The NFL playoffs are finally here, that means it’s time for the obligatory look at this weekend’s upcoming matchups. Home field advantage could be key to winning for some teams, but as the saying goes, that’s why they play the games. Without further adieu, our NFL playoff preview.
5. CHIEFS (11-5) VS. 4. COLTS (11-5) (-2.5) Saturday 1:35 PM CBS
This could be a very close, very interesting game. These two teams seem to be pretty evenly matched heading into this weekend. The Colts finished the season on a hot streak, winning four of their final five games, including a 23-7 victory at Kansas City in Week 16. However, they were one of the most confounding and unpredictable teams in the league this year. They had signature victories over Seattle, Denver, and in San Francisco. They also had blow-out losses to St. Louis, Arizona, and Cincinnati.
The Chiefs were one of the best stories in the league getting out to a 9-0 start. However, they met with some opposition from their divisional opponents and went 2-5 the rest of the way. The Chiefs rallied after a three game losing streak for two dominant victories against Washington and the Raiders in Weeks 14 and 15 that essentially locked them into the five spot.
OFFENSE: KC 26.9 PPG (6th), 208.8 Pass YPG (24th), 128.5 Rush YPG (10th); IND 24.4 PPG (14th), 232.8 Pass YPG (17th), 108.9 Rush YPG (20th)
DEFENSE: KC 19.1 PPG (5th), 247.6 Pass YPG (25th), 120.2 Rush YPG (22nd); IND 21.0 PPG (9th), 231.9 Pass YPG (9th), 125.1 Rush YPG (26th)
The numbers would seem to favor Kansas City. I think we all knew the Chiefs had a stout defense, but I didn’t realize that their offense was just as strong. And you know what, it’s been solid since day one. The Chiefs were held under 23 points only twice during their nine-game winning streak, and only two more times after that. Even when they lost they put up points, especially in shootout losses to the Broncos and Chargers.
To give you an idea how efficient the Chiefs are on offense check out the numbers of their QBs.
Luck: 3,822 yards, 23 TDs, 9 INTs, 87.0 Passer RAT, 377 rush yards, 4 rush TDs
Smith: 3,313 yards, 23 TDs, 7 INTs, 89.1 Passer RAT, 431 rush yards, 1 rush TD
The Chiefs also have the versatile Jamaal Charles at running back pacing their offense. Charles was third in the league with 1,287 rush yards and tied for the league lead with 12 rushing TDs. Charles was a dual threat this year too with a career high 693 receiving yards and 7 receiving TDs. The Colts continue to search for a running game. Following Week 2 they traded a first round pick to Cleveland for Trent Richardson, who had an abysmal sophomore season. Richardson racked up a disappointing 563 yards and 3 TDs this year. After moving to the Colts, Richardson averaged a horrendous 2.9 YPC, third to last in the entire NFL!
So, what does this matchup come down to? The Chiefs are super balanced and efficient on both sides of the ball. However, they can be had in the secondary. Needless to say, Andrew Luck will be passing the ball a lot. The Colts actually have a pretty good defense too, but they struggle stopping the run. OLB Robert Mathis is a beast, but outside of him, the Colts don’t have a lot of playmakers on the defensive line. A steady diet of Charles runs, play action, and outside passing should be enough to keep the Colts’ D’ on their heels. We’ve established that Richardson won’t be a factor, and between Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, the Chiefs should be able to pressure Luck in the pocket.
I’m going Chiefs on this one 24-17.
6. SAINTS (11-5) VS. 3. EAGLES (10-6) (-2.5) Saturday 5:10 PM FOX
On first glance, this would appear to be a matchup of two incredible offenses. However, that’s just not true. The New Orleans Saints are not that same offensive juggernaut on the road. The Saints were 8-0 in the Superdome and put up a gaudy 34 PPG. On the road, the Saints were only 3-5 and averaged only 17.7 PPG. Very quietly, the Eagles won seven of their final eight games.
OFFENSE: NO 25.9 PPG (10th), 307.4 Pass YPG (2nd), 92.1 Rush YPG (25th); PHI 27.6 PPG (4th), 256.9 Pass YPG (9th), 160.4 Rush YPG (1st)
DEFENSE: NO 19.0 PPG (4th), 194.1 Pass YPG (2nd), 111.6 Rush YPG (19th); PHI 23.9 PPG (17th), 289.8 Pass YPG (32nd), 104.4 Pass YPG (10th)
The Saints actually have a pretty decent defense, but some of that is skewed since opposing teams are generally playing from behind as they try to keep up with Drew Brees and the offense in the Superdome. That won’t be the case in Philadelphia this weekend as Chip Kelly will turn the tables on the Saints who will be hard pressed to keep up with the speed of the Eagles’ offense.
The Eagles’ defense has not been good, as the numbers show, however, most of their worst performances were much earlier in the season when Kelly was still trying to get his schemes implemented. Outside of an ugly 48-30 loss to Minnesota in Week 15, all of the Eagles’ worst defensive performances came during the first five weeks of the season.
