Regular season is over and it is now time for the Wild Card Weekend. No second chances for these teams as it is now win or go home...
Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans
Kicking things off in the play-offs is a game with two teams at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of form. The Bengals have been on a fine run and won seven of their last eight games. The Texans on the other hand have been in rather disappointing form closing out the season 1-3. Last season though, the Texans did finish up 0-3, but we will put that to one side for the sake of this game as expectations were low following the injury to Matt Schaub and Houston were just happy to have a seat at the play-off table after winning their first AFC South title. Houston started the season in good form and in the early weeks looked as though they would fulfil their promise and gain a No.1 seeding and a Super Bowl appearance. That is not to be the case though as a hapless finish to season has left the Texans back down where they were last year: the third seed, playing host to the sixth-seeded Cincinnati in the first game of the post-season. Going into this game the Texans seem to have lost their edge and the Bengals have found theirs. In the final eight games of the season, Cincy had a very stingy defence and have only allowed a league-low 102 points (12.8 PPG) and that is down to help of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. They will need to focus on limiting J.J. Watt if they want to have a successful day and I think they will as long as Andy Dalton and A.J. Green continue producing against a slumping secondary. The Bengals are hell bent on trying to avoid repeating last year's playoff loss to the Texans and coupling that with their good form and game winner A.J. Green, look for the Bengal's to squeeze through a tight game.
Recommended Bet: Cincinnati +3.5
Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers
Since 1990, this will be the 13th time that two teams meet in Week 17, then have a rematch in the Wild Card Round the next week. It is going to be unlucky 13 for one of these teams and I predict that team will be the Vikings. In Week 17 the Vikings caught the Packers a little off-guard and maybe under prepared, but I can't see that being the case this week. To beat the Packers and make the playoffs was a tall order, but they did it. They showed great heart and determination, but they gave everything they had last week and they may have left too much on the field to be as strong this time round. I can't see them finding big performances in such a high-pressure situation and at Lambeau Field where conditions are expected to be frosty. The Green Bay offence is red-hot. Their defence isn't too shabby either. To win they will have to shut down Vikings best player, Adrian Peterson who has had a phenomenal season backed up by his 2,097 rushing yards, just nine yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson's single season all-time record. The cold night might be an ally for Green Bay and it could slow down Peterson just enough. Green Bay are one of the most quarterback-dependent offences in NFL history. They rarely step up and try to rush many yards and why would they when they have their star man, Aaron Rodgers. At the end of this game Green Bay and Minnesota will have battled it out three times over 34 days. Packers got the W in the first game and the Vikings got the victory when it mattered to get a playoff berth. I expect the Packers to win this time and Rodgers to light up a cold night in Green Bay.
Recommended Bet: Green Bay -7.5
Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens
Youth versus experience will be on display Sunday and I can't wait. Both of these are hungry and both will be ready with no excuses. Getting pumped up for this game will not require a stirring speech or any sort of motivational music. Both of these teams will be chomping at the bit to get the game underway. With Balitmore you have Ray Lewis who on Wednesday announced that he would be hanging up his boots at the end of the post-season, which could potentially make this the final game of his Hall of Fame career in Baltimore. Indianapolis has other reasons to be up for the fight. Chuck Pagano has been battling leukaemia, but he is now back on the sidelines and the Colts have some unfinished business to attend to. They are a young team, but they have overachieved this season on their way to an 11-5 record and with a reliance on close wins and some heavy away losses, the Colts could pick up the award for the worst 11-5 team ever. No team has ever finished up 11-5 with a negative scoring differential, let alone a score of -30. That is a huge gap. Second on that list is Atlanta and they ended with a scoring differential of 3 in 2004 so that gives you some idea of how bad they have been. The Ravens are not getting any younger and have been playing some of their worst football going into the play-offs having lost four of their past five games. Add to that they are no long unbeatable at home and it could spell trouble. They were at one point a team who looked as though they wore a cloak of invincibility when playing at the M&T Bank Stadium, but they have been disrobed after losses at home to the Steelers and Denver. Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck has been superb and with the Ravens defence not being as good as it once was, he could have enough about him to continue his dream start to life in the NFL. Indianapolis have been a great story this year, both on and off the field and while I don't think they will have the great fairytale ending and go all the way to the Super Bowl, I think they will have enough to take down the Ravens.
Recommended Bet: Indianapolis +6.5
Seattle Seahawks @ Washington Redskins
What a way to wrap up the Wild Cards. This has the potential to be the most exciting game to end the weekend on. Both wanting to prove they are the best team. In the numbers game everything here points to a win for the Seattle Seahawks. They are the league's No.1 scoring defence, they have a comparable running game, and their QB has been better than Washington's. Seattle are ranked second in the league when it comes to net points per drive (0.90), while Washington are ten places lower at No.12 (0.18). The Redskins have been an incredible story through the whole season though. They have had their backs against the wall since their Week 10 bye and since then have managed to put together a run of seven wins on the bounce to close out the regular season. It will be a battle of rookie quarterbacks and these two are some of the best that anyone has seen in a fair few years. Russell Wilson has been doing big things in his rookie year and has got a lot of people excited, but some Seattle fans feel that he has been slighted this season and not given the full respect he has earned and that is because of the form and style of Robert Griffin III. He has done amazingly well in his first season and he will be a vital part of the 'Skins game on Sunday as the Seahawks defence has yet to face a challenge like RG3. It is a shame that RG3 is not fully fit so we could see him it his explosive best, but he is still pretty damn good. I feel that the Seattle's defence can do a better job at stopping RG3 than Washington can do in trying to hinder Wilson. There isn't a better way for Wilson to earn the respect of the doubters by outplaying and beating Griffin in his house.
Recommended Bet: Seattle -3