Thursday, January 7, 2016

NFL Weekly Predictions: Wild Card

By Jeffrey Boswell

Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.

Kansas City @ Houston (+3)

The Chiefs won their 10th straight game, beating the Raiders, 23-17, and head to the playoffs as the No. 5 seed. Kansas City finished 11-5, one game behind the Broncos in the AFC West.

"We are the hottest team entering the playoffs," Jeremy Maclin said. "But really, are we the team anyone expects to make a serious playoff run? In other words, is there a 'deep threat' for the Chiefs? Oh wait, that would be me. Before I joined the Chiefs, Dwayne Bowe was the deep threat. Bowe had the unique ability to take a shovel pass and turn it into an 8-yard gain. That's why the Browns signed him in the offseason. He's a true 'vertical' threat, because he's always standing on the sideline.

"Our playoff fortunes ride on the shoulders of Alex Smith. Alex is like having a coach on the field, whereas Andy Reid is like having two coaches on the sidelines."

The Texans clinched the AFC South last week, hammering the Jaguars 30-6. Houston recorded 8 sacks, including 3½ by J.J. Watt, and will host the 11-5 Chiefs.

"'3½' is a great number to talk about after a game," Watt said, "but not a good number to talk about after July 4th.

"You probably saw my sack celebration in which I did several dances. A lot of my contemporaries took notice. Igot calls from Justin Houston and Khalil Mack. Then my phone really started ringing. Turns out it was Jason Pierre-Paul blowing up my digits.

"The game plan is to pressure Smith. Alex is no Johnny Manziel, but if he were, our defense would be a 'party,' because he can't pass on it."

Houston wins, 18-16.

Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati (+2½)

The Bengals closed the regular season with a 24-16 win over the Ravens last week, and host AFC North rival Pittsburgh in the wild card round.

"You'll have to go back all the way to 1990 to find a Bengals playoff win," Marvin Lewis said. "There are nonein recent memory. And speaking of 'recent memory,' Vontaze Burfict doesn't have any. Vontaze has a lot of qualities you want to see in a defender. He's relentless, physical, and smart, but what I like most about him is his ability to forget about his mistakes.

"We take exception to being underdogs at home in a playoff game. That's ridiculous. At least show us some respect, and say we're 'favored to lose.' We traversed the rigors of a 16-game schedule and came out on top in theAFC North. Of course, 16-game schedules have never been a problem. It's when you tack on that 17th game that the problem arises."

The Steelers beat the Browns, 28-12, and by virtue of the Jets loss at Buffalo, sneaked into the playoffs as the AFC's sixth seed. DeAngelo Williams injured his ankle and if he can play, his effectiveness will be limited.

"Between Ben Roethlisberger and DeAngelo Williams," Mike Tomlin said, "we haven't had much luck with feet this year. That's certainly not the case with Rex Ryan. Rex gets lucky with feet all the time. And speaking of Rex, we should send him a bouquet of flowers for beating the Jets.

"We like our chances in Cincinnati. We have the AFC's second-highest scoring offense, we beat the Bengals the last time we played, Antonio Brown is unstoppable, the Bengals have lost their last six playoff games, they're starting their backup quarterback, and we're simply the better team. The only thing the Bengals have working in their favor is the law of averages."

Prior to the game, Roethlisberger relives the good old days and locks himself in the bathroom with Martavis Bryant, where he gives his young receiver a harshing, advising him that it's no time to be soft. Bryant takes exception and threatens to "Suh," or kick Roethlisberger in the crotch, but eventually accepts Roethlisberger's words of wisdom.

Late in the third quarter, Bryant snatches a pass from Roethlisberger and races 72 yards for the touchdown. Pittsburgh wins and advances to play the Broncos.

Steelers win, 26-17.

Seattle @ Minnesota (+5½)

Seattle crushed the Cardinals 36-6 last week, and enters the playoffs as the NFC's No. 6 seed, finishing the season 9-7, second in the NFC West. A third-straight trip to the Super Bowl will likely require three playoff wins on the road.

"That was what's called a 'statement' win," Richard Sherman said, "notarized by the 'Legion of Boom.'

"It looks like Marshawn Lynch will be ready to play on Sunday. Pete Carroll understands the importance of our running game, and he's doing everything to make sure Marshawn can play, including showering him with gifts and spending money, as well as providing his family rent-free use of a home. It's exhausting for Carroll. He says he's Bush-ed.

