The last of the Christmas turkey has been consigned to the trash, and we have now also disposed of the twenty NFL teams that just didn’t make the grade this year. Week seventeen didn’t feature too much drama, with the exception of the Packers trying to repeat their Hail Mary heroics against Minnesota, and of course the Jets being the Jets and blowing their playoff chances against the Bills. Apart from that the usual suspects marched serenely to their allotted places in the post-season, and several strong contenders are emerging.
All of which leads us on to the fun and fireworks of the Wildcard weekend, always one of the most exciting weekends on the football calendar. Late season charges from three of the wildcard teams have made them favorites to advance with the odds-makers in Vegas, while the fourth – Green Bay – are slightly favored to outdo the up-and-down Redskins in Washington.
You can sign up here to check out our in-depth predictions, but here’s a run-down on what to expect this weekend:
Kansas City Chiefs @ Houston Texans
Back in Week Six of the regular season, the Chiefs had just slumped to their fifth successive defeat and looked like a team going nowhere fast. The one team they had managed to record a win against was the floundering Houston Texans, who were still coming to the realization that Ryan Mallet was probably not the answer to their quarterbacking conundrum. Such is the magic of the NFL that here we are in the post-season with both gearing up for a repeat of their week one meeting, which was won 27-20 by KC at Houston. Mallet was under center for that game, but Brian Hoyer has proved a more reliable option for Houston and is certainly an upgrade in the position based on this season’s performances. Meanwhile the Chiefs are on a red-hot streak of 10 wins on the bounce and their hard rushing offence makes them 3.5 point favorites in Vegas to make that eleven on the road this Saturday. The question is whether Houston’s attention-grabbing defense can do enough to stop them in what is unlikely to be a high-scoring contest.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals would certainly be favorites to win against the Steelers in the late game Saturday were it not for the loss through injury of Andy Dalton. Even if he makes a comeback this weekend the suspicion is that the broken thumb on his throwing hand will have a negative impact on his game, and back-up AJ McCarron has never been tested at this level of competition. Big Ben Roethlisberger has passed just about every test in the book, and even the dogs on the street are tipping the Steelers as the wildcard team to watch this post-season. Vegas make Pittsburgh 2.5 point favorites to win in Cincinnati, but the loss of running back DeAngelo Williams gives their offense a predictable look so this game could go down to the wire.
Seattle Seahawks @ Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings have looked strong in their last three games, easily beating the Giants and Cowboys before toughing it out at Lambeau Field to beat out the Packers for the division title. However their dubious reward is a visit from the hard-charging Seahawks, who have been leaving battered and bruised opponents in their wake in the latter half of the season. Only an inexplicable slip-up against the Rams in Week 16 prevented them from topping the NFC West, but they rounded out the regular season with a beat-down of the divisional champion Arizona Cardinals. With this in mind, Vegas makes them favorite of all the wildcard teams to advance to the Superbowl and a lot of good judges reckon that the Vikings won’t be able to stop them in their tracks. Adrian Peterson has been the best running back in football since his return from suspension, but the feeling persists that if he is contained the Vikings will struggle in the matchup between 23-year-old QB Teddy Bridgewater and the much-vaunted Legion of Boom. Further pressure is likely to be heaped on the young QB as the Vikings offensive line has been breached too many times for comfort this season, but the Vikings have looked strong in recent weeks and won’t be a pushover.
Green Bay Packers @ Washington Redskins
Football may be a team game but try telling that to the beleaguered Aaron Rodgers, who has seen his downfield receiving options fatally undermined by the season-ending injury to Jordy Nelson earlier in the year. The odds-makers still just about favor the Packers, based on the intermittently effective running game spearheaded by Lacy and Starks along with the ability of Rodgers to conjure up something out of nothing. Washington have negotiated their way through the wreckage that has been the NFC East this season to come out on top, with the decision to go with Kirk Cousins at QB1 at the beginning of the year having been thoroughly vindicated. Their 9-5 record has been bolstered by wins against less than stellar opposition – they haven’t beaten any playoff bound teams – but fresh off a four game streak it seems that only the aura of the Green Bay Packers name makes them slight favorites with the bookmakers. However, with Aaron Rodgers calling the shots behind center you can never rule out the men in green.
We use computer simulations in combination with veteran sports handicapping experts to come up with predictions for all the wildcard games, and you can sign up here to access these and other sporting predictions.
Football can be a crazy game sometimes, but by using the most scientifically sound methodology in the industry we cut out the crazy and give you a winning advantage over the Vegas odds-makers, because they don’t always get it right!