the Seahawks crushed the Vikings 38-7. That loss has to be a big concern for the Vikings as it showed that when the Seahawks are at the top of their game they are no match for the Purple gang. The Seahawks should get a big boost with Marshawn Lynch returning to action for the playoffs. Though he would never tell you unless he was contractedly obligated it was a frustrating season for Lynch, who was limited to six games with injuries. Reports are that Marshawn Lynch is full speed and ready to play, a fresh Lynch for the postseason could make the Seahawks a dangerous team, especially if he is still able to kick into Beast Mode. The Vikings are a team on the rise, Adrian Peterson is still one of the top runners in the game, capturing the NFL rushing title and Teddy Bridgewater is a fine young quarterback with a bright future, but when you way a second year starter against a Super Bowl battle tested team the matchups look bleak for the Vikings. The only hope for Minnesota is that the subzero temperature provides an equalizer. However, with the Seahawks rush defense ranked number three it is hard to see the weather being that big of advantage for the Vikings. The game may be close for a half but in the end the Seahawks will pull away to set up a showdown next week in Carolina.
On paper you would think this game be a mismatch in favor of the Packers as when both teams are healthy they could run rings around Redskins. However, the Packers have not been healthy all season as they lost their top receiver Jordy Nelson in the pre-season. The Packers have gotten solid seasons from players like James Jones and Richard Rodgers, but it just has failed to match the efficiency of last year. The Packers have especially struggled in the red zone, costing them at least two or three games this season. Making matters worse Aaron Rodgers has been forced to run for his life in the second half of the seasons, as the Packers offensive line has also been ravaged by injuries, while Green Bay has struggled all season to get their running game on track. Picked by most experts to finish last in the NFC East, the Redskins climbed to the top, as they were the only team to post a winning record in the division. The Redskins were especially strong at FedEx Field, winning six of eight games at home. The key to the Redskins success was Quarterback Kirk Cousins, who finally being given the starting job took the bull by the horns, and passed for 4,166 yards with 29 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. Cousins was even stronger as the season came to a close as the Redskins scored more than 30 points in their final three games, including road wins over the Eagles and Cowboys. The turning point for the Redskins came in Week 7 when they overcame a 24-0 deficit to beat the Buccaneers. Cousins had three touchdowns including the game winner as his fiery speech after the game lit up the web. Add that the Packers defense has struggled in recent weeks as they were embarrassed two weeks ago by the Cardinals in Arizona. It is hard to big against trends such as this, with the game in Washington the Redskins playing well and the Packers backing into the playoffs. Look for a big game by Kirk Cousins as he helps beam up the Redskins into the second round for the first time in a decade.