The regular season in the NFL is over, and we are just days away from the Wild Card playoff games. Which matchups are the most intriguing, and which are must-see TV?
Below I rank the four Wild Card games, and include their current betting lines from footballlocks.com.
1. Green Bay Packers (10-6) at Washington Redskins (9-7) [Packers by 1]
It seems like every other game has either a chance to be a blowout, or one of the two teams has a quarterback I am not too thrilled about. This game I think has the best chance to be close throughout, and has two quarterbacks that are playing just about the same. I am as shocked as anyone I just compared Kirk Cousins to Aaron Rodgers, but let’s look at their stats (from pro-football-reference.com).
-Rodgers: 60.7 completion percentage, 31 touchdowns, 8 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 92.7
-Cousins: 69.8 completion percentage, 29 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 101.6
You could almost make the case Cousins has been better this season with less to work with, and ever since Cousins’ “YOU LIKE THAT?!” moment, he has been the better quarterback. The Packers have shown moments of looking like the old Packers, and at other times have looked like a team that cannot get out of their own way. If the Packers of old show up, they could go on the road and win this game. If they do not, the Redskins are a team that may surprise some people. I also cannot believe the line opened as Redskins by one, and has since been bet to Packers by one. This may be a classic case of people betting on the name “Packers” without realizing this team is nothing like those Packers teams of the past.
2. Seattle Seahawks (10-6) at Minnesota Vikings (11-5) [Seahawks by 5]
The fact that the two NFC games come in at as the top two in my rankings says a lot about the difference in the quality of play between the two conferences. Just because this is the largest spread of any of the four games does not necessarily mean this game will be the worst to watch.
The Seahawks destroyed the Vikings when the played earlier this year, but Minnesota is a different team now than they were back in early December. Everyone likes Seattle after the way they beat up on the Arizona Cardinals in week 17, but are we sure that game should mean as much to people as it is? I did not watch a lot of that game, but it seemed uncharacteristic of the Cardinals to only score six points. The first time these two teams met, the Cardinals went into Seattle and beat the Seahawks, 39-32. Something seems off, not to mention the week before, Seattle only scored ten points in the first 59 minutes of the game in a 23-17 loss to the St. Louis Rams.
I think that Arizona game should be thrown out when discussing Seattle’s chances of getting back a third straight Super Bowl. This outdoor game against the Vikings will be a tough, defensive battle between two teams that also like to run the ball. It will come down to how much Minnesota gets from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, so I think Seattle escapes late, making the current five-point spread a tough call.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) [Pittsburgh by 2.5]
This game comes in as a close third behind Seattle and Minnesota, only because I think this game could go in so many different directions. Cincinnati might have their quarterback Andy Dalton back, and even if they do, who knows how effective he will be. That being said, the Steelers defense is nothing to be afraid of, and have been known to step up if they get a couple early turnovers. That right there is enough to make this game incredible tough to predict.
Pittsburgh’s offense is nothing to take lightly, but it appears the team will be without DeAngelo Williams in the backfield. Who knows how much their running game will be affected, and if that will then trickle into the rest of their offensive efficiency. The Bengals defense has, for the most part, had a good season, but struggled the last time these two teams met when the Steelers won 33-20. I honestly can say I will watch this game not surprised with however it ends up.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at Houston Texans (9-7) [Chiefs by 3]
Ah, yes, the game everyone ranks last on lists like this one. I am cautiously optimistic that the Chiefs will actually show up in this game and put on a pretty good show. Then again, the Texans defense has been solid all year, and who knows how Bill O’Brien will use a player like JJ Watt in a winner-take-all scenario. Us fans can only hope we get to see Watt in on offense at tight end for a couple plays. Brian Hoyer has been quietly having a good season when he has been healthy enough to play, and DeAndre Hopkins is a dynamic playmaker that, at any time, can go off for 10-15 catches, 200 yards and three touchdowns.
This game also has a chance to be a complete dud, with both defenses stepping up and limiting the scoring. That is why the three-point line is another tough one to bet on. This game probably has the best chance of any of the four matchups to be decided by a field goal as the clock expires, putting a bow on what appears to be one of the toughest NFL betting weekends we have seen in a long time.