NFL Playoffs 2015: AFC Wild Card Weekend Primer

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Alex Smith- 3,486 passing yards, 20 touchdowns- will look to lead the Chiefs to a playoff victory in Houston on Saturday. It would also be his first playoff win since 2011. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

I took a look back at my preseason picks for the AFC and saw some good (Hello AFC West!), some not so good (Dolphins, Adam? Really?), and some down right ugly choices (Mulligan on Baltimore, please). But I remain unapologetic and say this: while it was one of my worst years picking this conference it goes to show the unpredictable nature of the NFL as a whole.

Which brings me to Wild Card weekend and what it has in store for us.

Kansas City Chiefs v. Houston Texans

I wrote back in September that I liked the Chiefs enough to win a Wild Card spot and almost catch the Broncos for the division. When they started the season 1-5 it wasn’t looking too great, but they’ve since won ten in a row and looked positioned to make a surprise run at a Super Bowl appearance. In fact when I debated between the Chargers and Chiefs to push the Broncos my reasoning was thus (bolded for emphasis):

I flip-flopped between the Chargers and Chiefs but ultimately put my faith in Andy Reid and what he’s done this offseason. Philip Rivers is a Quarterback I like more than Smith, but the Chiefs roster as a whole is just better.

About Houston, here is exactly what I said about them in the AFC South (again, bold added for emphasis):

The Colts have the look and feel of a dominant unit without actually being one. Andrew Luck is great, the pieces around him are nice, but I write them in only because the rest of the division isn’t as good. Houston has the best chance of catching them, but without a franchise Quarterback the Colts are benefiting from the draw more than anything else.

As you might remember, Andrew Luck got hurt and Houston figured out that Brian Hoyer could keep things together enough to win them more games than the other teams in that division. it wasn’t pretty, especially when they were 3-4 and set to face the Bengals and Jets after their bye. They went on to finish the season winning six of their last eight games to clinch the AFC South and a home playoff game.

So I guess you’re wondering how I think this plays out, right?

Well, I’ll use the same logic I did when I looked at these two teams before the season. Who has the better overall roster? That edge goes to the Chiefs. With Alex Smith being a better Quarterback and having more weapons than Houston and the Chiefs defense clicking in all facets I think the Chiefs steal this one on the road.

Prediction: Chiefs 31, Texans 14

Pittsburgh Steelers v. Cincinnati Bengals

Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t won a playoff game in five years. Can he lead the Steelers to an upset in Cincinnati, Saturday? (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

One of these teams I picked to win the division while the other I picked to miss the playoffs. Can you guess which one?I’ll give you a hint: according to my picks in September the Bengals aren’t supposed to be here.

The Bengals really are a tale of two halves. After starting the season 8-0, they limped to a 4-4 finish that cost them a shot at a first-round bye and the number one overall seed in the conference. A lot of you will say that the home field advantage isn’t that big of a deal but let me throw a number at you that might change your mind:

Since 2013 the Bengals are 20-4 at home.

Home field to Cincinnati matters when you’re facing the prospect of playing a mile high in Denver or Tom Brady in Foxborough in January.

The team I pegged to win the division, the Steelers, didn’t win the division. In fact they needed help from the Buffalo Bills to get into the postseason. But they’re in, and the question is which team will show up?

Talk of job security for Mike Tomlin is absurd, but even with Le’Veon Bell out this team needs to put together a respectable run this postseason. They haven’t advanced past the Wild Card round of the playoffs since 2010, and this team is too talented not to put up a fight this postseason.

Result? I think the Steelers go into Cincinnati and pull off the upset. Talking with a couple buddies of mine who are Steeler fans and they both agree that Pittsburgh wins when they’re not supposed to and lose when they shouldn’t. As much as A.J. McCarron has shown in backup duty I this isn’t the same team without Dalton. Plus, if the Bengals decide to lean on the run to protect McCarron they’re in for a rude awakening: the Steelers allow the fifth fewest rushing yards, and second fewest  rushing touchdowns this season.

I think it comes down to the defenses in this one with Pittsburgh showing just a little more.

Prediction: Steelers 28, Cincinnati 21

Thoughts? Let me know about’em! Follow me on Twitter @DACubbage

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