Is there a better weekend in pro football? No way.
We get to see eight above-average-to-premium clubs, most of which had to scratch and claw their way here, fighting low expectations and/or injuries. The Indianapolis Colts actually stick out in both categories, with injuries on both lines, the Chuck Pagano situation and, of course, the low bar set for the team back in the spring, when Peyton Manning was getting eHarmony'd by seemingly every NFL franchise. He settled on Denver. The Colts settled on moving on.
Oh, have they ever. Yet, Indy isn't the only team that's teeing it up this weekend. With the eight clubs come eight different storylines, and eight million dissenting opinions on who's advancing ... and who's not.
Alright, Yuval. Don't agree with all of those selections, but I can say that my neighbor's name is Yuval. He doesn't care much about football, but I do hear him playing Coldplay on his guitar every time he coaxes a girl to come over. So that's good.
Now that you have Yuval's picks, below are mine ... with an upset right off the bat. Any issues, hit me up. @Harrison_NFL is your destination resort for NFL diatribes.
So let's get to it ...
Elliot Harrison went 13-3 on his predictions for Week 17, giving him a 141-66-1 record since taking over this space in Week 4. How will he fare in Wild Card Weekend? His picks are below, with home teams listed second:
There, I said it, OK? The
Houston Texans have struggled too much for my taste. The
Cincinnati Bengals have won seven of their past eight games and present some matchup problems. The right side of the Houston offensive line is a problem. That's not swell, considering Cincy sits just one sack shy of the NFL lead with 51 on the season.
Matt Schaub has not handled adversity too well over the past several weeks, at least not in the pocket. Schaub has posted passer ratings under 75 in three of the past four games. Cincinnati has had its own problems protecting
Andy Dalton, who hasn't exactly been lighting the world on fire over the last month, either.
So, who will fare better? My sense is that Dalton will, even on the road. The Texans are allowing opposing quarterbacks a 96.7 passer rating over the past four games, including an awful 9:1 TD-to-INT ratio. Can Arian Foster pick up the slack for Schaub? Maybe. If you throw out Week 17's largely inconsequential game versus the Baltimore Ravens, the Bengals' defense hasn't given up 100 yards rushing on the ground since Week 11. The pass defense last allowed 300 yards passing in Week 2. The Houston offense has a tough task. #CINvsHOU
Home-field advantage plays in the
Green Bay Packers' favor, much like it worked for the Minnesota
in the Week 17 thriller. I don't think the
Packers' secondary can possibly play worse than it did last Sunday against
Christian Ponder. Love the guy, but he scares nobody. The young quarterback hasn't proven anything this season, other than the fact that he has outstanding mobility and is capable of making big plays with athleticism and a sense of urgency. He'll need it in Green Bay, because the Vikes can't stake their hopes entirely on
Adrian Peterson rushing for 250 yards.
This is not to disparage Minnesota, which has benefitted from timely defensive plays, putting the team in position to win. The Vikings have 44 sacks and rarely give up big plays, allowing the sixth-fewest number of 20-plus-yard gains. That's huge when it comes to playing the Packers. Nonetheless, Green Bay gets Randall Cobb back this week, Greg Jennings was outstanding in Minnesota (eight receptions, 120 yards, two TDs), and Aaron Rodgers has the home crowd behind him. #MINvsGB
Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I originally leaned toward taking the pesky
Ray Lewis' retirement announcement changed that. You can't tell me the
Ravens aren't going to be fired up in Lewis' swan song in Baltimore. There aren't many recognizable names up front on the
Colts' defense, but those guys have performed admirably. They better continue doing so on Sunday, with
Ray Rice well rested and
Bernard Pierce providing some serious punch off the bench.
Joe Flacco has been very good at home this season: 62.2 completion percentage, 8.4 yards per attempt, 15:5 TD-to-INT ratio, all of which leads to a 99.0 passer rating and a 6-2 record.
Can Andrew Luck do it again? That's the question. Losing Lardarius Webb for the season was a huge blow to the Ravens' secondary. The back four in Baltimore is exploitable, but Luck must have time to throw and Vick Ballard must give Indy some juice in the ground game. Ballard has been so-so -- at best -- the past two weeks. After hemorrhaging rushing yards the first half of the season, Baltimore improved greatly in the second half ( without Lewis), allowing 106 yards per game on 3.9 per carry. Remember, the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys both put up two bills on Baltimore's run defense in Week 5 and Week 6. So, can the Ravens really sit Lewis in his final game? That would be like Luke Skywalker asking Obi-Wan to tap out in Empire because he was merely a shadow (hologram? ghost? Force essence?) of his former self.
Ah, either way, Luck is gonna have to sling it 50 times. #INDvsBAL
Washington Redskins fans have asked me on Twitter to pick against them. That's because every time I do, they win. (Although last week I had a change of heart and
picked Washington to beat the
Yes, the Redskins have made me look stupid many times this season. So, I'm going to do what any quality analyst would do: Pick the Redskins to lose again. Seattle gets Brandon Browner back and has the good fortune of keeping Richard Sherman in the lineup after his appeal. The Redskins' pass offense doesn't pose a huge threat, particularly against this secondary. Seattle's defensive backs aren't afraid to hit, either. Given Robert Griffin III's limited mobility (still), capturing the edge might be a little tougher on this team. Still, defensive end Chris Clemons must study his arse off and play well as a result of time in the film room.
Can the Redskins halt the Seahawks' offense? Yes and no. Marshawn Lynch won't go nutso, although I expect 80 to 95 yards and a touch. This game really comes down to the Seattle receivers versus the Washington secondary. DeAngelo Hall played swimmingly in Week 17. Russell Wilson has played well for weeks. If his reads are not open, the dude will run, something he's done effectively. The Offensive Rookie of the Year (in my book) has scampered for 179 yards and four touchdowns in the past three games alone. #SEAvsWAS
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL