While the Arizona Cardinals continue to search for their new head coach and general manager, the NFL playoffs commence this weekend with Wild Card Weekend. The Houston Texans will be hosting the Cincinnati Bengals for the second year in a row to get things started. Let's take a quick look at Saturday's two contests:
AFC: Cincinnati (#6 seed) at Houston (#3 seed)
The Bengals will be looking to avenge a 31-10 loss to the Texans in this spot last year and will be facing a Houston contingent that slumped at the worst time this season. The Texans could have wrapped up the number one seed in the AFC twice but dropped their last two games. They're not playing their best – can the Cats take advantage?
Quarterback Andy Dalton will have a lot of say in that. The red-haired signal-caller guided Cincinnati (10-6) to its first consecutive playoff berths since 1981-82 and threw for 3,669 yards and 27 touchdowns this season. A.J. Green is one of the top wide receivers in the NFL (97 catches for 1350 yards and 11 TD) and the Law Firm, Ben-Jarvis Green-Ellis (1,094 rushing yards) will try and establish a solid running attack. Dalton will be looking to make amends for last year's poor performance when he tossed three interceptions and was sacked four times.
Matt Schaub will make his first postseason start for the Texans (12-4). He missed last year's game with a foot injury in favor of T.J. Yates. Houston will try and regain its early season form behind defensive end J.J. Watt, who led the NFL with 20 1/2 sacks. Offensively, the Texans have some of the best weapons in the game in running back Arian Foster, who was sixth in the league in rushing (1,424 yards) and first in touchdowns (15); and wide receiver Andre Johnson, who finished second in the NFL with 1,598 receiving yards with four TD. Tight end Owen Daniels (62-716-6) is a dangerous red zone threat.
Prediction: The Bengals have a real shot here but look for the Texans to right the ship in front of the home faithful. Houston 24, Cincinnati 20.
NFC: Minnesota (#6 seed ) at Green Bay (#3 seed)
The tundra will be frozen at Lambeau Field with a game time temperature predicted to be 17 degrees. These NFC North rivals will be meeting for the second week in a row and third time in six weeks. They're both 1-1. These teams have only met once in the playoffs though, a 31-17 Vikings triumph at Lambeau in the 2004 NFC wild card round.
ThThe Packers (11-5) will look to contain Adrian Peterson – easier said that done. AP had had a phenomenal season for Minnesota (10-6), falling just eight yards short of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record with 2,097 yards and 13 total touchdowns. Can the Pack do it? They certainly haven't so far this season. In two games against Green Bay this season, Peterson has rushed for 409 yards and scored three touchdowns. In six career games in Green Bay, the four-time All-Pro has averaged 106 yards on the ground with five touchdowns.
Green Bay has a myriad of weapons and none better than 2011 NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers. The multi-talented Rodgers has been brilliant against the Vikings, completing 75 percent of his passes (with 16 touchdown passes and one interception) in his last five games against Minnesota for a 132.5 passer rating. His favorite receiver, Greg Jennings, appears to be healthy again as evidenced by his two TD receptions against the Vikes last Sunday. Jordy Nelson appears to be recovered from his hamstring injury while James Jones (14 TD catches), Randall Cobb (a team-leading 80 receptions for 954 yards) and tight end Jermichael Finley (61-667-2) give Rodgers a wealth of options to choose from.
Prediction: Different week, different venue. Despite Peterson's greatness, the Packers have just too many weapons and experience for the Vikings. Remember this is the first playoff game for Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder. AP can only do so much. Green Bay 31, Minnesota 23.
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