This was a great season for picks, even though there were more surprises than a few. Picking the Cowboys (without Tony Romo) to beat the Redskins, and the Eagles to take out the Patriots, were two of my favorites of the year. And the last week of the year was no different, with several picks going my way, like the Broncos beating the Chargers, the Vikings taking out the Packers, and the Chiefs emerging victorious against the Raiders.
But now we’re dealing with a different kind of beast — the playoffs. This is the time when a #6 seed can run the tables and win the whole thing, or they can lose in the first round to the #3 and go home early. It’s also the time when the loss of a running game can be most important (Pittsburgh), and when even strong defenses are tested (Houston). The Patriots are lucky they have another week to get healthy, but the Bengals are starting AJ McCarron again this week hoping to get their first playoff win in five tries.
Here are my Ace Picks for the Wild Card Round…
#5 KANSAS CITY @ #4 HOUSTON – Both teams are hot right now, and the Texans get Brian Hoyer back as they host the Chiefs in Houston. These teams are well-matched with two excellent defenses and offenses that are good enough without being great. The Chiefs have been here before and not done well, but this year they have Jeremy Maclin, who stretches the field, and a two-headed running back system that can pound it inside. Pick: KANSAS CITY.
#6 PITTSBURGH @ #3 CINCINNATI – A.J. Green plays for the Bengals, and he seems to have already developed a good rapport with AJ McCarron, but the team from Cincinnati runs through its backs, and Jeremy Hill is rounding into form at the right time. The Steelers laid a big egg in week 16, and weren’t great in week 17, so they’re trending the wrong way right now. They’re a trendy pick to advance, but the Bengals will force a few turnovers that will be the difference in the end. Pick: CINCINNATI.
#6 SEATTLE @ #3 MINNESOTA – Speaking of trendy picks, apparently most experts have forgotten how poorly the Seahawks played to start the season, and the egg they laid of their own in week 16. The Vikings come in hot off a demolition of the Packers in Green Bay, but Seattle has the superior defense, and their offense isn’t one-dimensional. I want to call this a win for the Vikings, but short of a few turnovers I don’t see it happening, even in an “early” game. Pick: SEATTLE.
#5 GREEN BAY @ #4 WASHINGTON – The Redskins are one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now, and even though they play in the NFC East I think they the game suited for a bit of a playoff run. On the reverse side, the Packers have just not been “right” of late, and I don’t see anything changing here. The key is that they’ve been dysfunctional offensively, and even against that Redskins defense I don’t see them outslinging Kirk Cousins and his high wire show. Pick: WASHINGTON.