Wild-card predictions: Chargers fall short, 49ers escape Lambeau

Wild Card Weekend. Nearly every year, at least one of the road teams wins or pulls off an upset. So who is it going to be this time around?

Last season, it was the Seahawks knocking off the Redskins in Washington, although it's tough to call that an upset. Robert Griffin III departed early and the Redskins' hopes were left in Kirk Cousins' hands. (Hmm. That sounds somewhat familiar.) In the 2010 playoffs, the Packers, Jets and Ravens all won on the road. In fact, the latter two clubs did the samein the 2009 playoffs.

Well, Tim, the Saints fell on the road in the 2011 playoffs. Ditto the 2010 tournament. The latter loss was another game that could be deemed an upset, as the 7-9 Seahawks went Beast Mode. (By the way, seeing as you're a Vikings fan -- which means you had to endure Josh Freeman ball this year -- I thought I'd give your days-old tweet some run. Merry Christmas.)

This is a great point. San Diego won in both Denverand Kansas City this season, although the latter victory came against a Chiefs team that lost edge rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston during the first half of the game. The Chargers are certainly a tough squad to figure out, but as much as football is a team game, this team's game will hinge on one guy's play. See below for more.

As for the other two games this weekend -- Chiefs at Colts and 49ers at Packers -- well, feel free to share your thoughts, just like the tweeps above ... @Harrison_NFL is the place. We'd love to have you.

Now, let's get to it ...

Elliot Harrison went 15-1 on his predictions for Week 17, giving him a record of 162-94 this season. How will he fare in wild-card weekend? His picks are below, with home teams listed second. To make your own predictions on this week's games, click here.

Your friendly writer lacked the guts to go with the Bolts in this one, and here's why: I don't think they'll win. Seriously. Picking the Chargers would have been fun, but it also would have meant ignoring too many signs, starting with the fact that San Diego's defense has regressed. If the Chargers had trouble with the plumbers and taco-salad makers and scout-team players the Chiefs threw at them last weekend (OK, that's an exaggeration), what are they going to do with a Bengals team that has scored 49, 41, 42, 42 and 34 points in its past five home games?

In its three most recent outings in Cincinnati, the offense has averaged 417 yards per game. Come on. Of course, the Bengals do have an inconsistent quarterback in Andy Dalton, who has to be embarrassed about his play in last week's win over Baltimore. Nothing about his four interceptions Sunday was fluky. We fully acknowledge we're somewhat hard on Dalton, who is still such a young player, yet there isn't much getting around the fact that he is capable of holding his team back.

 **Beware the streaky shooter ... or quarterback.** In the same way that a couple of basketball stars can decide to get hot and engage in a 
 *mano-a-mano* faceoff for the ages -- think of 
 Dominique Wilkins and Larry Bird in Game 7 of the NBA's Eastern Conference semifinals in 1988 -- two quarterbacks 
 *can* decide a playoff game. Remember 
 Kurt Warner and Aaron Rodgers in the wild-card round a few years back? On this front, 
 *Philip Rivers > Andy Dalton*. If Rivers can isolate rookie receiver 
 Keenan Allen in mismatches against a mediocre 
 Bengals secondary and find him in the end zone at least twice, this sucker is going the other way. That said, expect the 
 Chargers to run 30 times anyway. 

Is anyone not looking forward to this game? For that matter, is anyone more excited than Frank Gore? If you've watched the Packers' defense this season, you know it can be run on ... a lot. Green Bay allowed 125 rushing yards per game at 4.63 yards per carry. There is no reason to think Jim Harbaugh and his Niners staff won't use their full stable of backs to pound the Packers' front seven into submission. It's too bad Bruce Miller is hurt.

It's not too bad that Colin Kaepernick is playing. So maybe Kaepernick won't put up 181 rushing yards like he did against the Packers in the playoffs last season; he can still certainly run for 50. Utilizing Kaepernick on zone-read plays and option runs will make Green Bay play 11-on-11, not 11-on-10, as the Pack would be able to do if it were Shaun Hill, Jim Druckenmiller or Steve Bono lining up under center for San Francisco. Not to mention (but we'll mention) the fact that limiting Aaron Rodgers' possessions always makes sense, especially when one considers that rookie Packers back Eddie Lacy is going to find the 49ers' run defense (which allowed just 95.9 rushing yards per game) to be slightly tougher than the Bears' (161.4 rushing yards per game).

 **Put some air under it:** Kaepernick can wing it around the park, no question. And he's pretty solid about protecting the football (just eight interceptions). That's all good, but unless he wants his receivers to drop balls and suffer broken fingers, he had better learn to put some air under some of his throws. It won't be warm and balmy in Green Bay or -- if the Niners have to go there -- Seattle next week. Kaepernick has to get his completions however he can, because every throw -- and every dropped pass -- will count. He needs to make it easy on Anquan and the boys. 


Kansas City gets a defensive touchdown en route to surprising a few folks at Lucas Oil Stadium. That's right, we said "surprise." With so many hyper-aware that the Colts walked into Arrowhead Stadium and handed the Chiefs a loss in Week 16, there seems to be a feeling that Indy can win this matchup at home. Sure, it's possible. It's also factual that Kansas City was a better team all season -- even when Reggie Wayne was healthy. Yes, the Chiefs went 2-5 down the stretch, but the Colts weren't exactly gangbusters over the last half of the season, either. K.C. likely would have won in San Diego last Sunday if the coaching staff hadn't decided to roll with a bunch of bottom-of-the-depth-chart guys who were practically plucked straight from their shifts at the Cluck 'N' Chuck.

Now, none of this is to suggest that the Colts will get whipped. We just don't want to further the notion that "If a" always comes with a "then b and c." Winning in Kansas City two weeks ago doesn't mean the Colts will triumph this weekend and advance to the divisional round.

 **What it comes down to:** Victory. Just kidding. Can the 
 Chiefs' offense score 
 *touchdowns* against the 
 Colts' defense, which allowed all of 20 points in Indy's past three games combined? We know Kansas City's defense will give 
 Andrew Luck all he can handle. It's the 
 Alex Smith-led attack that is the issue. Still, we trust him -- and a 
 Chiefs unit that reached the end zone on 50 percent of trips inside the 30, tied for sixth in the NFL -- in this situation. 

After cutting ties with kicker Garrett Hartley, the Saints will need their special teams -- a unit to which I gave props earlier this season -- to perform on Saturday. Hartley's replacement, Shayne Graham, has made both of his field-goal attempts thus far, but there was a reason he was available to sign. I think he misses an important one at the Linc, causing New Orleans to scramble for a touchdown late. There was also a reason the Saints went 1-5 in their last six road games.

It's doubtful Philly quarterback Nick Foles will do the Saints any favors this weekend; New Orleans can't count on him to cough up multiple short-field-producing turnovers. And there will be no Superdome crowd to lean on, no screaming masses to slow the Eagles' calls at the line of scrimmage. Drew Brees will have to keep up. I expect both defenses to bring it in this one, which leads us to ...

 **... Ground Chip:** Everyone knows Philly coach 
 Chip Kelly wants to score points, but given how well his offense can run the football, why not do 
 *that* as much as possible? The 
 Saints allowed 111.6 rushing yards per game and 4.61 yards per carry this season. The 
 Eagles, meanwhile, led the NFL in rushing yards and rushing plays of 10-plus yards, and had the highest percentage of rushing plays that gained 4 yards or more. 
 "Ground Chuck" worked in the 1970s. The 
 Eagles will pound it on Saturday. 

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL.

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