AFC North Wildcard Predictions

AFC North Wildcard Predictions
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There will be no love lost between these AFC North rivals Saturday night.
Welcome to the AFC North predictions page!
After a grueling regular season, our AFC North feature writers will be listing their picks for every playoff game and be forced to explain why they voted as they did. Keep in mind that these picks are for entertainment purposes only, and in no way should be used to influence gambling or illegal activity, unless you’re smart enough to recognize that we know more than you because we publish things.
NFL Wildcard match-ups:
Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) @ Houston Texans (9-7), Saturday 4:35pm, ABC/ESPN
Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) @ Cincinnati Bengals (12-4), Saturday 8:15pm, CBS
Seattle Seahawks (10-6) @ Minnesota Vikings (11-5), Sunday 1:05pm NBC
Green Bay Packers (10-6) @ Washington Redskins (9-7), Sunday 4:40pm, FOX
Steelers/Bengals is naturally the wildcard game-of-the-week here in the AFC North. All homerism aside, it is the most intriguing match-up of the four with story-lines from the most dynamic offense in the NFL, to the Bengals well documented bright-light struggles. Chiefs/Texans is probably #2 considering the way both teams finished the season (10-0 for the Chiefs, 7-2 for the Texans), but the only real star power between the two is JJ Watt. In the NFC there is the struggling Packers the no offensive line vs the upstart and surprising Redskins, and the equally surprising Vikings who will host the Seahawks- a team that is making their usual late season surge by winning 6 of their last 7, but is also a team (and coach) most of the country would like to see lose.
Interesting note: All home teams are underdogs. The Packers are now one point favorites after the Redskins started the week favored by a point.
Last week the AFC North writers finished up the regular season in style by going 7-1. The only blip was Paul Johannson who picked the Ravens in an act of desperation to tie for the top spot held by Michael Thompson. The Bengals prevailed as did Mr. Thompson who won the regular season by two games.
Here are the 2015 final results:
Michael Thompson 35-17
Paul Johannson 33-19
Jack Crawford 32-20
Wernike Korsikov 28-24
On to the games:
Michael Thompson (record 0-0):
Chiefs 24, Texans 17
The Chiefs are the hottest team in football. The Texans won the anemic AFC South. For nostalgia’s sake, I’d like to see Hoyer do well in his first playoff game, but my gut tells me Andy Reid’s team will pull this one out, setting up a possible divisional round upset.
Steelers 21, Bengals 24
After each team winning on the other’s home soil during the season series, I expect the Bengals to buck the trend in the playoffs, especially since I consider it very unlikely that EVERY home team will lose on wild card weekend. Playoff novice AJ McCarron will outduel the veteran Roethlisberger and the Steelers will not get their first playoff win since 2010.
Seahawks 31, Vikings 17
The Seahawks may be the strongest team in the NFL and the Vikings are a surprising division winner. Though they were a feel good story during the regular season, expect their Cinderella season to come crashing to a halt against last year’s NFC Super Bowl representative.
Packers 28, Redskins 23
This comes down to trusting Aaron Rodgers more than Kirk Cousins, even though Rodgers really hasn’t provided a reason to do that lately. I expect that once the playoffs start, we’ll see the real Packers team show up though.
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Paul Johansson (record 0-0):
Chiefs 19, Texans 13
The Chiefs seemingly haven’t been world beaters during their 10 game win streak to end the season, at least on offense, and there have been a few tight games in the mix. But in reality, they are mostly dominating on the scoreboard where it counts, especially on the road, outscoring their opponents 130-50 the four away games during the streak. The Texans haven’t been as dominant, but their defense has held opponents to just six points five times in their seven wins down the stretch. This game could come down to which QB can manage the game better, and my money is on Alex Smith who will play for the field goal rather than take risks when near the redzone.
Steelers 27, Bengals 24
The Bengals have the better team in terms of balance physically, but their mental balance is the big question. As I stated before, until they prove me wrong, I can’t pick them to win a regular season game under the lights, let alone one in the post season against a division rival (sorry Marvin, they are a rival). A single bad play seems to snowball with this group instead of players simply shrugging it off. A missed blocking assignment, a bad pass, or a dropped pass turns into WRs running lazy routes, fumbles, and of course worst of all, doubt. The biggest key might be at kicker where the Steelers seemed to have found a gem after four tries this season, and Mike Nugent of the Bengals has had a few untimely misses this season including one in each of their last two losses.
