NFL Wild Card Saturday Preview

Jaguars vs. Chiefs

An ancient quote reads “It’s not how you start but how you finish”. Well if that’s true then I’m most assuredly on the right path. I finished the NFL regular season last week going 15-1 on my picks. It was by far my best week of the season. Everyone knows you want to be playing your best football at the end of the season. Just look at the last two Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens who each got hot at the end. The stakes certainly get raised in the playoffs. That’s true even for a predictor. Far less games in a week leaves far less room for mistakes. Luckily I don’t make too many of those so the outlook is pretty good for me. Saturday brings fans two wild-card games. Here’s a preview of what to expect…

Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts
The Chiefs are the direct opposite of the above quote. They started the season hot winning their first nine games. They finished poorly loosing five of their last seven. The Colts, however, are hot as they’ve won four of their last five coming into the game. One of those wins was a 23-7 victory over the Chiefs in week 15. It’s hard to ignore that game being that it was so recent and the fact that the Colts scored 23 straight points after giving up the games first touchdown. That game, unlike this one was played in Kansas City and the Colts used an effective defense to force the Chiefs into four turnovers, three by quarterback Alex Smith (two interceptions and a fumble). That game aside, the Chiefs have been phenomenal this year at not turning the ball over. They finished tied for second in the league with only 18 turnovers. You may be asking which is the only team to do better? Why, it’s the Indianapolis Colts of course, with a league-low 14 turnovers.

The key for the Chiefs is obviously running back Jamaal Charles. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is the runaway MVP this year but Charles should and will garner some votes himself. That’s because not only is he the best rusher on his team but he’s the best receiver as well. Charles led the Chiefs and tied for first in the league with 12 rushing touchdowns. His 1,287 rushing yards were the third most in the NFL. Aside from those gaudy numbers he also led the team with 70 receptions and 693 receiving yards. Add to that his seven touchdown catches and you have arguably the best all-around back in the league.

The Colts success lies in no small part to young QB Andrew Luck. There was no sophomore slump for Luck as he finished with 23 touchdowns (the same as last year) and only 9 interceptions (half as many as last year). Lucks success can be partly attributed to T.Y. Hilton, the best “little-known” receiver in the league (in my humble opinion). Hilton finished the year with the quietest 1,000+ yard season (he had 1,083 to be exact) and five touchdowns, second on the team to only running back Donald Brown.

There are two glaring team stats to remember as you watch this game. Number one is that the Colts have won five of the last six games from the Chiefs. The other is that Kansas City has not won a playoff game since 1993. No small points there.

New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles
Forget the fact that the Saints won 11 games and have to play on the road. Forget the fact that the Eagles needed a win in the the last week of the season to get in. This game is all about bragging rights between quarterbacks Nick Foles and Drew Brees over who is the best graduate of Westlake High School in Austin, Texas. Ok, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch but the QB play will definitely be a factor in this one.

Since taking over the full time duties under center Foles record is 8-2. He has thrown 27 touchdowns on the year with only two interceptions. Foles main target on the season has been DeSean Jackson who finished the year with 1,332 receiving yards. His nine scores were tied for fourteenth best in the league. Foles and Jackson are able to be dynamic in the passing game mainly because of other-worldly running back LeSean McCoy. He is the end all for everything in the Eagles running game. LeSean led the NFL with 1,607 rushing yards and tied for sixth with 9 rushing scores. McCoy lead the team with 314 rushing attempts, which were more than four times the next closest runner, Bryce Brown with 75 attempts.

As usual the Saints had a prolific offense. Drew Brees threw for 5,162 yards (second only to THE Peyton Manning). Brees loves to spread the ball around in the Saints passing game but clearly his top target this year was tight end Jimmy Graham. Not only did Graham finish with 1,215 receiving yards but he also led the league in touchdown catches with 16. New Orleans will be without running back Pierre Thomas in the game but I don’t think it will hurt the offense too much. Running the ball is not the teams strong point. That’s evidenced by the fact that Thomas was the teams leading rusher for the season with a mere 549 yards. As a team the Saints only had ten rushing touchdowns. To put that into perspective Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs, Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks and Eddie Lacy of the Packers each had more rushing scores by themselves. To balance out the lack of running power the Saints and Brees had ten different receivers catch at least one touchdown this season.

Despite both teams being able to put up big numbers on offense it’s the Saints defense that may be the real factor in the game. Under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan the Saints have become a real threat. New Orleans has only given up an average of 305.7 yards per game which was the fourth best mark in the league. The Eagles however gave up 394 yards a game, the 29th rank. A big reason for the Eagles terrible mark was the fact that they gave up 4,636 passing yards this year. That’s the most by any team. The Saints only gave up 3,105 passing yard, which was the second fewest in the league.

The Saints road woes are well known at this point. New Orleans has never won a road playoff game in franchise history. This season alone New Orleans was only 3-5 outside of their home dome. On the road they scored 16.2 less points for the season. Be that as it may I always say, “there’s no record of anything happening until it happens”. Well it will happen today for the Saints on the road.

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