NFL Wildcard Sunday Preview

Andy Dalton

Not a bad way to start the NFL Playoffs, by going two-for-two on my wild card picks yesterday. I may have been slightly off on my picks for the final score but in the end I got both the winners right. Sundays match ups provide a bit of a harder task. The red hot Chargers storm into Cincinnati for a rematch of week 13 and the 49ers invade familiar foe Green Bay in a week 1 encore. It’s going to be tough to follow up yesterday’s action but I’m expecting another two great contests. Let’s take a closer look how it will all play out…

San Diego at Cincinnati
A rematch of the week 13 game where the Bengals squeaked out a 17-10 victory. Unlike today though, that game took place in San Diego. Despite the home field San Diego scored their lowest point total of the season. The Bengals defense forced them into three turnovers that day. Cincinnati was also aided that day by running for 164 yards. They started slowly gaining only 104 yards in the first half but picked it up to the tune of 250 in the second.

The Bengals come into the game today with a lot of pressure to end a 23-year playoff drought. It will help immensely that they are home as they are undefeated this year on their own turf. Almost as big as the team winless streak is coach Marvin Lewis’ streak of 4 straight playoff losses in his 11-years with the team.

Quarterback Andy Dalton finished with a very good stat line as he became only the second man in NFL history to begin his career with three straight 3,000 yard seasons. He’s going to need to rely on his defense to come up big though as the Chargers passing game finished fourth in the league this year. That comes in no small part to the play of rookie Keenan Allen. He played like anything but a rookie as he finished the year with 71 catches for 1,046 yards and 8 touchdowns. In the game earlier this season Allen had 8 catches for 106 yards. It was his 5th 100-yard game of the year. The stellar play of the young man certainly helped Philip Rivers achieve the leagues best complete toon percentage with 69.5%.

The Chargers will also rely on their two headed monster in the backfield. Ryan Matthews totaled 1,255 rushing yards this year and found the end zone six time. Not to be outdone backfield mate Danny Woodhead picked up 1,034 total yards and eight touchdowns. The Bengals defense should be up to the task though as they finished third overall allowing only 305.5 yards per game and 5th overall in passing. They allowed the second least passing yards per attempt with 5.9.

The game will not only be a rematch of week 13 but a playoff rematch of way back in 1982 when the Bengals beat the Chargers 27-7 in the AFC title game. San Diego has win five out of six and four in a row to get into the playoffs. The Bengals have also won five of their last six games to end the year. Thanks to the hard-nose defense and home field advantage I’m taking the Bengals to keep their season going today.

San Francisco at Green Bay
These teams know each other like peanut butter and jelly at this point. The two teams just met in week 1 where the 49ers won a barn burner 33-28. In that contest San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw for 412 yards and three touchdowns. He had two huge targets come up big in Anquan Boldin (13 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown) and Vernon Davis (6 catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns). Davis would finish the year tied for third in the league with 13 touchdowns.

During the 49ers six-game winning streak Kaepernick has thrown for 232.5 yards a game (that’s 1,395 for the mathematically challenged) and ten scores. The Packers defense will be hard pressed to stop him especially with All-Pro Clay Matthews missing the game with a broken right thumb. Green Bay has no slouch at the QB position either. Aaron Rodgers made his long-awaited return last week from a broken collar bone. He looked a little rusty at first but picked it up in the second half as he threw for 173 yards and two scores. He was 11 for 17 in the half.

Aside for Rodgers the Packers also have rookie running back Eddie Lacy to help them try and advance. Lacy only had 41 rushing yards on fourteen carries in the game earlier this year against the 49ers, he certainly gained momentum as the season went on though as he finished with 1,178 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Green Bay also saw the return of Randall Cobb last week and even though he only caught two passes both were for scores. Make them count!!! On the other side of the field Rodgers will have his favorite target in Jordy Nelson who enjoyed another fantastic year even with Rodgers being out so long. Nelson finished with 1,314 yards and 8 scores.

The 49ers will need to rely on their 4th ranked rushing defense (allowing only only 95.9 yards a game) in what will probably be a run heavy game thanks to the cold weather. Temperature at kickoff is projected to be 2 degrees Fahrenheit with a windchill of -18 degrees. That should play into the Packers strength. Let’s not forget that Green Bay won their first 13 home playoff games in franchise history. Although they have gone only 3-4 since then. I still like the Pack at Lambeau, especially with a fully healthy Rodgers under center.

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