Mercifully, the regular season has come to an end. The final week produced another average result. The 7-8 tally moves our season total to 116-123-10. This is the first year the column finished under .500 in its four years of existence. The Sultan of Sides has been humbled. Fortunately, there’s still time to salvage the year.
The lines associated with this weekend’s wild-card games highlight just how wacky this NFL season has been. All four favorites are visiting teams! Has that ever happened before?
Kansas City Chiefs
@ HOUSTON TEXANS +3
Kansas City’s season has been a tale of two parts. The Chiefs started the year 1-5 and lost star rusher Jamaal Charles to a season-ending injury. Their goose was cooked! Inexplicably, Kansas City won its final 10 games.
Houston has started 27 different quarterbacks this season. That’s not true, it just seems that way. Concussed passer, Brian Hoyer, is back under center for this contest.
Kansas City and Houston tangled the opening week of the season. That game resulted in a 27-20 Chiefs victory. Hoyer was benched in that game due to poor play.
It’s hard to imagine all four home teams losing this weekend, so this play is in part just trying to find a home win on the board. J.J. Watt will be a force, and DeAndre Hopkins will be a difference maker for the Texans. Kansas City, with Alex Smith at quarterback, isn’t scaring anyone. The Chiefs are good, but they’re not substantially better than the Texan.
As long as Hoyer stays upright, and can pronounce his words for all four quarters the home team has an edge. Texans win 23-20
@ Cincinnati Bengals +3
This is a really good Bengals roster. Strong defense, offensive line, good skill position players. Can those positives carry Cincinnati past a hot Pittsburgh Steelers team without starting quarterback Andy Dalton? Bottom line, who do you trust to win a playoff game, Ben Roethlisberger or A.J. McCarron? Yes, the Steelers are already without star rusher Le’Veon Bell, and now may be without veteran replacement DeAngelo Williams, but Pittsburgh’s strength lies in its passing attack. As long as Antonio Brown, Martavius Bryant, and Markus Wheaton are catching passes Big Ben is going to light up the scoreboard.
If Cincinnati can produce a zero-turnover performance, control the clock with a strong rushing game, and limit Pittsburgh’s explosive plays, the Bengals could pull off the upset at home. That’s a lot of ifs. Steelers win 30-17
@ Minnesota Vikings +5
Let’s not pretend that the 38-7 beatdown Seattle put on the Minnesota Vikings five weeks ago isn’t relevant. That game was in Minny also, the weather was a bit warmer, but still. It’s not like the Vikings are “used” to playing in 5 degrees. The Vikings will struggle with the cold every bit as much as Seattle.
In the previous matchup, Seattle outgained the Vikings 433-125! The Seahawks held Vikings rusher Adrian Peterson to a season low 18 yards. Seattle’s Legion of Boom defense once again led the NFL in points allowed. The Seahawks are also the top-ranked rushing defense in the league.
We haven’t even mentioned Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and company on the back end or the fact that Russell Wilson is the hottest quarterback on the planet. Wilson has tossed 24 touchdowns in his last seven games compared to a single interception. That’s good. Oh and Marshawn Lynch, Beast Mode, is back in the lineup.
Minnesota has had a great year, they’re a nice team on the rise. Can Vikes passer Teddy Bridgewater lead the team to a win over the Legion of Boom defense? Not a chance. Seahawks win 24-13
Green Bay Packers
@ WASHINGTON REDSKINS +1
Let’s face it. If Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn’t named Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay would not be favored in this game. The Packers backed their way into the postseason losing six of their last 10 contests, including a bizarre 20-13 loss last Sunday in Lambeau to their rival Minnesota Vikings. The loss cost Green Bay the NFC North division title and a chance to host a playoff game.
Now the Packers have to travel to the nation’s capital to face a red-hot Redskins team on the warpath. Washington passer, Kirk Cousins, is the hottest quarterback in the NFL outside of Cam Newton and Russell Wilson. Since Week 7, Cousins’ 119.1 passer rating is tops in the NFL. The ghost of Robert Griffin III is officially gone.
Washington has won four straight to claim the belittled NFC East title. It’s clear these two teams are trending in opposite directions. Those trends will last through wild-card weekend. Redskins win 27-21