NFL Playoff Preview — Keys to Watch For in the Wild Card Round
The NFL playoffs start this weekend with four games over two days. Here are three things to watch out for in each game:
Saturday, January 4
Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis; 4:35 p.m. (ET) on NBC
AFC South champion Indianapolis (11-5) hosts AFC wild card Kansas City (11-5). The teams met Dec. 22. at Arrowhead Stadium, where the Colts beat the Chiefs, 23-7.
• Key Personnel Return for KC – The Chiefs should have wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (concussion), linebacker Justin Houston (dislocated elbow) and left tackle Braden Albert (hyperextended knee) back from injury.
• Defenses Could Rule – The Colts defense has only given up 20 points in its last three games. The Chiefs had one of the AFC’s stingiest defenses before injuries hurt its effectiveness.
• A Streak Will End — The Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game since 1993, and the Colts have lost their last three post-season contests in a row. Indy quarterback Andrew Luck hopes to change that on Saturday.
New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles
Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia; 8:10 p.m. (ET) on NBC
NFC East champ Philadelphia (10-6) hosts NFC wild card New Orleans (11-5) in a battle of high-scoring offenses.
• Weather Could Limit Scoring — After a late-week snowstorm moves off the East Coast, the forecast calls for sub-zero wind chills on Saturday night. The temperatures could hamper the offenses. The Saints scored just more than half as many points on the road (17.8) as they did at home (34.0).
• Youth vs. Experience – Eagles quarterback Nick Foles will play in the first post-season game of his NFL career. Of Saints QB Drew Brees’ five career playoff wins, none have come at the opposing team’s home field. Both starting quarterbacks attended Westlake High School in Austin, Tex., albeit a decade apart.
• Shady Is the Key — Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy led the NFL with 1,607 rushing yards and 2,146 yards from scrimmage. New Orleans must limit his effectiveness to win the game.
Sunday, January 5
San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals
Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati; 1:05 p.m. (ET) on CBS
AFC North champion Cincinnati (11-5) hosts San Diego (9-7) in Sunday’s early game.
• Home Sweet Home — The Bengals are 8-0 at Paul Brown Stadium this season, including a 17-10 win over the Chargers in Week 13. San Diego must fly across two time zones and compete after grinding out an overtime win over Kansas City just to make the post-season.
• Both Franchises Are Overdue — The Chargers have had just one playoff win in the last five years, while the Bengals haven’t won a post-season game since 1991. One of the teams will end its drought.
• Protect The Ball — San Diego had three turnovers in its earlier loss to the Bengals. Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton has thrown four interceptions in his only two playoff appearances — both losses. The team that wins the turnover battle should win the game.
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers
Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisc.; 4:40 p.m. (ET) on Fox
NFC North champ Green Bay (8-7-1) hosts San Francisco (12-4) in a rematch of teams that met in the divisional round last post-season – a 45-31 49ers’ win.
• The Aaron Rodgers’ Factor — The Packers are a much better team with Aaron Rodgers starting at quarterback. Even though Rodgers showed rust in last week’s division-clinching win over the Bears, Green Bay improved to 6-3 on the season with him under center. However, one of those losses was a 34-28 defeat to the 49ers in Week 1.
• Kaepernick Owns the Pack – 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick amassed 895 total yards and seven touchdowns in two career starts against Green Bay. The Packers’ defense must contain him to have a chance at victory.
• A Deep Freeze May Ground the Passing Attacks – Even though kick-off will come in the late afternoon, temperatures are expected to dip well below freezing during the game. That might mean more carries for running backs Frank Gore of the 49ers and Eddie Lacy of the Packers.