LOS ANGELES, January 8, 2016 — The 2015 regular season is over. For some of the 20 teams missing the playoffs, Black Monday predictions have come, gone, and been rendered worthless. For the 12 contestants on the NFL island that existed long before Survivor, we have the playoffs. Super Bowl 50 is one month away. The winnowing process starts now.
In a rare departure from the norm, both AFC Wild Card games are on Sunday while both NFC games are on Sunday. In an even more rare occurrence, all four road teams are favored to win. With that, here is the NFL 2015-2016 Wild Card Preview and Bettor’s Guide, with point spreads provided by FootballLocks.com and all times Eastern.
5.) 11-5 Kansas City Chiefs (-3.5) at 4.) 9-7 Houston Texans, Saturday, 4:30pm on ABC ESPN
In Week 1, the Chiefs went into Houston, jumped to a 27-9 halftime lead, slept through the second half, and won 27-20. The Chiefs then lost five straight games, followed by 10 straight wins. The Texans began 2-5 before winning seven of their final nine games.
Both of these teams have excellent defenses and awful offenses. The Chiefs are led by dink and dunk West Coast Offense Game Manager Alex Smith. He occasionally throws the ball further than four yards. As for the Texans, Bryan Hoyer started the Week 1 loss. Ryan Mallett finished it. A few weeks later Mallett was cut. T.J Yates played this season, as did Dallas castoff Brandon Weeden. Hoyer came back last week and will start this game.
J.J. Watt may be the best defensive player in football, but the Chiefs have a better team defense. The Chiefs have the better record despite playing in a much better division. The Texans will give at least one touchdown to the Kansas City defense. As long as the Chiefs have a lead, Smith can dink and dunk to death and the Chiefs will still be fine. The Texans will not come back if they fall behind. By the time this is over, Andy Reid will be one happy Walrus Lite. His team will have 11 straight wins and a trip to New England. Chiefs cover.
6.) 10-6 Pittsburgh Steelers (-3) at 3.) 12-4 Cincinnati Bengals, Saturday, 8:00pm on CBS
In November, the Bengals went into Pittsburgh and shocked the Steelers 16-10. In December the Steelers went into Cincinnati and throttled the Bengals 33-20. The Bengals began the season 8-0 but split their final eight games. The Steelers snuck into the playoffs the hard way when the Jets lost last week.
Both teams have prolific offenses. Ben Roethlisberger has been playing well. Hue Jackson has worked his wizardry with Andy Dalton and A.J. McCarron. Dalton was injured in the December game against Pittsburgh. Neither team has a spectacular defense.
In 2005, these teams played a playoff game in Cincinnati. The Bengals led 10-0, Carson Palmer got hurt, and the Steelers took over for a 31-17 win en route to a Super Bowl title. Winners win and losers lose. The Steelers have six Super Bowl rings. The Bengals have none, and have not won a playoff game in 25 years. The Bengals will never get respect until they win a game like this. The Steelers know how to win. The Bengals have flamed out four straight years in the first round of the playoffs. Marvin Lewis is 0-6 in the playoffs, all Wild Card losses. Will Charlie Brown kick the field goal and get the little red-haired girl? No. Pittsburgh will beat up their little brother and head to Denver next week. Steelers cover.
1.) 12-4 Denver Broncos and 2.) 12-4 New England Patriots have the bye week.
6.) 10-6 Seattle Seahawks (-5) at 3.) 11-5 Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, 1:00pm on NBC.
One month ago, the Seahawks went into Minnesota and blasted the Vikings 38-7. Minnesota showed a ton of grit going into Green Bay in the regular season finale and winning the division crown. Seattle throttled seemingly invincible Arizona by 30 points in a game that was over at halftime.
Both teams have a solid defense. Seattle has the Legion of Boom, and they are playing lights out football. Mike Zimmer has also fashioned a hard-nosed defense. Both teams have a battering ram running back. Adrian Peterson is running like a demon possessed, and Marshawn Lynch is finally back after missing several games due to injury. Both teams have quarterbacks who can run and throw in Russell Wilson and Teddy Bridgewater.
Unlike the comfortable Metrodome, this game will be played in brutal cold weather that may go below zero degrees. The Purple People Eaters would be proud. Yet the deciding factor between these mirror image teams is experience. These Vikings have none. The Seahawks are the two-time defending NFC Champions. Both of these teams are better than they were one month ago, so go with the experience. Seattle is on a collision course with Carolina next week in Charlotte. Seahawks cover.
5.) 10-6 Green Bay Packers (-1) at 4.) 9-7 Washington Redskins, Sunday, 4:30pm on Fox.
These teams did not meet in the regular season. Green Bay started out 6-0 before losing six of their last ten games. Washington looked like an 0-16 team entering the season. Jay Gruden stuck with Kirk Cousins over Robert Griffin III, and the gamble paid off. Washington finally clinched the woeful NFC Least one week before the regular season ended. Despite being 5-7, four straight wins to end the season has Washington on a roll.
Green Bay’s offense has been out of sync, as the defense has had to carry the team. Aaron Rodgers is not getting any help and Mike McCarthy took back play-calling duties. It did not save the Packers from losing the NFC North division on their home field last week. Cousins has gotten better as the season went along.
Washington has the momentum and the home field, but Green Bay is the better team with the pedigree and the experience. Washington’s defense is nothing special. Rodgers should will his team to a win this week before traveling to a much tougher opponent next week at Arizona. Packers cover.
1.) 15-1 Carolina Panthers and 2.) 13-3 Arizona Cardinals have the bye week.