The NFL playoffs kick off tomorrow afternoon, starting with Bengals-Texans at 4:30. We asked four of our writers to give their thoughts on who will be victorious in each of this weekend’s matchups. Interestingly enough, no writers had the same picks.
Danny Lei: Houston; Matt Schaub has failed to throw a touchdown pass in five games this year. All four of Houston’s losses have come in these games, and that fifth game was a beatdown of the Jaguars. The Texans go as he goes, but I expect Schaub will come out strong in his long-awaited playoff debut.
Jay Hashop: Houston; One of the best indicators of Houston’s recent collapse on defense is their inability to get off the field. In their three losses in the past four weeks, the Texans have allowed third down conversion rates of at least 50 percent in each one, while the Colts converted only one third down in Houston’s most recent win. Cincinnati’s poor 34% clip on third down for the season doesn’t bode well for the Bengals.
Bruno Velloso: Cincinnati; The Texans’ slide really began in Week 11, where they needed OT to beat Jacksonville and Detroit, followed by a sloppy win over the Titans before losing three of their last four games. In those three losses, Schaub posted a passer rating of 72.1 or below. The Bengals, meanwhile, are hot, having won seven of their past eight. In those eight games, they have allowed a passer rating above 70 only twice, and not one above 80.
Chad Horner: Cincinnati; The Texans haven’t played a truly impressive game since they dismantled Baltimore over two months ago. They backed into the playoffs, becoming the first team ever to be 11-1 and end up playing a game on Wild Card Weekend. These teams are moving in opposite directions, and unless they get a huge game out of Arian Foster, I think the Texans are finished.
Danny Lei: Green Bay; With most analysts giving the Vikes a huge edge in the running game for this matchup, it’s surprising that the Packers have actually been more successful than the Vikings in short-yardage situations on 3rd and 4th downs this year by a solid 15%, according to Football Outsiders. On top of that, the gap between Rodgers and Ponder is just too wide.
Jay Hashop: Green Bay; Christian Ponder has taken only five sacks in the Vikings’ past four games, all wins. Ponder’s ability to stay on his feet is vital to Minnesota’s ability to continue drives, especially since Ponder ranks second-to-last among qualified quarterbacks in pass yards per attempt. However, the Packers didn’t need any sacks to beat Minnesota last time at Lambeau, and I can’t see Ponder going four straight games without an interception for a second time this season.
Bruno Velloso: Green Bay; Adrian Peterson scares me. But Rodgers, coming off a loss and more motivated then ever, scares me more. He has posted passer ratings of 116.8, 125.1, and 131.8 in his last three games, with an injured receiving core. With Cobb, Nelson, and Jennings all back, he should be good to go. With Charles Woodson coming back, I expect the Packers’ defense to play better against Ponder than they did last week.
Chad Horner: Green Bay; Christian Ponder had the best game of his career last week, and the Vikings barely won. I don’t see him replicating anything near that performance this week, especially in Lambeau. Rodgers is still on a tear, and with Nelson returning and Jennings finally rounding back into form, I think the Packers should take care of business rather easily this week.
Danny Lei: Indianapolis; Andrew Luck is already better than Joe Flacco can ever hope to be, and the Colts have been winning close games all year. Ray Rice just posted his lowest rushing total and yard/attempt since becoming the starting back in Baltimore.
Jay Hashop: Baltimore; Andrew Luck has played 14 consecutive quarters of interception-free football, but the man to watch Sunday is Joe Flacco. In six home wins, the Flaccocoaster has compiled a passer rating of 105.4, a mark that plummets to 69.8 in the Ravens’ two home losses to Pittsburgh and Denver. The Steelers and Broncos are top-three teams in passing yardage allowed; the Colts rank 21st in that same category. That simply won’t get it done.
Bruno Velloso: Baltimore; With Ray Lewis announcing his retirement, I expect the Ravens to be extremely motivated. Given how the Ravens dismantled the Giants the last time their starters played fully, I hope they can get up for at least this playoff game. Meanwhile, with a DVOA (Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) that ranks 25th in the league, Indy may be one of the worst playoff teams in recent memory. The Ravens should win at home.
Chad Horner: Baltimore; The Colts are not good. In fact, they are bad. They’re in the bottom half of the league in yards per attempt and yards per carry on both offense and defense, and they have played the weakest schedule in the league. My opinion on the Colts hasn’t changed after unimpressive victories over the Chiefs and Texans, and the Ravens should annihilate them. I’m always wrong when I pick against the Colts, so they’ll probably win again. But they shouldn’t.
Danny Lei: Seattle; Russell Wilson has outperformed RGIII in both DYAR (which measures the total value of the player) and DVOA (which measures the per-play value of the player). He also is much healthier at this point in the season, as anyone who saw RGIII limp around last week can attest to.
Jay Hashop: Seattle; Another likeness between two teams that look similar on paper: both Washington and Seattle rank in the top 10 in rushing yards allowed despite having below-average yards-per-carry averages. The biggest difference appears to be Seattle’s third-ranked pass defense (by yards per game and yards per attempt), which could make the Redskins one-dimensional. Alfred Morris faces much tougher sledding this week than he did against a decimated Dallas front seven in week 17.
Bruno Velloso: Seattle; I will be rooting heavily for my hometown Redskins, but I just have to pick the Seahawks. Russell Wilson has posted an unheard of 120.3 passer rating in the second half of the season, ahead of a red-hot Rodgers (108.1) and Manning (103.1). The Seahawks’ DVOA of 38.3% is not only the highest in the league this year, but the 6th highest since 1991. Three of the top five made the Super Bowl, and two won it. The Seahawks are good.
Chad Horner: Washington; The Seahawks simply aren’t nearly as good on the road as they are at home. I expect this game to be a bit of a shootout – Seattle’s biggest weak spot is their run defense, while Washington’s running game is by far their biggest strength. The Hawks should be able to run on the Redskins as well, but ultimately I expect the lack of home field advantage to be their downfall.