It’s the first weekend of 2013 and it is sure to be a good one as the NFL’s Wildcard Weekend is upon us. Football has become America’s favorite sport to watch and the four games over the next 30 or so hours should appease any sports fan’s appetite. If it doesn’t I don’t know what to tell you, because there are only 11 games left in the 2012-2013 NFL Season and you WILL miss it when it’s gone.
Without further ado here are this weekend’s matchups and what to watch for as you enjoy PLAYOFF FOOTBALL: 2013 Edition.
Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) vs. Houston Texans (12-4, AFC South Champs)
When—Today, 4:30 PM EST (NBC)
This is a rematch from last year’s wild card round when the Texans defense made the “Ginger Ninja” Andy Dalton look like the rookie that he was, sacking him four times and forcing three interceptions in a lopsided 31-10 win on Wildcard Saturday. Today, 52 weeks later the teams will square off again at Reliant Stadium, but both teams are very different than they were at this time last season. For the Bengals, Andy Dalton has improved (3669 yards, 27 TD, 16 INT this season) and his favorite target, A.J. Green, has emerged as an elite NFL WR (97 catches, 1350 yards, 11 TDS in 2012). In the Cincinnati backfield they also upgraded by acquiring the “Law Firm” BenJarvus Green-Ellis (formerly of the New England Patriots) who also had a fantastic season rushing for over 1000 yards (1094) and 6 scores on the ground. Statistically the Bengals offense was middle of the pack, but they do have the firepower to put points on the board when it matters. The D is also one of the top in the league, finishing the season 7th in opposition passing yards and 12th in opposing rushing yards.
In this game the Texans will be looking to stop a two game losing skid. Since playing an uninspired game in Foxboro on Monday Night Football the Texans have split a couple games with the Indianapolis Colts and also got blown off the field by the Minnesota Vikings. With the three losses in December the Texans fell to 12-4 on the season, and from the top seed in the AFC to third. The Texans are still a scary team as they have a prolific QB/WR combo in Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson, who finished second (to record setting Calvin Johnson) in the NFL in receiving yards with 1,598 on the year. They also have perhaps the most dominant defensive player in the NFL today, as defensive end J.J. Watt finished the 2012 campaign with 20.5 sacks and an incredible 60 tackles for zero or negative yards.
Minnesota Vikings (10-6) vs. Green Bay Packers (11-5, NFC North Champs)
When—Today, 8 PM EST (NBC)
The late game on this Wildcard Saturday is a divisional matchup in the NFC North. Both these teams are very familiar with each other, because in addition to this being a heated rivalry the teams played twice in the month of December with each team winning one. This game went down to the final second last week with the Vikings knocking off the Pack 37-34 with a Blair Walsh field goal as time expired after Adrian Peterson set him up nicely.
The gameplan for the Vikings is simple: get the ball to AD. Peterson is the best football player in the NFL right now (and deserving of both the MVP and Comeback Player of the Year, though I’d give Peyton Manning the Comeback Award), and in addition to assuming his normal role at running back he has stated that he wants to play some special teams this week. #28 is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, so it will be up to the Packers to play disciplined and make the plays that they are supposed to. If the Vikings want to win tonight they will need a great performance from quarterback Christian Ponder, who has had an up-and-down season on the field but he did damn well off it.
The Packers are looking to redeem themselves for their awful performance in last year’s playoffs, losing to the eventual champion New York Giants in their only postseason game. This year, in between “Discount Double Checks” Aaron Rodgers threw for 4,295 yards and 39 touchdowns, so the Lambeau faithful are hoping he can get that passing attack going this evening. Temperatures tonight in Green Bay are expected to be in the mid-20’s so hopefully his receivers will have their hand-warmers all ready to go.
Indianapolis Colts (11-5) vs. Baltimore Ravens (10-6, AFC North Champs)
When: Sunday, 1 PM EST (CBS)
The Colts are led by the #1 pick in the 2012 draft, quarterback Andrew Luck, and a head coach who had a well documented battle with Leukemia this season in Chuck Pagano. The motto of this Colts team is “ChuckStrong” and it is going to take a total team effort tomorrow afternoon for the Colts to knock off the Ravens in this AFC Clash. The Colts are coming off a big win over the Houston Texans last week, and there shouldn’t be too much pressure on them as nobody really expected them to even be in the hunt after a 2-14 record in 2011.
The Ravens are looking to advance, and in the back of their heads they are probably hoping for another crack at the New England Patriots after their dramatic knockout in last year’s postseason. This game is also extremely important for the team’s defensive leader in Ray Lewis, as this may be his last home game in Baltimore after 17 seasons with the club. Lewis has stated that he will be retiring at the conclusion of the season and he is expected to sign a multi-year deal with ESPN to work as an analyst. The Ravens will need a big game from running back Ray Rice who finished the 2012 regular season with 1143 yards and 9 rushing touchdowns. The more they can give the powerful “little” man the ball the less pressure that there will be on the “elite” quarterback, Mr. Joe Flacco. If Rice gets more than 25 carries I’d say the Ravens chances are pretty good to move on.
Seattle Seahawks (11-5) vs. Washington Redskins (10-6, NFC East Champs)
When—Sunday, 4:30 PM EST (Fox)
This is an intriguing matchup, especially since it involves two rookie quarterbacks playing in their first NFL postseason games. The Seattle Seahawks are a team that many “experts” are expecting to make a deep run thanks to their daunting and physical defense. ‘Skins quarterback Robert Griffin III will have his hands full today with the Seahawks D, who finished 6th overall in opposition passing yards and 10th in opposition rushing yards. Brandon Browner is expected to start for the Seahawks after returning from a four game suspension and along with Richard Sherman the Seattle secondary is considered to be the best in the league, especially when you add in strong safety Kam Chancellor.
One advantage that the Redskins do have is that they have the #1 team rushing attack in the NFL. Everyone knows how mobile and athletic RGIII is, but rookie Alfred Morris out of Florida Atlantic (by way of Pensacola, Florida) turned some heads this fall and winter in rushing for 1613 yards and 13 touchdowns. If Washington is able to move the ball on the ground they should be able to take some chances through the air as well and that plays well into RGIII’s play-action game. This could very well be a grind it out game, and it should be interesting to see who wins the individual matchups between RGIII vs. Russell Wilson, Alfred Morris vs. Marshawn Lynch, and most importantly (and the only true “matchup”) the Redskins receivers vs. the Seahawks secondary.
Enjoy the games!