Seahawks 28, Vikings 23
I REALLY want to take the Vikings, but Seattle is just too seasoned in the postseason, and Pete Carrol and crew play with even more of a chip on their shoulder this time of year. Add in the return of Marshawn Lynch, and the Seahawks now have another offensive weapon at their disposal. The Vikings will keep it close as will the sub freezing temperatures (game time temp 1-2 degrees and a 20 below wind chill). Good thing this is the afternoon game…
Packers 20, Washington 27
As much as I would love to live the rest of my life without seeing Dan Snyder win a playoff game, this might finally be the year. Aaron Rodgers is individually great, but his recent playoff record hasn’t not been (2-4, 4 INTs, 3 fumbles), and his current offensive line is absolutely horrible at protecting him (13 sacks in the last two games). All great quarterbacks need time (see Brady, Manning under pressure) and the Redskins have had four sacks in four consecutive games. This isn’t Rodgers vs Cousins, its the Packers OL vs the Skins pass rush. Advantage Skins.
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Jack Crawford (record 0-0):
Chiefs 27, Texans 17
There’s no slowing the Chiefs, even with perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate J.J. Watt, as the Chiefs will continue their slow, methodical, and eminently successful march towards a title. While the Texans’ showing this season has been admirable, particularly with no clear starting quarterback until recently, they just can’t muster enough offense to overcome Kansas City’s excellent defense, which has proven effective at all levels. This will be a blowout early.
Steelers 30, Bengals 24
Sorry, Bengals, but your odds of winning a playoff game for the first time in…forever…pretty much died when tiebreakers placed the Steelers in Cincinnati this Saturday. Against almost any other team, Cincinnati’s the favorite, even with backup quarterback A.J. McCarron starting. But the Steelers have dominated this matchup for over a decade, and there’s no reason to bet against them now, as the Bengals will be hard pressed to slow Pittsburgh’s excellent passing game. A gimpy and possibly benched DeAngelo Williams will keep this one close.
Seahawks 35, Viking 17
The Seahawks are no slouches on the road, and despite a turbulent season, they appear poised to push the youthful (sans ageless running back Adrian Peterson) Vikings out of the way. Most of Minnesota’s current roster hasn’t yet tasted the playoffs, so the real test will be whether second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater can adjust to the added pressure of a “win or go home” scenario, particularly against one of the nastier defenses in the NFL. Like them or not, the Seahawks are healthy and they’re not to be taken lightly.
Packers 24, Washington 16
The clock strikes midnight, the party’s over, etc., as Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins gets his first playoff experience against one of the best quarterbacks working today in the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers. The Packers certainly have their issues, as they just placed their 17th player on injured reserve, but experience dictates that betting against Rodgers is foolish, especially when he’s facing a playoff neophyte. Expect the Packers to jump out early, then apply pressure to Cousins for most of the second half – a scenario that usually results in several Cousins’ concentration lapses and turnovers.
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Wernike Korsakoff (record 0-0):

Chiefs 27, Texans 16
The Texans will struggle to find an offensive identity with their musical chairs situation at quarterback. Facing a sound Kansas City defense won’t help matters. Look for the Chiefs’ offense to grind out another win with sustained drives, and for the defense to capitalize on a Texans mistake to widen the margin.
Steelers 27, Bengals 20
Can the Bengals overcome the poor play calling and lackluster execution that have defined their postseason efforts the last four years? While the Steelers appear to be one dimensional on offense and zero dimensional on defense (poor secondary, inconsistent pass rush), the Steelers’ passing game will keep them in control. Look for the Steelers to continue their trend of only winning playoff games when QB Ben Roethlisberger sits during the season.
Seahawks 37, Vikings 17
Look for the Seahawks’ opportunistic defense to confuse Teddy Bridgewater and turn a Minnesota mistake into points. Although Marshawn Lynch may be rusty in his expected return, he adds a dimension Seattle has lacked, but seemingly not needed, the last few weeks.
Packers 31, Washington 24
In a game that can turn into a shootout, your money is safer betting on Aaron Rodgers than Kirk Cousins. Look for the Packers’ offense to get back into rhythm against Washington. This game should be an entertaining back and forth, as Cousins plays appreciably better at home than on the road, but look for the Packers to have one more scoring drive in them than Cousins and company.
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