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Saturday, January 09, 2016

NFL Wild Card Saturday

by JASmius

Okay, so this year I don't love Wild Card weekend quite as much.  Oh, sure, I love the playoffs, even though first round matchups are occasionally compelling but mostly less "hit" and more "miss," but mostly because the one-yard-away-from-two-time-defending World Champs do not have either the #1 seed in the NFC nor a first round bye and have to go on the road for the playoffs to forecasted-to-be-zero-degree Minnesota tomorrow - and that's not wind chill factor, that's predicted to be the ambient game-time temperature; the wind child factor is predicted to be twenty below.  Consequently we will not have the chance to give Marshawn Lynch an extra week to get ready to return, nor Kam Chancellor (pelvis) nor Jordan Hill (calf) nor Russell Okung (calf) nor Luke Willson (concussion) and so many others that I can't remember them all.  Though reportedly all that can come back should play other than Willson and Lynch, who was a late scratch just this morning.

But I can still fall into my comfortable recliner on this afternoon and, with sleep, food, and potty breaks, watch (almost) every snap of all four games straight through Sunday evening. And best of all, I can (hopefully) watch the 'hawks put the fear of God Himself into the Carolina Panthers or Arizona Cardinals next week.

The Chiefs come into this playoff matchup riding a ten-game winning streak.  That's the good news; the bad news is that only two of those ten wins were quality wins against 2015 playoff teams (23-13 over the Steelers at Arrowhead, and 29-13 over the AFC West Champion Broncos at Denver).  But no team gets to pick its schedule, and KC did take care of business down the stretch.

Houston, meanwhile, played in the weakest division in the NFL and benefited from Colts quarterback Andrew Luck's season-ending internal injuries from which he was never able to recover.  Though they do always seem to have a good defense, although that may be more J.J. Watt's reputation than anything else.

The tale of the tape:

POWER RANKING: Chiefs #6, Oilers (Yes, I'm a stubborn traditionalist) #10

TOTAL OFFENSE: Oilers #19, Chiefs #27
RUSHING OFFENSE: Chiefs #6, Oilers #15
PASSING OFFENSE: Oilers #18, Chiefs #30

TOTAL DEFENSE: Oilers #3, Chiefs #7
RUSHING DEFENSE: Chiefs #8, Oilers #10
PASSING DEFENSE: Oilers #3, Chiefs #9

Okay, so Houston's defensive prowess isn't just J.J. Watt's reputation. Though he's still most of it.

Both teams' defenses excel, but while the Oilers are mediocre across the board offensively, the Chiefs running game should be the difference in a close, low-scoring rematch of their encounter in Week #1 , also a Chiefs victory..

Kansas City*
Houston (+3)

I continue to shake my head in dismay at the bias towards offense in this league.  The two teams that are being called the most dangerous in the 2015 postseason and the ones that nobody wants to face are the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC and the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC.  But whereas we have the league's #2 defense and top scoring defense (for the fourth year in a row, the first team to do so in six decades, thank you very much) to complement the hottest quarterback in the league in Russell Wilson, the Steelers, while they do have one of the NFL's most potent passing games, absolutely hug the root on defense.  And, oh by the way, they won't have D'Angelo Williams, out with an ankle injury, so they're going to be awfully one-dimensional offensively.  Which gets back to Roethlisberger having thrown six interceptions in the past three games.

Meanwhile, Cincy comes into this post-season fresh off another AFC North title and their strongest season since perhaps their last Super Bowl year in 1988, and even if they don't get Andy Dalton back this week as well, A.J. McCarron has proven to be a sufficiently adequate substitute.  Of course, they also have the stigma of the past four seasons' underachieving one-and-done playoff performances to overcome, too.  But what more likely year to break through that futility and put it to rest than 2015?

The tale of the tape:

POWER RANKING: Steelers #2, Bengals #5

TOTAL OFFENSE: Steelers #3, Bengals #15
RUSHING OFFENSE: Bengals #13, Steelers #16
PASSING OFFENSE: Steelers #3, Bengals #15

TOTAL DEFENSE:  Bengals #11, Steelers #21
RUSHING DEFENSE: Steelers #5, Bengals #7
PASSING DEFENSE: Bengals #20, Steelers #30

The Bengals offense is average, while their defense is better against the run than the pass.  The Steelers offense is one of the best, but their defense is godawful against the pass.  Which suggests to me, given the added element of Ben Roethlisberger having thrown two picks in each of his last three starts, a shootout in which this time, turnovers prove to be the difference, providing Cincy with a measure of revenge for the Steelers' earlier triumph at the Jungle.

Cincinnati* (+2.5)

Defense, in other words, still rules the playoff roost, and always will.

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