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NFL Playoff Preview: Wild Card

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After a grueling four months, the 2012 NFL regular season has come to a close. Of the league's 30 teams, 18 have already packed up and gone home to an offseason likely to be rife with pointed fingers and fired coaches.

But 12 remain. A dozen teams that fought hard all year long just to get to this point, each of whom now has a new goal to hoist the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl champions. But it's not going to be easy. It never is.

There's always a lot of intrigue in the Wild Card round. Some of these teams had to battle to the very last game to earn their chance to move forward. There are well-balanced squads and one-trick ponies. There are teams on hot streaks and teams that backed into the postseason. It takes a formidable season to even reach this point.

Alas, four more teams will be going home after this weekend. Here are some thoughts on which teams those will be.

(Note: the first-round playoff byes were earned by Denver and New England in the AFC and Atlanta and San Francisco in the NFC. They will play their first games in the Divisional round.)

AFC

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Houston Texans

The Texans spent most of the season being viewed as a Super Bowl favorite until they faltered down the stretch, while the Bengals have had a distinctly up-and-down season. If Houston's defense led by do-everything end J.J. Watt can match their early performance, Bengals QB Andy Dalton will be unable to get an offensive rhythm going with star receiver A.J. Green. Houston's Arian Foster is one of the best rushers in the league Cincinnati will have a tough time shutting him down. Add it all up and it looks like a hard-fought one-and-done for the Bengals.

Houston 27 Cincinnati 17

Indianapolis Colts vs. Baltimore Ravens

While the Ravens are the nominal favorite in this game, the truth is that they haven't looked quite right for some time. Meanwhile, Indianapolis is playing with house money after an unexpected playoff run and the recent return of their head coach from illness. If the Baltimore D can turn back time and running back Ray Rice can get involved, they've got a chance, but it's likely that QB Andrew Luck will continue his excellent rookie season. The positive momentum that the Colts have built will be too much for the aging Ravens to overcome.

Indianapolis 28 Baltimore 24

NFC

Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers

It seems like there's always at least one playoff team that's an immediate rematch of a Week 17 game. The Vikings just beat the Packers to gain entry to the playoffs, but we can count on Green Bay coming back strong. This game basically boils down to one player: if Adrian Peterson can have another big game against a defense primed to stop him, the Vikings win. However, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has a whole lot of weapons at his disposal. Green Bay will likely prove too much for the Minnesota upstarts in this one.

Green Bay 35 Minnesota 28

Seattle Seahawks vs. Washington Redskins

The Seahawks are probably one of the scariest teams to face going into the postseason; they've won five in a row (including some historic scoring blowouts). They've also got a staunch defense and probably the biggest home-field advantage in the league. However, the Redskins will be the ones hosting this game, and they've got a pair of high-end rookie weapons in QB Robert Griffin III and RB Alfred Morris, both of whom have put up elite offensive numbers this season. Still, the Redskins youngsters will likely come up just short against a Seahawks team that looks world-beating right now.

Seattle 38 Washington 21

Last modified on Wednesday, 23 January 2013 15:50

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