2015 NFL Match-Up Mania: Wild Cards

Now we set upon the hallowed ground known as the NFL Playoffs. The calendar may read 2016, but the 2015 season’s tournament has begun. The Wild Card round serves as the final weed out for teams that may have been pretending or received the benefit of a weak schedule. But there are games here that will guarantee to be anticipation and excitement made real. This week, the intro has no silliness, no apologies for previous flubs, or boasts on what was correctly predicted — it officially no longer matters. It’s on to the Student of the Game’s Match-Up Mania for the Wild Card round. We begin to tick down the final countdown for the championship.

(OK — one silly moment)

Chiefs v. Texans

Both of these teams came on late to push up their respective races. The thing is, with the Chiefs, their late push was accompanied by a lead-in starting back in Week Seven when they began their ten-game winning streak while down their star offensive weapon, running back Jamal Charles who hit the injury reserve. Charles going down was supposed to signal a failed season for Kansas City, but back ups Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware had other plans. They provided support for quarterback, Alex Smith to have arguably his best season as a Kansas City Chief. Then to cap it off, the defense began to gel at the level expected of a Pro Bowl populated parliament regulating offenses.

Despite the Texans 9-7 record, they too deserve credit finding a way to survive with multiple different passers playing under center. But at day’s end, defensive domination determines their destiny. If JJ Watt and company perform, hope springs eternal. . . if not, the water runs dry.

Frankly, I compare Houston’s chances of pulling off an upset and advancing to this description of a group’s chances of robbing a Las Vegas casino:

Funny videos and pondering Brad Pitt playing Watt in a movie aside, Alex Smith and company and their ability to minimize turnovers looks far more promising than Brandon Weeden’s chances of slinging arrows past Kansas City’s defense. But are Watt and company nuts enough to prove me wrong?

Steelers v. Bengals

While it didn’t go the way I had expected, the result was still the same. The Steelers made the playoffs with a little help from the Bills toppling the Jets in Week Seventeen. This development spells bad news for the Bengals who are set to host them. I don’t mean just in terms of this game, but long term. When Pittsburgh prevails, Cincinnati would have suffered five straight playoff exits in as many years. And with the likely starter set to be back up quarterback, AJ McCarron, this means that Head Coach Marvin Lewis will be set to be scapegoated as one of the most under appreciated coaches in the NFL when he is inevitably fired. And it’s the Bills fault . . . maybe?

In my spinning of conspiracy theories that are as loosely held together as a round of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”, it might have been noticed that I didn’t mention the Steelers might be without running back DeAngelo Williams. And it’s because it doesn’t matter in the inevitability of a Pittsburgh victory.

Don’t get me wrong. . . I’m not a Steelers fan. Heck, I’d like to see the Strype Hype Nation win a postseason game. But at day’s end, if I’m expected to believe that Big Ben Roethlisberger will fall to McCarron, I’m afraid I’ll have to see it first. For those Bengals fans infuriated by this statement, here’s a funny video with Kevin Bacon. I expect to be used in your next session of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”.

Seahawks v. Vikings

The Vikings are not the same team that Seattle faced earlier in the season. The 34-6 smackdown could serve as a opportunity for Head Coach Mike Zimmer to scheme the Seahawks. . . And at that point, the Vikings will only lose 34-24.

I take nothing away from the vastly improved defense, Adrian Peterson or how the team scraped past the Packers to claim the NFC North, but the Twin Cities will need Teddy Bridgewater to have the game of his life and overcome issues throwing the long ball. It would require the ability to learn this quickly:

Even if that does happen, Seattle might be able to demonstrate how Marshawn Lynch is all about that action accompanied by Russell Wilson. Wilson’s evolution this season is a good case study in how Bridgewater needs to evolve in a fraction of the time. The final X-Factor is Seattle vs. themselves. They have shown flashes of a lack of discipline in road games of this nature before, and it will fall on Head Coach Pete Carroll to lead his franchise past that if they wish to return to the Super Bowl.

Packers v. Redskins

I stand by the statement I made in one of my episodes of the Sports Symposium that Aaron Rodgers is “. . . the best quarterback playing the position as of 2014″. He’s smart, he’s got a good arm, and he’s the only passer I can name off the top of my head who won a Super Bowl without a solid O-line. But something about the Packers in the back half of the 2015 season has made it to where Rodgers has to lift the weight and be the hero even in games where they are clear favorites. It’s with this in mind that I predicted they would lose the Week Seventeen battle against the Minnesota Vikings and forfeit the NFC North division. This is a team on the decline, at least mentally. And for those apologists trying to play the card of the injury to Jordy Nelson — stop it. This team has been without Nelson for long stretches of time before, and it didn’t matter.

Meanwhile, there’s the Washington Redskins who feature a gunslinger by the name of Kirk Cousins. A fourth-round draft pick in 2012 who was assumed to be the ill-fated permanent backup to Robert Griffin III who was drafted second overall the same year. Now, RG3 is a punch line and Cousins is shouting into a camera and making tons of money for charity. No seriously — that made a T-shirt out of this:

While there’s no question the Redskins quarterback is a decent human being, his team’s success is a mystery to analysts. Granted, the NFC (L)East be it by injury (Cowboys), dysfunction (Eagles), or the curse of the last 30 seconds of a game (Giants) was handed to Washington, one can’t argue that this squad had to do something every now and again to prevent 2015 from throwing out any losing playoff teams into the tournament. There are mentally in the exact opposite state of being as the Green Bay Packers and have home field to boot.

It comes down to scrappy vs. spent. Regardless of the gap in talent and experience, I’m forced to pick DC against my better judgement.

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