Wild-Card Weekend lived up to its name this weekend, as fans across America saw their fair share of upsets, wild comebacks, and nail-biters. Here is a brief recap of what transpired this past weekend and what is to come when the Divisional playoff games roll around next weekend.
Saturday, January 4th:
Indianapolis Colts 45, Kansas City Chiefs 44
In what will go down as one of the craziest upsets in NFL playoff history, Indianapolis came back from a 38-10 third quarter deficit to defeat a stunned Kansas City team looking for its first playoff win in 20 years. Despite an early injury to Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs surged out to a huge lead thanks to four Alex Smith touchdown passes. However, Andrew Luck led his team to an emotional victory despite three interceptions by improbably recovering a fumble in the end zone and finally throwing a long touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton with just over four minutes left in the game. Kansas City failed to convert a fourth and 11 with under two minutes left when Dwayne Bowe caught a Smith pass out of bounds. Hilton and Bowe both had huge games, with Hilton catching 13 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns and Bowe compiling 150 yards and a touchdown. Indianapolis will travel to New England next week to play the Patriots.
New Orleans Saints 26, Philadelphia Eagles 24
New Orleans bested Philadelphia in a back and forth game that came down to a game winning field goal by Shayne Graham. New Orleans won their first road playoff game since 1967, but will encounter an even stiffer road test when they travel to Seattle next week. The Saints overcame a slow start and two early Drew Brees interceptions to take the lead, lose it, then regain it as time expired. Lesean McCoy was bottled up for the most part by a stingy Saints defense which limited the big play until Desean Jackson’s 40 yard catch late in the third quarter. Mark Ingram broke out for 97 yards and a touchdown in place of an injured Pierre Thomas and New Orleans will hope that his performance will carry over to next week’s matchup versus the Seahawks.
Sunday, January 5th:
San Diego Chargers 27, Cincinnati Bengals 10
San Diego continued its late season resurgence, winning its fifth game in a row and handing Cincinnati its first home loss of the year. The Chargers were led offensively by their ground game, which racked up almost 200 yards against the fifth-best run defense in the NFL. The Chargers took advantage of three Andy Dalton second half turnovers to outscore Cincinnati 20-0 over the final two quarters. Philip Rivers found Ladarius Green in the end zone to give San Diego the lead for good on what was a relatively quiet but efficient day for Rivers. Turnovers really undid the Bengals in a disappointing and rare home loss. San Diego will play Denver next week and were the only team to beat the Broncos on their home turf during the regular season.
San Francisco 49ers 23, Green Bay Packers 20
Colin Kaepernick has the Packers’ number. Even in subzero weather. After previously torching the Packers defense twice in the past year, Kaepernick did it again, running for 98 yards including an 11-yarder on 3rd and 8 that set up Phil Dawson’s game winning field goal as time expired. He also found Michael Crabtree 8 times for 125 yards and tossed a touchdown to Vernon Davis against a Packers defense ravaged by injuries. Green Bay hung around thanks to the 49ers settling for two early red zone field goals and Aaron Rodgers’ solid play, but the Packers offense never really got humming. It seems that San Francisco always find a way to take down the Packers, winning their fourth straight versus Green Bay. The 49ers will try to avenge a Week 10 loss to the Panthers when they travel to Carolina next week.
Saturday, January 11th:
New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks
New Orleans will travel back to Seattle to try to avenge their Week 13 dismantling at the hands of the Seahawks. In that 34-7 loss, Seattle was held to just 188 total yards and their secondary was torched by Russell Wilson for 310 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Saints’ secondary has held strong despite several injuries and they will need to step up in order to win this game. Seattle will need their #1 pass defense to hold strong against a potent Saints receiving group. Expect the 12th man to be as boisterous as ever in the first home playoff game for Seattle since 2011.
Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
Elite quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Tom Brady go head to head in this Saturday night matchup in New England, but perhaps the more important matchup is the one between the low-profile receivers on each team. T.Y. Hilton is making a name for himself as Luck’s primary threat, and Julian Edelman has over 400 more receiving yards than the next best Patriot, so someone on either team will need to help shoulder the receiving burden. Offensive fireworks should warm up a chilly Foxsborough night and the team that digs in on defense could be the one that comes out on top.
Sunday, January 12th:
San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers
Carolina will look to continue its resurgence season for another week when it hosts the 49ers in a Week 10 rematch that saw the Panthers defeat San Francisco 10-9 at Candlestick Park. These two teams stack up well, with stout defenses and dynamic young quarterbacks. The Panthers defense harassed Colin Kaepernick previously, sacking him six times and holding him to 91 yards passing. Cam Newton did not play much better, throwing an interception and recording a quarterback rating of just 19.3. Expect these two teams to line up and run the ball at each other in what should be a physical and hard-fought game.
San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos
San Diego will look to keep its late-season magic on the line, as it puts its five game winning streak on the line in this Sunday night tilt in Denver. Denver’s only home loss this year came versus the Chargers, so they are wary of San Diego’s capabilities and will look to jump out to an early lead to quash any hope the Chargers have. Peyton Manning’s historical season continues as he will try to pick apart a weak San Diego secondary, while Philip Rivers will try to match him throw for throw in the thin air. A game with scores in the thirties is probable, but look for Manning to put up huge numbers in what should be a vengeful win for Denver.