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What to watch for on Wild Card Weekend

*Week 17 is in the books and there is a lot to digest. We'll have all week to dive deep into the playoffs and coaching changes. In the meantime, let's take a quick look at three things to watch for in each playoff matchup for Wild Card Weekend. *


Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans, 4:35 pm ET (ESPN/ABC)

  1. This is a rematch of a 27-20 Week 1 win by the Chiefs that established many Kansas City themes for the season. Kansas City is great at getting leads early, and then holding on for dear life with a strong running game. Now the Chiefs have Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware running the ball instead of Jamaal Charles, yet they have only improved throughout the season.
  1. That opening loss also set up the enormous waste of time that Texans coach Bill O'Brien called "The Ryan Mallett era." Brian Hoyer was replaced in that game and Mallett's solid relief effort gave him an extended audition for the gig. Hoyer ultimately provided stability at the position and is fully healthy after missing a few games with a concussion. He finished with 19 touchdowns and seven picks in a sneaky solid season.
  1. J.J. Watt has the use of both of his hands again, and he'll have a favorable matchup against a mediocre Chiefs pass protecting crew. The bigger X-factor is Kansas City's best player, Justin Houston. He could be returning from a knee injury for his first game since Week 12. And he could have a great matchup against a Texans team that will be without stalwart left tackle Duane Brown, who tore his quad in the season finale.
  1. This was the worst possible scenario for the Bengals. They were so close to earning a bye in Denver last week, and now they have to face the most-talented quarterback in the division. The Steelers just won in Cincinnati a few weeks ago on the day that Andy Dalton broke his thumb making a tackle after an interception. Dalton is not expected to be back for this game.
  1. The Steelers lost DeAngelo Williams to an ankle injury during Sunday's often-underwhelming win over the Browns. That left Fitzgerald Toussaint as the team's lead back and he responded with 24 yards on 12 carries. Pittsburgh risks becoming one-dimensional on offense, just like they were last year after losing Le'Veon Bell heading to the playoffs. Ben Roethlisberger has had too many loose throws with six picks over the last three weeks.
  1. So much of this game will come down to AJ McCarron, assuming he starts. The Steelers' defense didn't improve as a whole over the course of the season. It makes too many mental errors and shouldn't be able to win the one-on-one matchups against A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones.


Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings, 1:05 pm ET (CBS)

  1. The Seahawks destroyed Minnesota 38-7 five weeks ago, and the Vikings haven't been the same team since. They nearly won in Arizona, then played their best football of the season to finish on a three-game winning streak. The Vikings' defense (Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith and Linval Joseph) were all hurt in the first game. If nothing else, the defense should be more reliable this time around.
  1. The Vikings will have to play better because Russell Wilson is coming off the best stretch of his career. Seattle's passing game has dialed up big plays, and the running game found footing with Christine Michael in the season finale. The hope is that Marshawn Lynchwill return from an abdominal injury for the playoffs.
  1. The biggest concern for Minnesota could be when Teddy Bridgewater drops back to pass. He simply hasn't received much protection all year, and that continued in Week 17 against Green Bay. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett remain one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league.

Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins, 4:40 pm ET (FOX)

  1. It's hard to comprehend that an offense led by Aaron Rodgers is well below average, but that's how this team is playing. It has averaged under 300 yards over the last three weeks. In consecutive games against playoff teams to close the season, the Packers scored a total of 21 points. It's hard to know where to start, but the Packers have no rhythm. Every successful play is seemingly improvised, which is hard to duplicate week after week.
  1. The Redskins, meanwhile, enter the postseason playing better offensively than the biggest Kirk Cousins fanboys could have ever imagined. Cousins has thrown 19 touchdowns with only two picks since Week 10. Jordan Reed has turned into a gamewrecker and Washington's receiver depth will test Green Bay's secondary.
  1. Green Bay wants to be a power running team, yet it just doesn't have the results to make it possible. The Packers lack an identity on offense. Their defense, on the other hand, is playing well enough to win most weeks. It's a recipe for a close game in Washington.
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