NFL Wild Card Weekend
With this week’s wild card round coming this Sunday for the NFL, I’ve looked at the matchups and been intrigued by all of them. All four games feature teams that are historically great and currently dominant, giving them all the promise of great entertainment. But what’s really important is to look at the games from a who’s who standpoint and to figure out who will be coming out on top.
The first matchup features the Kansas City Chiefs and the Indianapolis Colts, two juggernauts who reintroduced themselves to the world as the next incarnations of the powerhouses they once were. For Kansas City, it’s a case of an old face in a new home, with new head coach Andy Reid at the helm after thirteen years with the Philadelphia Eagles. The introduction of Reid has seemingly rejuvenated the team and they’ve consistently shocked the NFL with their strategic prowess and their penchant for winning game after game after game. Their defense is among the best in the league, led by linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive lineman Tamba Hali (currently injured) and the offense features one of the premier running backs in the league with Jamaal Charles. On the other side of the coin, the Colts, led by their quarterback Andrew Luck, have a somewhat similar backstory. Their head coach, Chuck Pagano, heroically returned to the team early in the season after a battle with leukemia, which has inspired the team to perform at their peak. But it’s the Colts’ defense that seems suspicious to me. My prediction is that the Colts won’t be able to contain the offensive juggernaut created by Andy Reid, so I think the Chiefs will win this one.
However, the buck stops with the Chiefs-Colts game as far as regular playing conditions are concerned. The New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles are playing in mounds of snow following this New Year’s snowstorm that has effectively paralyzed the Northeast. Thus, they’ll be playing in the snow, which will be extremely difficult since they’re not used to it. What’s more is that not only are the Saints inexperienced at playing in snow, but they’re inexperienced at playing in cold weather conditions as well. So, the vaunted Saints offense, led by future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, will have a tough time tomorrow since they’re used to playing indoors, not in snow. Meanwhile, the Eagles, whose meteoric rise from league laughing stock after bragging about having an “All-Star team” and subsequently failing to make the playoffs for four consecutive years to serious contender is thanks in large part to two men, running back LeSean McCoy and new head coach Chip Kelly. McCoy has taken the league by storm this year, going from a running back who was already phenomenal to the absolute best in the league. But I believe that the real hero of the Eagles’ turnaround is Chip Kelly. In only his first year, Kelly has brought his fast-paced style from the University of Oregon to the NFL and revolutionized a team previously thought of as relatively mediocre. The Eagles are now one of the NFL’s most feared teams and a serious threat to win the Super Bowl, which is why I think it’ll be the Eagles who advance to the next round.
Probably the least glamorous of the matchups in the San Diego Chargers versus the Cincinnati Bengals, but don’t let that discourage you from being interested in this game, because it has plenty to offer. On one side, we have the Chargers, from sunny San Diego, California, where it never snows and is always fun to play in. The Chargers boast an offense composed of quarterback Philip Rivers, tight end Antonio Gates, and a ragtag group of no name wide receivers that have proven themselves as great players who all flew under the radar. Their defense isn’t too shabby either, led by free safety Eric Weddle, who plays the “how is he so good and no one knows him” role. On the flip side, the Bengals’ offense is highlighted by the Andy Dalton-AJ Green connection, one of the most prolific quarterback-wide receiver duos of its kind. But their defense is what everyone talks about, specifically linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who is a beast of a man, recording a league-high 177 tackles this year. However, I think that the Chargers are the strongest team, though the snowy conditions in Cincinnati throw a huge wrench into the situation, but I’ll say the Chargers will win .
Finally, in the marquee matchup of the wild card round, the San Francisco 49ers will face the Green Bay Packers at world-famous Lambeau Field, where there’s a lot of snow and the wind chill is projected to hit -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Both of these teams have amazing offenses and feared defenses, but of course, there can only be one winner. On one side, we have the visiting team, the 49ers, led by their quarterback Colin Kaepernick and linebacker Patrick Willis. Kaepernick is simply an amazing quarterback who can be a pocket passer, a passer on the run, and a running back (if he wanted). Meanwhile, Willis is a monster, plain and simple. Basically, if you’re on the opposing team, Willis is that guy who will stop at nothing to make sure that he stops you from getting past him and he will hit you…HARD. Think Ray Lewis Jr. and that’s Patrick Willis. The home team, however, is just as good, if not better. Led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews, the Packers have, in my opinion, the most complete team in the league. It’s pretty hard to argue against a wide receiver corps that has at least three of the top 15 wide receivers in the league and a rookie running back in Eddie Lacy who just finished the year with over 1,000 rushing yards. On defense, the D-Line is fierce and the secondary is incredible, but it is the linebackers, specifically Mr. Matthews, along with his accomplice, AJ Hawk, who scare everyone. For instance, if you have a Viking running at you at full speed, with a long mane of blonde hair and a desire to hurt people, it’s a pretty frightful image. That image is Clay Matthews. As for the axe that Viking is holding, that’s AJ Hawk. They’re the “take no prisoners” kind of players and they do it all with smiles, which makes it all the more frightening. So, I think that the Packers will win, because the team scares everyone because they’re so good both offensively and defensively, and knowing how to play effectively in snow and extreme cold probably helps too.
Those are my predictions for this weekend’s slate of games but then again, they are just that; predictions. Anything can change in an instant, and that is what makes sports so exciting and fun to watch. And it’s not only the teams that can determine the outcome of a game, because it can also be the crazy fans. So, go and cheer for your teams no matter what. Your craziness might just help them win. It is the “wild card” round after all, so expect the unexpected.