Predicting the NFL playoff openers

Predicting the NFL playoff openers
January 5, 2013, 11:30 am
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Predictions are like opinions -- everyone's got 'em. And with the NFL's second season beginning Saturday, it's time to share a few. As such, here's how the opening playoff games should go down…

Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) at Houston Texans (12-4)
NBC, 1:30 p.m. PT
A rematch of a AFC wild card game from last year should be more competitive than the Texans' 31-10 demolition of the Bengals, who are in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since Ken Anderson was under center, Anthony Muñoz was protecting his blind side and Cris Collinsworth was catching bombs in 1981 and 1982. In fact, the the last team the Bengals beat in the playoffs was from Houston…albeit, the old Oilers, in 1991. This time around, it's the Bengals defense that is a strength, paced by defensive tackle Geno Atkins and his 12 1/2 sacks. Cincinnati had 51 sacks and had the third-ranked defense in the AFC. Houston, meanwhile, leaked oil to to the finish line, dropping three of its final four to go from the No. 1 seed to No. 3. Matt Schaub struggle down the stretch, with one touchdown pass and three interceptions and while receiver Andre Johnson led the AFC with a career-high 1,598 receiving yards, he only had four TDs. Arian Foster, though, kept the Texans afloat, rushing fir 1,424 yards and 15 scores. The key to this game, though, is Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, the probable NFL defensive player of the year who had a league-high 20 1/2 sacks and also altered just as many passes.
The prediction: Texans 24, Bengals 20

Minnesota Vikings (10-6) at Green Bay Packers (11-5)
NBC, 5 p.m. PT
Think Adrian Peterson is lamenting the lack of 27 feet? Yes, the Minnesota running back was just nine yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson's 28-year-old single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards after falling just shy last week against these same Green Bay Packers. But that game was in the cozy and controlled confines of the Metrodome. This week? Not so much, even if Peterson has rushed for at least 175 yards four times in his career against the Packers, including 210 yards and 199 yards this season. The Frozen Tundra beckons and Christian Ponder, who has no interceptions in his last three games, is due to give a couple away, right? Charles Woodson, coming back after missing the last nine games with a broken collarbone, sure thinks so. And if the Packers, who have won five of their last six against Minnesota (the lone loss in that stretch last week's 37-34 defeat), jump out to a lead, Ponder will have to throw more than usual. In his last five meetings against the Vikings, Aaron Rodgers has a 132.5 passer rating, with 16 touchdowns, one interception and a 74.7 completion percentage. Outdoors, this game screams to the Packers' advantage, unless A.P. turns in another MVP performance.
The prediction: Packers 31, Vikings 21

Coming Sunday: Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens, Seattle Seahawks at Washington.

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