Kansas City Chiefs #5 (+2) @ Indianapolis Colts #4 (46.5): Chiefs 28-27
Saturday, 4:35 PM, Lucas Oil Field, Indianapolis, IN (Weather: Indoors)
Reasons: The Chiefs lost to the Colts 23-7 two weeks ago at home, so you can imagine they're not too confident going into Indianapolis to kick off the 2014 NFL playoffs. Vegas apparently doesn't think much of that game, giving the Colts just two points at home; you might chalk that up to playoff experience, or the simple fact that KC is a better team on paper. The Chiefs boast a top-10 rush defense and are the 5th-ranked scoring offense and 6th-ranked scoring defense. Don't believe the hype (numbers) quite yet though, because the Chiefs are team of two halves. Before the bye week (Week 10) KC was 9-0 beating their opponents by an average score of 24-12; but after the bye week KC was 2-5 (losing twice to #1 seed Denver) and the average score had soared to 31-28, thanks to the resurgence of Jamal Charles (offense) and key injuries (defense). Averaging another TD on offense is significant; letting up more than two TDs on defense is alarming. The Colts on the other hand seem to be clicking at the right time, winning their last three games to end the season, including a win v. these Chiefs, although the other two came v. HOU and JAX, the two worst teams in the NFL. The Colts are nothing to marvel at statistically (14th-ranked scoring offense; 24th-ranked scoring defense), but the Chiefs only average 2.5 ppg more and are ranked 6th, so we can't look too deeply into the numbers - these teams are pretty evenly matched. Both teams played games v. six playoff teams during the regular season, and both teams even played the last two teams out of the playoffs (KC - DAL; IND - ARZ). The only thing separating these two teams might be playoff experience, in which KC might have a slight advantage (don't think teams, think current players and coaches). The game should be much closer than the Week 16 meeting.
New Orleans Saints #6 (+2.5) @ Philadelphia Eagles #3 (54): Eagles 28-24
Saturday, 8:10 PM, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA (Weather: 80% rain, low-40s)
Reasons: This game has the makings of an instant playoff classic. The Eagles have the 9th-ranked pass offense, the top-ranked running game, the 10th-ranked rush defense, and the #4 scoring offense in the league. The only thing they're bad at is defending the pass (ranked last), which happens to what New Orleans excels at (ranked 2nd). The Saints also have the 2nd-ranked pass defense, and boast the leagues #10 scoring offense and #4 scoring defense. Unfortunately for the Saints the game is on the road, where they're 3-5 this season and average a ridiculous 16 fewer ppg than at home. Even worse is the weather will be awful - cold and rainy. The only real chance the Saints have v. the surging Eagles is that somehow the 2013 Eagles were worse at home (4-4) than on the road (6-2), and apparently that was enough to give the Saints one more point than otherwise usually afforded.
San Diego Chargers #6 (+7) @ Cincinnati Bengals #3 (47): Bengals 31-24
Sunday, 1:05 PM, Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH (Weather: Sunny, cold, mid-30s)
Reasons: Let's be honest, the Chargers backed into the playoffs in one of those SUVs that does it automatically. They had won four straight games, but the Chiefs held a Week 17 24-14 lead at halftime, then missed a 41-yard FG that would have won the game and sent the much less talented Steelers to Cincinnati. Actually, that might have made the Steelers' AFC North little brothers nervous. But the Chargers inexplicably won and backed into the 6th seed, where they face the most underrated team in the AFC, maybe the NFL. The Bengals have the 8th-ranked passing game and 6th-ranked scoring offense to go along with one of the five top overall defenses in the NFL. And don't let the 18th-ranked run game fool you, Law Firm and back up rookie sensation Giovani Benard get after it. In addition to being one of the best teams in the league on paper, they're unbeatable at home, going 8-0 in 2013. The Chargers are essentially the same team on the road (4-4), perhaps even slightly better offensively, but the Bengals are lights out at home, averaging 34.4 ppg - I don't see that changing.
San Francisco 49ers #5 (-3) @ Green Bay Packers #4 (46.5): 49ers 30-27
Sunday, 4:40 PM, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI (Weather: Frigid, 0 degrees)
Reasons: Imagine being the 49ers: You win 12 games, win your last seven straight games, beat division rival Seattle at the most critical time of the season, go 6-2 on the road, and end the season ranked in the top 10 in nearly every important statistical category (3rd-ranked rush offense, 11th scoring offense; 7th-ranked pass defense, 4th-ranked rush defense, 3rd-ranked scoring defense) and have to travel to Lambeau Field in January to win a playoff game, just as Aaron Rodgers begins to get back into the groove. It's a horrible scenario for the 49ers, who literally drew the shortest stick in the first round of these playoffs (think 2010: 7-9 Seahawks v. 11-5 Saints). The game time temperatures could be below freezing, and it almost never reaches that temperature at 4 AM in SF, let alone any given game time. So the 8-7-1 Packers that not one person on Earth outside of Green Bay, WI gave a chance to even make the playoffs now has a chance to win the round one game they incredibly get to host. Who said parody was dead in the NFL? I don't like the weather predictions, but then again the Packers defense is horrendous (24th overall) and SF can't throw the ball anyway (ranked 30th), so the 49ers will rely on their 3rd-ranked run game to carry the frozen rock to victory, as they're a slightly better offense on the road anyway (8 ppg above season scoring average). If you're a Green bay fan (or a few experts with valid opinions) you have to like your chances on the Frozen Tundra with ARod back. If you're anyone else in the world you like the angry 49ers to show the world that the last place they should be is Green Bay, WI.
Stay tuned for Tuesday's Gone: #NFL Predictions Review: Round One Playoffs Edition coming next week...