January 5, 2013

Saturday's Wild Card Matchups

Arian Foster could be the player with the most on his shoulders this weekend
Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans 4:30 p.m.
@ Reliant Stadium in Houston

The Texans have been struggling as of late as their 1-3 record shows to end the season. In those four games, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has one touchdown and three interceptions. That type of production in this playoff will spell doom for the team-to-beat just four weeks ago.  The Bengals end of the season run of winning seven of their last eight games has to be a concern for the Texans. Normally, the team that is on a roll has a better chance of moving on.  The Bengals should have some extra motivation after being crushed 31-10 last season by the Texans in the wild-card round.

If you get your sports information from other sources, you will most likely see that J.J. Watt is the player to watch in this game. While Watt will play an important role in stopping the Bengals offense, he is not the most important Texan in this game.  Arian Foster, the All-Pro running back, is the Texan to watch because of the performance of Schaub the last four weeks. If Foster can get rolling early against a tough Bengals defense, the Texans will have a shot to get Schaub throwing after some effective play action. The Bengals defense was ranked 7th against the pass in the regular season and set a franchise record by amassing 51 sacks of opposing quarterbacks. That is why Foster will play such a big role, not only running the ball, but being an outlet for Schaub in the passing game.  Foster had 40 receptions this year and I wouldn't be surprised if he gets close to 10 receptions today.

A.J. Green had a monster second season in the NFL with 97 receptions, 1.350 yards, and 11 touchdowns. He will be the key player for the Bengals because he is by far the best option for the Bengals in the passing game.  Jermaine Gresham and Andrew Hawkins are decent options but they are not game-changers like Green can be.  If Green can get open consistently early, the Bengals offense will get on a roll, which will help the confidence of Andy Dalton. Dalton had an up-and-down season and will be facing a tough test against the Texans defense, but Green can make his job easier.  If Green gets rolling, then everything in the offense gets easier for the Bengals.

Prediction. Bengals 23, Houston 21
I'm not sure why but I feel like the Bengals are on a roll and want to be more than a team that makes the playoffs and loses in the first round every year.  Houston's confidence has to be down, and being unsure of themselves now is not going to help them.

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers 8 p.m.
@ Lambeau Field in Green Bay

The Vikings won their last four games of the regular season including a 37-34 week 17 win over the Packers.  The Packers have won nine of their last eleven games including a 23-14 win over the Vikings in week 13.  Both of these teams have their weaknesses. The Vikings are 31st in passing offense, and 24th in passing defense. The Packers are 20th in run offense and 17th in run defense.  The Vikings weakness in throwing the ball can be attributed to having Adrian Peterson in the backfield.  Why would the Vikings throw as many times as say the Packers would if they stick to their strength.  On the other hand why would the Packers run the ball as much as the Vikings if they have Aaron Rodgers.  Both teams do have weaknesses in those areas but I wanted to make those points known before you listen to the announcers.  

It would be obvious to pick Aaron Rodgers as the Packers player to watch, but it would also be stupid not to pick him.  Rodgers makes the Packers go and he will be the key today.  Yes, the Packers run defense will be a big key, but if Rodgers gets the air attack cranking early and the Packers are up 14-0 how much can the Vikings really run? Rodgers is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL as most of you know and having a great quarterback in the playoffs is such an advantage.  Rodgers has weapons and uses them well.  In the regular season he threw 39 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions. That is the definition of an offensive weapon.  In the two games against the Vikings, Rodgers threw for 651 yards, 5 touchdowns and 1 interception.  

Adrian Peterson being the Viking to watch is the same as Rodgers being the Packer to watch, it is obvious but it is a must. Peterson is the engine of the Vikings.  Peterson ran for 2,097 yards in 16 games after busting up his knee last season as most football fans know. The most amazing part of the Peterson story is that his quarterback, Christian Ponder, is at best average, so he is not getting much help from the passing game.  Even though he has been the one guy to stop for the Vikings he has excelled and that could not have been more true against the Packers.  In their two games, Peterson ran for 409 yards. Let me repeat that. 409 yards against the Packers.  Amazing work.  

Prediction. Packers 31, Vikings 23
The Vikings and Peterson have been a great story but winning at Lambeau Field (it is 8 degrees there when I am writing this) will be too much, especially with Rodgers poised for a great game. Also, watch for the return of Charles Woodson. Big-time playmaker.