What a nice round of games Saturday to open up the NFL playoffs, huh? When we pointed out the match-ups on paper, both games looked evenly matched and they played out that way. The Colts-Chiefs and Saints-Eagles saw rivals pushing it to the brink, creating nail-biting finishes down to the final few seconds before Indianapolis and New Orleans emerged as winners.
And now, after a few hours rest, we get to sit right back in front of the TV set for what we hope are two more really historic contests as the Chargers take on the Bengals and San Francisco squares off versus the Packers. Who’s got the edge? What will the winners need to do to secure their team moves on to the next round? We’ve got some of the answers in our quick, five-point analysis for both games.
San Diego Chargers Vs. Cincinnati Bengals (1:05 PM EST, CBS)
1. If there’s anyone who understands what postseason success (or lack thereof) does for the reputation of a team’s quarterback, you’re looking at him. And with two consecutive ugly first round exits under his belt, all eyes are on Andy Dalton. In Week 17 versus Baltimore, Dalton tossed four interceptions. Granted, Cincy still won, but heaving that many completions to the other team in the postseason normally means an early vacation.
To help comfort Bengals fans worries, you’ve at least got this on your side. Dalton was pretty damn good at home this year accounting for 20 touchdowns, a 63.5% completion and 98.4 quarterback rating (Cincy’s 8-0 at home this year). If the Bengals lose this game, however, expect the brunt of the flack to fall on the Red Rocket. And the rest on Marvin Lewis who is winless in postseason play as a head coach.
2. Unlike the 1981 AFC Championship between these same two teams, the wind chill is not expected to be -59.
3. We all know Philip Rivers can sling the pill. But San Diego’s back field of Ryan Matthews and Danny Woodhead are x-factors in terms of providing stability to a Chargers offense (rushing and receiving) entering temperatures not often see in Southern California.
4. You may have heard this before. AJ Green is somewhat, halfway decent at this wide receiver thing. He and Marvin Jones’ combined 21 touchdowns make them the only duo outside of Denver to have two receivers with 10+ touchdowns. San Diego’s secondary is far from the team’s calling card. Now do the math. Speaking of AJ Green, here’s your WTF stat of the day. He hasn’t had a 100-yard game since Week 10 at Baltimore.
5. God bless Jeff Triplette. His past couple of weeks on the job haven’t been kind to him, highlighted by miscues in the Giants/Redskins chain fiasco and awarding the Bengals a touchdown they didn’t earn a week later. All that being said, Triplette will be on the field in Cincinnati on Sunday. This should be fun.
San Francisco 49ers Vs. Green Bay Packers (4:40 PM EST, FOX)
1. Gregg Rosenthal pointed out something I’m not sure many realize. Ahem…
The 49ers’ 12-4 record snuck up on us. All four losses were to playoff teams. Their only two losses since Week 3 were by four points combined. San Francisco enters the playoffs on a six-game winning streak.
Shocked the hell out of me, too.
2. In years past, Aaron Rodgers had to win playoff games largely based on that MVP-caliber right arm of his. He can still do it this year, but now he has a legit threat in the backfield in Eddie Lacy. A big, bruising running back in Sunday’s temperatures has to feel like hell trying to tackle in a close game in the fourth quarter.
3. This game takes place on January 5, 2014. That’s nearly 15 years to the day Terrell Owens became legendary.
4. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out San Francisco’s defense is light years better than Green Bay’s. The Packers can help themselves out drastically by forcing turnovers in weather one would think favors the Cheeseheads. That’s also easier said than done for two reasons. One, the Packers have ranked 29th in points (30.0), 30th in total yards (404.2) and 31st in rushing yards (157.2) allowed per game over the past nine weeks. Two, Colin Kaepernick and company haven’t turned the ball over since Week 14.
5. Unfortunately, we won’t be getting Clay Matthews/Colin Kaepernick II. The linebacker – who has a role as He-Man once his football days are over – and Kaep became quite the acquaintances in their Week 1 matchup prompting the quarterback to say following the game, “If intimidation is your game plan, I hope you have a better one.”