The Eagles have won seven of eight games. The Saints have lost three of their last five and have drastic home and road splits. I also didn’t mention that the Eagles have the league’s leading rusher in LeSean McCoy (1,607 yards). I want to see a shootout, but Brees and the Saints just don’t seem to come through in cold weather road games. Eagles 28-20.
6. CHARGERS (9-7) VS. 3. BENGALS (11-5) (-7) Sunday 10:00 AM CBS
Four weeks ago, the Chargers seemed dead at 5-7, but with a little bit of luck and by winning their final four games, the Chargers snuck into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season. As great as it was for Bolts’ fans to watch the emergence of Keenan Allen as a go-to receiver, and the re-emergence of Philip Rivers as a premiere QB, it seems unlikely San Diego will survive past Sunday.
OFFENSE: SD 24.8 PPG (12th), 270.5 Pass YPG (4th), 122.8 Rush YPG (13th); CIN 26.9 PPG (6th), 258.7 Pass YPG (8th), 109.7 Rush YPG (18th)
DEFENSE: SD 21.8 PPG (11th), 258.7 Pass YPG (29th), 107.8 Rush YPG (12th); CIN 19.1 PPG (5th), 209.0 Pass YPG (5th), 96.5 Rush YPG (5th)
I give you one stat. The Bengals were 8-0 at home. The Chargers are on a roll, but I have no reason to believe that San Diego will be the first team to go into Cincinnati’s house and shut them down. The Bengals also have one of the most lethal passing attacks in the lead, led by all-pro A.J. Green. Oh yeah, stopping the pass has been a major issue for the Chargers this year.
These two teams met back in Week 13, with the Bengals defeating the Chargers 17-10 down at Qualcomm Stadium. It was an ugly game, and the Chargers never got their running game going. Rivers threw for 252 yards in the game, but 100 of those yards were to Keenan Allen. Rivers and the Chargers will be able to throw the ball on the Bengals, it’s the running game that will be the question.
You know what else coincided with the Chargers winning their final four games, Ryan Matthews rushed for 100+ yards in three of those four games. The one game he didn’t crack the 100-yard mark, he rushed for 99 yards. The Chargers found balance.
However, the Bengals are just as hot, winners of five of their last six games. Prior to that, they had two consecutive overtime losses. The Bengals have been one of the most consistent teams in the NFL since Week 1, something that can’t be said about the Chargers. Bengals 34-24.
5. 49ers (12-4) (-2.5) vs. 4. Packers (8-7-1) Sunday 1:30 PM FOX
Can you hear the NFL Films music playing in the background? It could be a “historically” cold day on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field this Sunday. That doesn’t necessarily give the Pack the advantage in this one. Like the Chargers, the Packers snuck into the playoffs on the final day of the season, thanks to the triumphant return of QB Aaron Rodgers (and a breakdown by the Bears’ secondary).
OFFENSE: GB 26.1 PPG (8th), 266.8 Pass YPG (6th), 133.5 Rush YPG (7th); SF 25.4 PPG (11th), 186.2 Pass YPG (30th), 137.6 Rush YPG (3rd)
DEFENSE: GB 26.8 PPG (24th), 247.3 Pass YPG (24th), 125.0 Rush YPG (25th); SF 17.0 PPG (3rd), 221.0 Pass YPG (7th), 95.9 Rush YPG (4th)
It’s pretty clear, what’s going on here. Aaron Rodgers is an elite quarterback and the Packers now have a strong running game with Eddie Lacy. Their defense was horrible this year. They couldn’t stop anybody. The 49ers have a solid balanced offense, with emphasis on the run game. Expectations were sky-high for Colin Kaepernick this year, and despite putting up solid numbers (3,197 Pass YDs, 21 TDs 8 INTs, 91.6 Passer RAT), it seemed at times that he didn’t do as much as in last year’s Super Bowl run. However, they maintain one of the strongest running attacks in the game, and their defense is elite, contrary to Green Bay’s D’ which is moribund.
Let’s also not forget what has happened the last two times these two teams met. Oh yeah, the 49ers annihilated the Packers. Kaepernick torched the Pack for a record 181 rushing yards in the first round of last years playoffs. When the two teams met in Week 1 of this season, San Francisco continued its dominance of Green Bay when Kaepernick threw for 412 yards. He didn’ throw for more than 300 yards again until the final week of the season against Arizona.
Combine the fact that the Niners have a far superior defense than the Packers’ and that the Niners have owned the Packers in their last three matchups it’s hard to find any reason to belive that the Packers will have any chance of bringing down the Niners. Freezing temperatures at Lambeau Field will not benefit the Aaron Rodgers pass attack, and that is what sets the Packers apart from other teams. There’s no reason to think that the Packers inexperienced and injury-laden defense will be able to stage a sustainable front against the Niners run game to get a win.