Another NFL season is in the books, meaning t’s time for the playoffs to begin this weekend with the Wild Card round. I went 6 for 12 with the playoff teams I picked in the preseason. Both of the teams I picked to make the Super Bowl, the Patriots and Packers, are in the playoffs, but I’m not confident in either team making it that far, so I don’t think I’m going to repeat the feat from last season, when my preseason Super Bowl pick — Patriots over Seahawks — actually happened. The first-round byes went to the Broncos and Patriots in the AFC, and the Panthers and Cardinals in the NFC. The eight other playoff teams play in the Wild Card round this weekend. Here are my picks against the spread for the four games being played on Saturday and Sunday. Hopefully I do better than my 123-133 record during the regular season.
No. 5 seed Kansas City Chiefs (-3.5) (11-5, Wild Card) at No. 4 seed Houston Texans (9-7, AFC South champions)
The Chiefs are probably the hottest team heading into the postseason, having won their last 10 games after a 1-5 start to the season; that win came in Week 1 against the Texans. That was a different Texans team, though, with QB Ryan Mallett, who’s not even on the team anymore, getting the start instead of QB Brian Hoyer, the current starter. Like the Chiefs, the Texans came on strong in the second half of the season, winning their final three games and six of their last eight. I think this could be the closest game of the weekend, and I think the Texans will squeak by the Chiefs for the win. Houston has, in my opinion, the best player on both sides of the ball — WR DeAndre Hopkins on offense and DE J.J. Watt leading the defense. Although neither team has a great quarterback, I think Chiefs QB Alex Smith has a slight edge over Hoyer. I think the Texans will be able to ride their defense to victory.
No. 6 seed Pittsburgh Steelers (-2.5) (10-6, Wild Card) at No. 3 seed Cincinnati Bengals (12-4, AFC North champions)
This should be a hard-fought game between the two division rivals, but injuries are making it tough to pick a winner. Bengals QB Andy Daton has missed the last couple of games, but he could be back for Saturday’s game. Meanwhile, Steelers RB DeAngelo Wiliams suffered an injury in Week 17, and he is considered day-to-day. If Dalton misses the game, QB A.J. McCarron would get another start; if Williams can’t go, the Steelers don’t have a good backup at the position. Luckily for the Steelers, QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Antonio Brown — perhaps the best in the league at his position — are healthy. Although I don’t like the Steelers offense as much without Williams, it’s hard to go against Roethlisberger and Brown the way they’ve been playing in recent weeks. On the other side, I don’t trust the Bengals, who typically don’t do well in big games. I obviously like their chances better if Dalton plays — although he is winless in four previous playoff starts. Even if Williams doesn’t play, I think the Steelers offense is good enough to win the game and cover the 2.5-point spread.
No. 6 seed Seattle Seahawks (-5.0) (10-6, Wild Card) at No. 3 seed Minnesota Vikings (11-5, NFC North champions)
Sunday begins with the Seahawks visiting the Vikings in a game in which the game-time temperature is expected to be near zero. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson finished the regular season strong, throwing 24 touchdowns and just 1 interception in his last seven games. RB Marshawn Lynch, who has been out for the past several games, has returned to practice and appears to be on track to play Sunday. With Wilson leading the offense and the Seahawks’ strong defense, which allowed the fewest points in the league this season, I think the Seahawks will easily beat the Vikings, who don’t have much of an offense save for RB Adrian Peterson; the Vikings don’t have much of a passing game to speak of. I expect the Seahawks to win by at least a touchdown, covering the five-point spread.
No. 5 seed Green Bay Packers (-1.0) (10-6, Wild Card) at No. 4 seed Washington Redskins (9-7, NFC East champions)
The last game of the weekend features the Packers at the Redskins. Based on how the teams finished their seasons, it would seem like the Redskins would have the advantage in this game. QB Kirk Cousins had a good season for Washington, but he’s Kirk Cousins and he’s facing a team led by QB Aaron Rodgers. I find it hard to pick Cousins over Rodges in a playoff game, even though Rodgers had one of the worst seasons of his career. Neither team has a great running back, though I give the Packers a slight advantage with RB Eddie Lacy. The Packers also have the advantage at defense, so I think they are the better team overall. I think the Packers will win the game on the road, covering the one-point spread.
If my picks come through, that would set up a Divisional round that would see the Steelers at the Broncos and the Texans at the Patriots in the AFC. In the NFC, the games would be the Seahawks at the Panthers and the Packers at the Cardinals.