Wild Card Weekend: Coolest football weekend of the year, man.
When I was a kid, Championship Sunday was my favorite. Yet, after watching enough blowouts in the '80s, this weekend morphed into the best. Yes, I like this more than the Divisional Round because a) it kicks off the playoff season; and b) it's a weekend in which a dozen teams are still in the championship hunt.
The recently retired Tom Coughlin earned his first Super Bowl title with a wild-card team in 2007. Another two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach, Tom Flores, earned his first Lombardi Trophy as a wild card with the 1980 Oakland Raiders -- although he didn't receive the love Coughlin has been showered with this week. Will any of the non-division winners take the Super Bowl 50 crown?
See below. And, as always, share your take: @HarrisonNFL is the place. Houston is the place where the fun gets started, so we begin there ...
Elliot Harrison went 8-8 on his predictions for Week 17, giving him a record of 151-105 so far this season. How will he fare on Wild Card Weekend? His picks are below.
Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET, NBC
Seattle is looking like a real tough out right now. Tougher than Jay Buhner on a 3-0 count in the mid-'90s. (Buhner hit in the climate-controlled Kingdome, though. This sucker apparently is gonna be hovering around zero degrees.) Much of the fear factor has to do with Russell Wilson, who has been playing out of his freaking mind since mid-November. Over his last seven games, Wilson has thrown 24 touchdown passes against just one interception. And now he'll be getting Marshawn Lynch back. Now, Lynch is coming off a sports hernia -- that's a difficult injury. That said ... Beast Mode with fresh legs > almost every run D in the league.
On that note, the Vikings must work to establish the run in the first half -- even if it is not working. Stay committed to getting one-on-ones outside. I'd love to see Norv Turner dial up a play action to hit a nine route down the sideline. Why not go deep early and send the Seahawks a message that their top-ranked scoring defense will have to play the whole field? At some point, Stefon Diggs or Mike Wallace must beat single coverage. If not, Kyle Rudolph had better be more involved than he was in Green Bay last week. The tight end had the same number of catches as the expected temperature Sunday. #zero #SEAvsMIN
Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET, FOX
I don't like the Packers in this game. I do like Kirk Cousins. Why? How about time to throw, for starters. That is a commodity that Aaron Rodgers has enjoyed little of over the last several weeks. Green Bay's franchise quarterback has gone down 13 times in the past fortnight, while being chased out of the pocket on countless others. Add to that the startling stat that he has suffered multiple sacks almost every week of the season. The last time he went down only once was in *Week 3*. Moreover ... I just wanted to use moreover in a sentence.
Meanwhile, Cousins has been lights-out at home. Since that dud performance in Week 1 versus Miami, the resilient signal caller has gone 6-1 at FedExField, with 15 touchdowns and zero picks. His passer rating in those games? 123.7. And on the season, he led the NFL in completion percentage at 69.8. That boy good. Whichever team can run the football more effectively will have a tremendous advantage. Dear Alfred Morris, 100 yards at five yards per tote for the second straight week would be a surprising -- and wonderful -- development.#GBvsWAS
Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET, ESPN
Kansas City continues its white-hot streak, taking down the Texans in front of their home crowd. Houston has fared well in these wild-card home games in the past, toppling the Bengals in the 2011 and 2012 postseasons. But Cincy committed significant turnovers in those contests, the likes of which I don't think we'll see from this Chiefs team. Kansas City, despite uncharacteristically turning the ball over twice vs. the Raiders last week, still has just 15 giveaways on the season (second-fewest in the NFL). Even if K.C. does cough up the ball, the rejuvenated defense -- with a healthier Justin Houston, resurgent Tamba Hali and improved Dee Ford -- should be able to hold the fort.
There has been much banter regarding the Texans being the caboose, the weak link, the overused pun of the playoff field. Whatever. Let's celebrate the fact that Bill O'Brien has gotten to this point despite the fact that he got a grand total of 163 rushing yards this season from one of the best all-around backs in the game (Arian Foster, who logged just four games due to injuries). Once again, Alfred Blue, Jonathan Grimes, Chris Polk and Akeem Hunt (Who? An undrafted rookie from Purdue ...) will be relied upon to provide balance for Brian Hoyer. They gained 160 yards against the Jags' defense in Week 17. Uh, this ain't Jacksonville they're facing. The Chiefs have allowed a scant 13.5 points per game over the last 12. And since their Week 9 bye, the Texans have yielded ... 13.5 points per game. Can you say "defensive slugfest"? Thinking Hoyer turns it over, spotting Kansas City six points. #KCvsHOU
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, CBS
Time to pop some Sudafed and giddy up -- or something like that. Ben Roethlisberger sent a message to Martavis Bryant this week, something to the effect of Two catches for six yards the last two weeks isn't stepping up. Pittsburgh has turned it on at this time in years past, though the Le'Veon Bell injury derailed their Sevenburgh aspirations last year. Roethlisberger played through several injuries as a second-year player (which is precisely where Bryant is in his career), yet managed to lead the Steelers to a Super Bowl title that season -- a playoff run that began with a road win in Cincinnati during Wild Card Weekend.
Meanwhile, the general consensus seems to be that the Bengals are weaker sans Andy Dalton, making Pittsburgh lock city to many folks. How people are so quick to dismiss AJ McCarron is a bit weird. He has performed viably in his three starts, winning two. Sure, the two victories came against the 49ersand Ravens, but what's the guy supposed to do -- lobby the schedule makers to abruptly switch things up so he can play the Patriots and Seahawks and prove his worth? Come on. Sure, the two interceptions during the loss to Pittsburgh in Week 14 hurt. You try playing a division rival after you get, oh, maybe five percent of the snaps in practice that week. For the record, I think a relatively healthy DeAngelo Williams would spell a win for Pittsburgh, but not because McCarron wets himself in a big game. If no Williams, it's Fitzgerald Toussaint's baby. And if that's the case, I'm less confident in the pick here. I mean, look, I have it as a one-point game as is ... (UPDATE: The Steelers ruled DeAngelo Williams out with a foot injury on Friday.)#PITvsCIN