"Marshawn is motivated, as well. Adrian Peterson is the NFL's leading rusher, and Marshawn feels he is just as talented a running back as A.P., and Beast Mode wants to prove it. In other words, Marshawn wants to beat Peterson with the measuring stick.

"If we win, we earn a rematch with Cam Newton and the Panthers. Cam recently welcomed a baby boy named 'Chosen' into this world. If that little fellow grows up to play in the NFL, his nickname will have to be 'Pro Choice.'"

The Vikings defense stifled Aaron Rodger and the Packers, pinning a 20-13 home loss on Green Bay and claiming the NFC North crown in the process. Minnesota forced two Rodgers turnovers, including the game-clinching interception in the end zone on the game's final play.

"We played great defense," Mike Zimmer said. "The key is containing Rodgers. It's no secret how to do that. Even his receivers have it figured out — you just give Rodgers no one to throw to.

"As for the Seahawks, they certainly present a test, which is okay with us. I've never known a Vikings to shy away from a test. Most have gone to great lengths to pass the test. Before Adrian Peterson, Onterrio Smith was the Viking running back most known for 'whipping,' when he whipped out the 'Whizzinator' for a urine test. Sure he failed, but you have to love his ingenuity and deception. Therein lies our keys to victory — 'ingenuity and deception.' We've got to make the Seahawks think we're going to do one thing, and do the exact opposite. For example, use Peterson as a receiver out of the backfield; they'll never expect that, and it will be just like a running game."

How do you beat the Vikings? One way is to play them in the Super Bowl. The other is to pressure Teddy Bridgewater, not with a pass rush, but with the knowledge that he's responsible for carrying his team, not Peterson.

Temperatures are forecast in the single digits for Sunday's game in Minneapolis, which is sure to be a physical affair. There will be blood, bruises, and shrinkage.

Peterson puts the Vikes on the board early with a short score, but the Seahawks adjust, and Russell Wilson's scrambling ability, especially on third down, breaks the Vikings' spirit. Kam Chancellor scoops up a Bridgewater fumble and scores to seal the win.

Seattle wins, 22-12.

Green Bay @ Washington (-1)

The Packers lost 20-13 at Lambeau Field to the Vikings, and thus claimed the No. 5 seed in the NFC, where a matchup with the Redskins awaits at FedEx Field.

"Kirk Cousins made the term 'you like that?' famous," Mike McCarthy said. "I'm telling you Adrian Peterson popularized that phrase long before Cousins uttered it. He's been saying 'you like that?' to his kids for a long time. Of course, he's saying it sarcastically.

"Our offensive line is in shambles. Aaron Rodgers is running for his life, and our running backs are running in place. Eddie Lacy is averaged only 2.6 yards per carry last week. Sometimes, Eddie looks great. At other times, he looks like the second coming, no, second helping, of Trent Richardson. If Marshawn Lynch has 'Beast Mode,' then Eddie has 'Eats Mode.' Lynch may 'taste the rainbow.' Eddie? He'll 'taste anything.''

Washington rode the talents of quarterback Kirk Cousins to the NFC East title, and will rely on him to lead the charge against the Packers.

"This is Kurt's chance to prove he belongs amongst the elite quarterbacks in the NFL," Jay Gruden said, "and, judging by his recent performances, Rodgers' chance to prove he should remain amongst the elite.

"Kurt has given the nation's capitol something to believe in. Republicans and Democrats in Congress can agree on that. Even Obama cares. On the other hand, Donald Trump showed his support for the Packers by mentioning HaHa Clinton-Dix in a speech. I think, however, he may have been talking about Bill Clinton's infidelity as a detriment to Hillary's campaign.

"And speaking of 'nation's capitol,' we'll be using a lot of 'nation's capital' to sink into a contract extension for Cousins. Will he get a contract that compares to the one we gave Albert Haynesworth back in 2009? As you may recall, that contract was heavily loaded on the back end. So was Haynesworth, because he was a fat ass."

Prior to kickoff, the Redskins distribute "You Like That" rally towels to all fans, while Robert Griffin III hands out "You Liked That" towels. Meanwhile, Ndamukong Suh's hatches the idea for an "Unsportsmanlike That?" line of merchandise.

Rodgers sends a message to his receiving corps, having flashing neon "Open" signs installed in each of their lockers. The subtle hint has an effect, as Rodgers passes for 2 scores, and the Green Bay defense comes up with 2 big turnovers.

Green Bay wins, 27-24.

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