NFL Playoffs: AFC Wildcard Weekend Preview


Even though the Miami Dolphins will not be in the playoffs this season, there are tantalizing match ups to watch for this Wildcard weekend. The Baltimore Ravens will travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers in a game that is always filled with huge hits and great defense.  It is hard-nosed football at its finest.  Then, the Cincinnati Bengals head to Lucas Oil Stadium to face Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts in a game featuring two of the top interception-throwing QB’s in the league this year (and two of the higher paid QB’s, see Andy Dalton‘s contract).

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers, SAT 8:15 p.m. ET NBC:

This will be the better game in terms of quality and excitement, as the Ravens and Steelers always seem to play a close game.  Add in the fact that the loser goes home and the winner moves on, and that will just dramatize things even more.  Keep an eye on who becomes the new bell cow for Pittsburgh, as Le’Veon Bell looks to be out for Saturday night’s game with a hyperextended right knee. There is still a chance Bell suits up and gives it a go, but if not, it will be journeyman Ben Tate getting a look at a lot of the groundwork.  That just puts more pressure on Super Bowl champion QB Ben Roethlisberger.

As for the Ravens, QB Joe Flacco plays his best football in the post season, where he is 9-4 with a 86.2 passer rating.  Both teams should look to stop their opponent’s rushing attacks first, putting the weight of the game on both QB’s.  Roethlisberger has the advantage to me in this game, both with a better supporting cast and home field advantage.  But Flacco can play flawless football and has been known to at the right times.  This game is as difficult to predict as any, especially since it is the post season.

Final prediction:  Pittsburgh  30  Baltimore 24

Cincinnati Bengals @ Indianapolis Colts, SUN 1:05 p.m. ET CBS:

Both Andy Dalton and Andrew Luck are in the top 6 in the NFL with 17 and 16 interceptions, respectively.  Both the Bengals and Colts boast good secondaries and good pass rushes.  That makes for an uglier game.  What Cincinnati has that the Colts do not is a great rushing attack, led by rookie Jeremy Hill and dual-threat Giovanni Bernard.  I see the Bengals pounding their two backs and trying to get Bernard more active in the short passing attack, to limit the Colts’ secondary from reading Dalton and preventing picks.

The Colts’ best shot is to give Andrew Luck time to extend the play with his legs and find holes in the Bengals secondary deeper down the field, where they can break down.  The Colts also have the comfort of knowing the Bengals struggle at this stage of the post season.  In fact, Andy Dalton is still looking for playoff victory number one.  That being said, I think the Bengals running game and defense will get Dalton that first win, if only he can get out of his own way.

Final Prediction: Cincinnati 27 Indianapolis 20