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One More Chance
Baltimore’s future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis has already announced that this is his final year playing football. His journey for one more championship begins this weekend against Indianapolis’ standout rookie quarterback Andrew Luck in a game that could be his final game of his illustrious career.
AFC/NFC Wild Card Playoff Round
Saturday, January 5
AFC Wild Card Playoff 4:30 PM ET – TV: NBC
Cincinnati Bengals (6) 10-6 @ Houston Texans (3) 12-4
Carlos Dunlap, Domata Peko, Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson anchor the Bengals defensive line, a group that all together weighs in averaging 300 lbs. These four monsters will play a key role going up against one of the better offensive lines in the game the Texans sport. Although Houston’s offensive line has done a tremendous job for most of the season, the offensive line’s pass protection hasn’t been up to par over the past few weeks and quarterback Matt Schaub has been pressured often, taking big hits in the pocket. So it’s time for Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and head coach Gary Kubiak to take caution going up against arguably the best defensive front in the game. Look for Dennison’s game plan to get back to the basics of what the Texans do best, and that’s use their run-zone-blocking schemes handing the football off to running back Arian Foster. Foster suffered an arrhythmia on Dec. 23 against Minnesota, but bounced back the following week despite Houston closing the regular season with two consecutive losses. What I like most about these zone-blocking offensive lines is having a complete back like Foster that has the ability to stretch a defensive line like Cincinnati’s that will have to be extremely disciplined in their gap reads. Plus, Foster can catch out of the back-field on screens and turn it up field. What I’m basically saying is Houston has a little more mustard on the Hot Dog offensively that will make a big play or two more in the passing game, because of establishing an effective running game. Texans 27, Bengals 20.
NFC Wild Card Playoff 8:00 PM ET – TV: NBC
Minnesota Vikings (6) 10-6 @ Green Bay Packers (3) 11-5
In both games during the regular season against Green Bay, Adrian Peterson carried the football 55-times for 409-yards averaging 7.4-yards per carry. Wow, what a nightmare for Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers to get his defense prepared for. Not to mention the mistake-free play from Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder in the regular season finale, a game the Vikings defeated the Packers 37-34 to clinch the final playoff spot in the NFC. Because of Minnesota’s threat at running back with the amazing Adrian Peterson, Ponder has been kept out of third and long situations keeping things short and simple on passing downs. Capers has been known to be one of the better defensive coordinators in the game on preparing to stop star-studded talent, but knowing that Peterson was held under 80-yards only twice during the regular season makes it hard for me to believe that he won’t put his Jordan shoes on for a playoff game. Luckily for Capers, his defense won’t need to play phenomenal at Lambeau. Why? The Packers have a player that’ll put on Jordan shoes on his own, quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He gets receiver Randall Cobb (ankle) back from injury, receiver Jordy Nelson (knee) pushed it hard during practice at looks ready to go. Ultimately, with Aaron Rodgers having two key threats back healthy giving him all the ammo he needs, trouble will only find any secondary if you can’t pressure him consistent enough. Pick: Packers 34, Vikings 24.
Sunday January 6
AFC Wild Card Playoff 1:00 PM ET – TV: CBS
Indianapolis Colts (5) 11-5 @ Baltimore Ravens (4) 10-6
Here’s the tail of the tape for this matchup: Andrew Luck will test a suspect Ravens secondary. And one thing that’s been hiding in the shadows is the actual talent Indianapolis has at receiver. Surely, the established Reggie Wayne stands out ahead of the Luck pack, but T.Y. Hilton, Donnie Avery and Dwayne Allen gives the Colts a well-rounded receiving core. But on the road in “Ray Lewis Land” that could be his final game in front of his home crowd, the Colts will have to establish an effective running game. That I don’t think they’ll be able to do. Baltimore on the other hand has the best all-purpose running back in the game with Ray Rice getting lots of touches. That’s the big difference maker, the Ravens have a player on the offensive end they can centralize the offense around that will open up the passing game. Pick: Ravens 27, Colts 17.
NFC Wild Card Playoff 4:30 PM ET – TV: FOX
Seattle Seahawks (5) 11-5 @ Washington Redskins (4) 10-6
It is very vital when on the road against a hostile crowd that you have a formula offensively that can negate a loud crowd. The no-huddle offense comes to mind first, but Seattle won’t be doing that against Washington. They’ll continue to use their power running game feeding the football to Marshawn Lynch. That too can negate a hostile crowd and mainly keep your quarterback in position for high-percentage passes on third down. Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Hasslet likes to blitz often, and his defense has done a fabulous job manufacturing pressure on the opposition’s quarterback. Seattle’s defense features the best secondary in football and a speedy physical defensive front that stuffs the run and tackles extremely well. That type of defense makes this matchup the most interesting one this weekend, knowing that Washington’s pistol offense system has created lots of confusion to opposing defenses during their seven game winning streak in route to their division title. Both rookie quarterbacks, Washington’s Robert Griffin III and Seattle’s Russell Wilson run the offense with efficiency, not making mistakes nor doing anything that’ll keep them out of their comfort zone. This is discipline football across the board from every aspect of the game, so it comes down to the play-callers that do more on the offensive end to formulate more favorable one-on-one matchups. The difference I see between both teams is Washington’s offense that attacks the defense, stretching the field all over between and outside the tackles with the running game, and when running the play-action pass, RGIII can roll out right or left with the defense not knowing if he’ll take off with his feet, dump off a screen- pass, hit the tight ends, hit receiver Pierre Garcon on a crossing route, or go over the top to veteran receiver Santana Moss. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and head coach Mike Shanahan keep you guessing. This is the perfect system and offense that can catch Seattle’s secondary out of position because of all the shifting Washington’s offense does attacking ever angle of the field on offense. Pick: Redskins 23, Seahawks 16.