As we enter the playoffs of the 2012 NFL regular season, there are plenty of off-season story lines and plot threads going on. However, this blog is about winners, not losers, and so we focus on those who are still playing, not crying on the couch, lamenting what a great season they should have had. Let us begin:
Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans
The once surging Texans stumbled at the end of the regular season, one reason they are playing this week rather getting a bye. Meanwhile, the Bengals are surging ahead. However, history has taught us that anything can happen, and often times, anything will. Despite being favored, the Texans problems run deep, and although I am not fond of the phrase “exposed,” they have had bad outings which may have done that. The Bengals, who seem to have a great season and a playoff game once every couple of years, are questionable in terms of their ability to pull through the game and beyond that.
However, I feel that the Texans have an edge that the Bengals don’t; history, or in the Texans case, lack of it. The Texans made the playoffs last season for the first time in franchise history, and won their first game at home. They still have the high of that right now; it may sound weird, but given that level of success, they will want to surpass it, especially given that they are still fighting and want to grow out of the title “expansion team.” The Bengals have a sadder playoff history, but Marvin Lewis is a solid coach. I favor the Texans, but would not be surprised if the Bengals win.
My line for this game is Texans +4.
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Akin to the Texans are the Packers, who had a shot at a first round bye and blew it. Unlike the Texans, they get to play the team that beat them in week 17, costing them the bye, again in the Wild Card round. The difference is that this time the Packers will be at home, at Lambeau Field, but given their recent history, both at home in the playoffs, and against Minnesota this season, I don’t think it’s as big a deal as many others.
For starters, Adrian Peterson had over 200 yards a game against them in their meetings, which does not bode well for the Packers. Christian Ponder is on a hot streak, and the Vikings know they can beat the Packers. On the other hand, the Packers are not known for laying down. They realize that they lost a great opportunity and that they cannot afford another slip up. Aaron Rodgers is keenly aware of the consequences of failure, but seems quite intent on focusing on what he can do.
Although both teams have strong offenses, I foresee this game being more of a defensive battle in the first half. It will be cold on the field, and until the offenses get fully acclimated, they will play conservative; the defense that can score the most takeaways, and potentially the most points, will give their team the lead going into halftime. However, Ponder, Peterson, and Rodgers will find their stride, and begin scoring in the second half. Although the Vikings have that a warm vibe to them, the Packers will use Lambeau Field to their advantage, and pull ahead midway through the fourth.
My line for the game: Green Bay +8
Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens
In a match up reminiscent of their glory days of the 2000s, the Colts will be playing the Ravens. However, the Colts are coming off of unexpected success after a major revamping of their organization, and the Ravens are planning their next era following the announcement that Ray Lewis will be retiring once the Ravens’ season is over. It is a young and freshly assembled squad facing a veteran team on its last hurrah (or next to last hurrah at least). It’s a match up that is befitting two of the most successful teams of the past decade, even though they are on different points of the NFL curve right now.
The Ravens will not want to go out with a whimper, especially with Ray Lewis’s retirement. You can almost imagine that veteran defense gearing up for one last campaign with the message “win it for Ray.” Conversely, you can imagine the Colts prepping with the goal of proving that the Manning era is completely in their rear window, and they’ll be facing them later in the playoffs to prove just how good they are. Andrew Luck has done a phenomenal job, not just handling the stress of being Peyton Manning’s successor, the number one overall draft pick, and a rookie starting quarterback in the NFL, but of also not falling victim to his own success and believing his own press. He has a great offense around him that is actively developing with him, complete with his old tight end from Stanford, as well as veteran Reggie Wayne.
In the end, though, the Colts have years of success ahead of them; the Ravens have one last major run, and certainly only one more run with the Hall of Famer Lewis.
My line: Ravens +6.5
Seattle Seahawks at Washington Redskins
A duel of hotshot rookie quarterbacks, backed by solid defenses, and shrewd head coaches, this game is the true wild card; it’s the one that you didn’t see coming at the start of the season. Seriously: if you said “the most anticipated wild card game will be between the Seahawks and the Redskins,” I probably would have laughed in your face for ten minutes. Yeah, the potential was always there, but few thought that both teams would be as good as they are.
They’re not only good, though, they’re hot. Both teams found their stride and began kicking tail right as the regular season began heating up, and both come in with the knowledge that they can play anybody, and beat them. It’s a lot more than just a battle of young teams, it’s also a battle of teams that work together to achieve a common goal.
Whichever team wins could be favored to win in the divisional match up. As stated before, though, this will be the game to watch this weekend.
My line: Redskins +1