LOS ANGELES, JANUARY 3, 2014 — All 32 teams played last week, and now only 12 remain. As Jim Mora reminds us, in the NFL it is all about the playoffs. There are four wildcard games this weekend, two from the AFC and two from the NFC. So let’s get down to the business of football, with all times EST.
Saturday, January 4
Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at Indianapolis Colts (11-5), 4:30 p.m. on NBC.
How we got here: The Chiefs started 9-0 for Walrus Lite Andy Reid, but stumbled down the stretch. They beat up on bad teams and lost twice to Denver. They were even swept by San Diego. The Colts padded their record by playing in the pathetic AFC South, although they got stronger at the end of the year. They did beat both Denver and Seattle at home, but have been inconsistent. The Colts went into Kanas City a couple weeks earlier and throttled the Chiefs 23-7.
Prediction: Every indicator points against the Chiefs, especially with Alex Smith’s dinking and dunking West Coast style. Even pass-happy Andy Reid knows he has a solid running game, and is willing to use it. The Chiefs get their revenge, although neither of these teams will go on the road and beat Denver or New England.
New Orleans Saints (11-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6), 8:00 p.m. on NBC.
How we got here: The Saints have been an offensive pinball machine for the last five years. Drew Brees is as good as ever and the return of Sean Payton made all the difference in the world. The Eagles have a high-octane offense under Chip Kelly, and Nick Foles has been lights out. The scoreboard may go tilt in this one.
Prediction: The Saints are the better team but they are not the same team on the road. Philadelphia has the home field. The Saints have the experience while the Eagles are a young team. Experience will carry the Saints.
Sunday, Jan. 5
San Diego Chargers (9-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (11-5), 1:00 p.m. on CBS.
How we got here: The Chargers needed miracle losses by other teams and a blown referee call in overtime of Week 17 to win against backup players and eke into the playoffs. The Bengals played well at home and benefitted from Pittsburgh and Baltimore having an off year. Both Philip Rivers and Red Rifle Andy Dalton can throw touchdowns, but they are also both good for untimely interceptions.
Prediction: Neither of these teams will go on the road and put an ounce of fear into Denver or New England. San Diego did go into Denver and win, but that was the biggest fluke not named Sandra. San Diego is lucky to be playing, and their luck runs out against the Bengals one week before it happens to Cincinnati.
San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at Green Bay Packers (8-7-1), 4:30 p.m. on FOX.
How we got here: The 49ers struggled early, but enter the playoffs hotter than any other team. The Packers needed a miracle and got one when Aaron Rodgers returned from a broken collarbone in time for the regular season finale with the division on the line. They got a second miracle when Rodgers went bombs away to win the division with seconds left.
Prediction: The Packers have home field and it may snow, creating the myth of destiny. The Packers had the frozen tundra of Lambeau field at home in 2002 and 2003. A 12-4 team lost to Michael Vick’s Atlanta and the next year 8-8 Minnesota ousted them. Both of those dome teams survived the cold and so will the 49ers. Jim Harbaugh does not have a finesse squad. His teams win with power offense and stifling defense. They have beat the Packers three straight times, with Rodgers playing. Make it four straight times since San Francisco is the superior team.
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