It’s the NFL’s wild-card weekend, which more often than not weeds out the pretenders from the contenders.
My interest is piqued, however, because of the inclusion of the Kansas City Chiefs, who were given up for dead after the first six weeks in which they managed just one victory. They also lost offensive pinwheel Jamaal Charles during that time and all signs pointed toward them positioning themselves for a high draft pick.
But inexplicably this team emerged from the doldrums to reel off 10 wins in a row, even if they weren’t at times aesthetically pleasing. It was a 100 percent blue-collar run, as the Chiefs’ defense recovered from its sieve-like start to lock down teams while the dink-and-dunk offense caught fire even though the cobbled-together line is still suspect.
I believe Kansas City caught a break by playing Houston instead of Pittsburgh and now it has to take advantage of it. The Steelers are going to be the boom-or-bust team of the playoffs as if they get by Andy Dalton-less Cincinnati, it wouldn’t surprise me if they went on a run. Six wild-card teams have won the Super Bowl and while the Steelers have a Super Bowl offense, their defense leaves a lot to be desired.
The NFC games hardly inspire enthusiasm. Green Bay and Washington are two teams headed nowhere, while Minnesota and Seattle could produce a defensive slugfest.
Here’s how I see it:
• SATURDAY •
• Kansas City 24, Houston 20 — History is working against the Chiefs, who haven’t won a playoff game since the days of Joe Montana and Marcus Allen. But J.J. Watt aside, this is a Texans team with talent issues. Brian Hoyer at quarterback? The Chiefs, with Justin Houston back, should really apply the heat on him. I’ll consider this a huge disappointment if the Chiefs don’t win, even though they’re on the road.
• Pittsburgh 34, Cincinnati 27 — I’ve gone back and forth on this game and the Bengals are actually the more logical choice. Had it been played three weeks ago, the Steelers would have been an easy pick. But their last two games hardly looked like their previous six, when Ben Roethlisberger was on fire. He has to get some semblance of a running game against the Bengals or this one will swing the other way. I’m not sold on AJ McCarron leading the Bengals, but I’ll be surprised if both teams don’t put up big numbers.
• SUNDAY •
• Seattle 21, Minnesota 10 — I had the Seahawks to win it all at the start of the season and even though they’ve taken a circuitous route, I think they’re finally close to the team they were the last two years if Marshawn Lynch does indeed return. I’ve never been a big believer in Teddy Bridgewater and he doesn’t have much quality in his receiving corps. Don’t be surprised if the Seahawks begin a march to the Super Bowl right here.
• Green Bay 31, Washington 28 — Green Bay is just a shell of its former self, but can anybody really pick Washington? The Packers have gone just 4-6 the last 10 games and can’t protect Aaron Rodgers. Maybe I’m picking them just because of pedigree.